We all have days when we lack confidence in ourselves. Days when we just don’t feel like we have enough energy or personality or enthusiasm to tackle life. Sure, some of us are more outgoing and social than others, appearing on the surface to be devoid of any sense of low self-worth or feelings of incompetence, but I would venture to guess that even those who give the impression of confidence battle internally to maintain a strong sense of self-assuredness.
We all question ourselves from time to time. Difficult decisions come our way and we fear we don’t have what it takes to move forward in the direction of growth.
We all feel sad every now and then, weeding through thoughts of despair and doubt.
We are human.
We get emotional.
We worry about the people we love.
We worry about how much people love us.
The negative thinking that grows out of feeling “not good enough” zaps creativity and freezes you in place. Fear takes over. You feel incompetent, stuck, afraid to try. Thinking and acting out of fear keeps us from taking healthy risks and valuable opportunities because they require vulnerability and courage. The illusion of perfection haunts us and keeps us stuck in place.
When I start to question or doubt myself in this way, I often cling to encouraging words from a couple of my favorite (famous) humans – Brené + Glennon. Yeah, we’re on a first name basis.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), Brené says, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” She urges us to be brave. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Or alternatively, what is the BEST thing that could happen?
Glennon Doyle Melton bravely tells her story and invites us all into a warm, safe circle of self-love and truth. When she talks about kindness in her book Carry On, Warrior (2013) she says, “Kind people are brave people. Brave is not something you should wait to feel. Brave is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd” (p. 123). What if we turned the compassion we have for others towards ourselves? What if we showed ourselves the same measure of kindness that we extend to the people around us? I’d say that would be the making of a cultural revolution!
I read Brené + Glennon’s words and think, “Yes! This is what I need to do. This is what I want to do. This is who I must be.” And then, nothing. It’s like I have a temporary lapse in my memory and my thoughts don’t trickle down to my heart and my gut. I forget that I am okay JUST AS I AM. I let shame rule me and it holds me back. I hide my human-ness from others out of fear and insecurity.
The consequence: disconnection, wounded self-worth, more fear.
And then I remember (again) the very human conversation that Brené and Glennon and others are courageously and boldly engaging in and sharing with the world. There is hope. There is something we can do about all of this fear and shame and worthiness that we battle every day.
In recent years there has been growing research in the social sciences about shame, self-worth, perfectionism, and self-criticism when it comes to how we perceive ourselves. More importantly, researchers have explored the impact that shame resilience (Brown, 2007, 2015), mindfulness (Siegel, 2007a; Siegel, 2007b), and self-compassion (Neff, 2011) can have on our sense of self-worth when it has been depleted and broken down by self-criticism and the negative thoughts we internalize from our experiences and relationships with others. The hope is that practicing emotional and cognitive awareness, along with an authentic attitude of compassion towards ourselves, will have a profound positive and lasting influence on our mental health and wellness. I think they’re onto something.
I see it every day – in my work, my personal life, my friend circles, even on my favorite shows and movies. People are suffering more than they need to because of themselves, because of the harsh words they speak and the caution they take not to fail or fall or feel. Life is HARD. Relationships are HARD. Being an adult is HARD. AND, as the wise Glennon Doyle Melton reminds us, “WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.” What is more, we can love ourselves while doing hard things. In our society, it has become counter-intuitive to engage in self-love, perhaps because we fear being perceived as selfish or self-involved. There’s that pesky fear again (with shame following close behind). It is a vicious cycle. But there’s a revolution, I see it and I feel it. The conversation about shame and self-worth is happening. People are telling their stories. Courage is growing. Humans are being human with other humans.
What if we practiced being more kind to ourselves? What if, instead of criticizing ourselves when we make a mistake or say something we regret or feel sad because we lost something important to us, we gave ourselves some compassion? Spoke gentle words of love and understanding to our human selves. No human is perfect. No life is perfect. No job or career or home is perfect.
What if we could be more kind to ourselves when we feel imperfect, broken, lost, scared? Imagine the power this could have over our self-criticism and shame. Imagine if we all allowed ourselves to be human and for that to be ENOUGH.
Be Well | Mackenzie
Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong. New York: Random House.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Minnesota: Hazelden.
Brown, B. (2007). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t): Making the journey from “what will people think?” to “I am enough.” New York: Gotham Books.
Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York: Harper Collins.
Melton, G. D. (2013). Carry on Warrior: The power of embracing your messy, beautiful life. New York: Scribner.
Siegel, D. (2007a). The mindful brain: Reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well-being. New York: Norton.
Siegel, D. (2007b). Mindfulness training and neural integration: Differentiation of distinct streams of awareness and the cultivation of well-being. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2, 259-263.