Love More, Try Harder: Rewriting Files of Self-Doubt

Businesswoman drinking coffee in officePeople who tell me they are in one-sided relationships often hear me say, “Oh! Love more, try harder?” It’s my way of validating a coping style often used by people when a relationship is not going well, because the other person takes but does not give.

These people often feel lonely or experience depression because the love they give is not reciprocated. Loving another person more, when they are showing less love for you, is a choice. It is also a way to cope with the fear of personal rejection.

Rejection is a nail in the coffin of believing you are not good enough. Where can you go in life, believing you have no worth? The answer is, nowhere. With this mindset, it is necessary to prioritize giving to others, so your life has meaning and you can believe you are a good person.

If these words jump off the page, then you may be thinking, “Yeah! That’s me!” You owe it to yourself to understand the reason you give more of yourself when the other person is primarily taking care of himself or herself. In an effort to help you identify why you put yourself second, I offer these words:

We don’t do things for no reason. We do things because there is a payoff.

Ask yourself what you are deriving from subjugating yourself, always trying to please the other person? Does it feel like a natural way to make yourself happy? You may be surprised to learn why you do what you do.

You aren’t born this way. Putting other people’s needs first, before your own, is taught. It takes a little digging to extract the answers and raise self-awareness about how you learned to view yourself in relation to others.

Think about your earliest experiences, in childhood, to appreciate this: The big people teach you who they expect you to be and how they expect you to act. There is a lot of reinforced conditioning that takes place. Approval is reward for good behavior when children behave as adults instruct them. Unfortunately, shaming and causing embarrassment are common methods for correcting children when they misbehave or go against the wishes of adults.

Years ago I heard a riddle: “Men die for it. Babies cry for it. What is it?” The answer is approval. It emphasizes that children rely on the messages from authority figures to know when they are good or bad.

Those of us in the behavioral health field have long known that these messages factor heavily in the formation of an individual’s identity and personality. Professionals who study the science of behavior have also identified that validation is important throughout one’s lifetime. It’s nice to feel appreciated for a job that is well done.

Personal beliefs act like software programs. They tell our brain what to do with information. People buy computers and purchase software programs based on the needs they have for these machines.

Human beings don’t get to choose their early beliefs. These are heavily influenced by adult authority figures, predominantly established in childhood. Once installed, they become habitual fixtures for the way we think. Computer programmers have mechanisms for updating software, making it current with the latest information. When people no longer need a program, because it is outdated and not serving them well, they can simply delete it.

This is not true for people. We have permanent memory. When we mature into adulthood and have different needs than those of childhood, we struggle with making changes, especially to our core beliefs. There is no delete button.

In order to update, we need to integrate our newest information with our existing thoughts about the same subjects, especially self-doubt and the views we have about ourselves. I invite my clients to “update and integrate,” as a means for embracing changes that will help them to “think differently about the same old stuff,” especially themselves.

Let’s say, for example, childhood experiences taught you to believe “I am stupid”. As a core belief about yourself, this would not serve you well and would make learning new things very difficult. You would never have chosen this for yourself. The big people may not have intended this for you either. Somehow it got filed away as a belief.

Obviously, if you thought you had a choice, the preferred programming would be, “I am smart” and “I can learn new things”. In order to update to the positive way of viewing yourself, you would have to start with an awareness and appreciation for why you thought you were stupid in the first place.

Raising awareness requires exploration of how you came to think so negatively about yourself, and who might have influenced that. Only then may you efficiently install a revision. Most people prefer to put the negative views behind them or try to get over it, without doing the awareness work. I explain that it may work for the short term but will not sustain them for the long term—in other words, it’s good, but I’ve got better!

Think about two files on your desktop. One reads “I’m stupid”. The other reads “I’m smart”. They both represent files of core beliefs but they operate independently of one another. I call this “good” because some of the time you view yourself as smart. Other times, calling yourself stupid may couch a fear of looking that way. It is protective.

Merging the files of experiences, integration, is better. All of the information from both files is available at the same time. It enables you to choose to view yourself as smart about what you know and capable of learning from what you don’t know. This is easier said than done. People who come to therapy often say to me, “Oh, just tell me how to fix it.”

Sometimes the job is too big for one person. If it were that easy, you would have done it yourself.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Pandora L. MacLean-Hoover, LICSW, therapist in Newburyport, Massachusetts

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 18 comments
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  • Taryn

    Taryn

    March 24th, 2014 at 10:19 AM

    I think that the tendency in us all is to want the easy and quick fix. We want someone to immmediately tell us what is wrong and give us the answers fr how to fix it just like that.
    LIfe is not that simple. We didn’t get all screwed up overnight and getting unmessed up? That’s not going to happen in an instant either.
    It is great if you can look at yourself from multiple angles to reassure yourself that there is more to you than you maybe have been thinking and definitely more to you than what you think others have been thinking about you. But often it is hard to wrap your mind around all of these diversions that you have let yourself believe over a number of years and haven’t yet had the energy to fix quite yet.

