Why is it that when things go right, we find a way to undermine our successes or good fortune? We downplay the success or undercut our accomplishments by minimizing them. Some women who see me for therapy have a hard time accepting and believing compliments or positive feedback. They work hard at being a parent, partner, friend, and coworker, but they’re not comfortable owning their abilities because their anxious parts make them feel “less than” or not good enough.
What’s really going on? Here’s what some people say in the therapy room:
- “I feel like an imposter.” You do the hard work and feel good about where you’re focusing your energy. Then that little voice sneaks in and says, “If they only knew the truth, they’d see I don’t know what I’m doing.” It leaves you doubting the validity of your accomplishments.
- “I don’t want to jinx myself.” You might tell yourself that acknowledging the positive will only open you up to failure or bad luck. In order to be prepared for that ultimate failure, or to stop bad things from happening, you minimize your successes. Instead of enjoying what’s happening in the moment, you worry about the potential for bad things to happen in the future.
- “I’m nobody special.” If someone praises you, you might say, “It was easy. I didn’t work hard at all. Anyone could have done that.” When you can’t see yourself as a successful mom, partner, friend, or coworker, it’s hard to take compliments and to own what others see in you.
- “I don’t want to look conceited.” By keeping a low profile, you keep attention focused elsewhere and maybe think you appear less threatening. But constantly keeping your light hidden from the world can leave you feeling unsatisfied and resentful that others don’t see all you do.
- “I should uphold others’ accomplishments above my own.” It’s how you’ve lived your life up to now. The problem comes when you start feeling resentful or irritated toward the people you support, because you no longer feel like you’re a priority.
Why Does Minimizing What You Do Leave You Anxious?
People like to feel connected to others. It’s a part of the human experience and it makes us feel good. But if we push back when offered a compliment, always put others’ needs first, or hide our true selves from others, we end up feeling disconnected from those we care about. We don’t get the connection we crave because of the obstacles we put in the way. This disconnect can drive anxiety.
Anxiety can also stem from an internal disconnect—for example, when one part of you pushes you to share your good news and another tells you to hold back. Being at war with yourself can leave you feeling stressed out and highly anxious. The internal battle keeps you from relaxing or feeling at ease.
By accepting ourselves for who we are—owning both our assets and our imperfections—it becomes easier and more comfortable to share our true selves.
Owning Your Goodness and Badness
The reality is we all have good days and bad days, successes and failures, good fortune and bad, but we expect perfection. We can accept that others are imperfect, but we think we need to be perfect.
By accepting ourselves for who we are—owning both our assets and our imperfections—it becomes easier and more comfortable to share our true selves. Being your true self means sharing when you succeed and when you fail, when you have a good day and when you struggle, when you’re happy and when you’re sad.
Owning all of our parts and all of our feelings can ease the anxiety. We may begin to feel more connected to our genuine selves and more connected to others, allowing us to live with more ease and comfort. So, how do we do that?
How Practicing Mindfulness Can Help
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of the mindfulness movement in the United States, being mindful means we pay attention “in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Instead of getting caught up in our worries, negative self-talk, or attempts to control future outcomes, we can be here now and truly experience this moment as it is happening.
Here are a few quick ways to bring more mindful attention to your daily life:
- If you’re feeling stressed, take three intentionally deep breaths. If you’re not sure how to breathe deeply, you can count the inhalations and exhalations on your fingers. Breathe in for seven, exhale for 11, and repeat. This exercise can help calm your nervous system and make you aware of your breathing (which is happening right here, right now).
- Take a walk outside and pay full attention to your senses. What do you see, smell, feel, and hear? Check out the colors, the air touching your skin, your feet on the ground, and the sounds around you. If you bring water on your walk, pay attention to how it tastes or how it feels in your mouth and throat when you swallow.
- Start being mindful of your inner critic. Listen to how you talk to yourself. When you find you’re being hard on yourself, calling yourself names when you make a mistake, or reminding yourself of all your faults, pause for a moment. Breathe in deeply and ask yourself, “Is this how I’d talk to a friend?” If the answer is no, try to talk to yourself as if you were your own best friend—with love and compassion.
Mindfulness is a practice. And that means to bring more mindfulness into your daily life, it takes practice each day. So be kind to yourself and start practicing!
For support with anxiety, self-acceptance, or developing a mindfulness practice, contact a licensed therapist.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group.
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