  • Holly

    Holly

    March 24th, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    Going back and looking at why we came to believe these things about ourselves can be really hard! These discoveries can take us down paths that most of us would rather stay away from! But I totally agree- we can’t know why we feel the way that we do about ourselves, and therefore learn how to change those beliefs that we have, until we know what caused us to believe those things in the first place.

  • Lindsay

    Lindsay

    March 25th, 2014 at 3:44 AM

    I wish that it wasn’t so hard for us all to find a little more love for ourselves inside. Sometimes, that will be all we have, the love we have for ourselves. So it could be worth trying just a little harder to find that

  • amos

    amos

    March 25th, 2014 at 10:31 AM

    Much easier said than done! When you have been told something over and over again for so many eyars it is only human to come to believe this about yourself and nearly impossible to rewrite this about yourself in said book of beliefs.

  • Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    March 25th, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    Every one of these comments are so exciting to read and very much appreciated!
    The last line of the article, “The job is too big for one person.” speaks to your common theme, recognizing the tremendous difficulties that thwart efforts to think differently. Yes, indeed, the programming is reinforced and difficult to change. I highly recommend seeking the professional support of a therapist who is current on and excited about the newer therapies for rewording our brains!
    I wish you all well. Thank you for reading my article and taking the time to write such thoughtful comments.

  • Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    March 25th, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    “Rewiring our brains” not “rewording.”
    Tx

  • Zara

    Zara

    March 25th, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    But what is the payoff by treating yourself unkindly? Obviously there would be a positive payoff for treating others in a way that made them feel good, because that in turn should make you feel good too. And the same could be said for treating yourself well. You say and do good things for yourself, then you feel good about who you are. But there is nothing to gain by treating yourself poorly. Am I right. There is nothing to gain from that except more time feeling terrible.

  • Francine

    Francine

    March 26th, 2014 at 3:58 AM

    tired of being what others would want for me to be
    when is it time that i can start being who i want to be and start pleasing myself?

  • Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    March 26th, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    When we please others, yes, it can feel wonderful. This is a win-win.
    In my experience as a Clinician, many people enjoy making others happy. These clients often find themselves in one-way relationships, wondering why the person they give to doesn’t make efforts to do for them. They want and hope for simbiotic exchanges.
    Needy people, who gladly accept the generosity of others, don’t necessarily become less needy by being around givers.
    One of the best quotes (I never thought I’d hear) was from a man whose girlfriend was very upset with his thoughtlessness, “Babe, I’m a jerk. You are the best girlfriend ever. You always make it about me!” The problem with this rare admission was that he meant it and had no intention of changing.

  • Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    March 26th, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    Tired of waiting?
    That is actually an important awareness, a great starting point (I would never choose for anyone :)
    Use the awareness to explore options for thinking differently about the same old stuff and yourself.
    Google “EMDR Cognitions List,” Negative and Positive. This will show suggestions. Many of my clients post it on their refrigerators!

  • Harrison

    Harrison

    March 26th, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    i have kind of come to believe that there are really some people who seek out ways to punish themselves and that they are simply gluttons for punsihment, they seek it out because i guess this is all they know

  • Jeanne

    Jeanne

    March 27th, 2014 at 4:19 AM

    Why continue reading the same old story that others have written about you and start writing the story of your life that reads like you want to live it?

    I get tired of being what others want me to be or what they think that I should be. I am old enough to create my own hopes and dreams aren’t I and to create my own script. Those are the words that I am going to follow from here on out, and not the expectations of what other people seem to have for me.

  • Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    March 28th, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    Yes, sometimes the way we think and do things is “all we know.”
    I wrote this article to help people raise their awareness about things they just do without much thought, especially life choices.
    Therapy models, where the therapist is very much involved, allow for learning new ways to think about ourselves
    At Think-diff Institute, I help clients create an “imaginary white board,” a multiple choice list of different perspectives on the same subject, especially themselves. I reassure them that may still circle the way they’ve always looked at the subject. Many choose new options, stating that they simply never thought of it before.
    In order to move toward new ways of thinking and doing, you need to look around for models of behavior you admire. Ask these people whether they will help you.

  • Hypnosis Hypnotherapy Los Angeles

    Hypnosis Hypnotherapy Los Angeles

    March 29th, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    I find a huge percentage of client difficulties devolve down to the “I’m not good enough.” belief. As a hypnotherapist I find it often a simple matter to raise that into conscious awareness by probing questions. Then using intensification for regression to source in trance, deep resolutions can be initiated. The repair work can be started on the inner level in the stored “File” Combined with ego strengthening positive suggestion work, rapid gains for the client can be made in a few sessions. Brian.

  • Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    March 30th, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    Thanks Brian!
    Yes, core beliefs like “I’m not good enough” and “I don’t matter” are among the most prevalent in my work as well. Identifying them, as a starting place, certainly helps clients learn why they feel so stuck. There is no sustained psychological benefit by detouring away from these uncomfortable realizations, only short-term relief.
    How wonderful that you are able to use hypnosis toward an integrated outcome. I am sure your clients appreciate their newfound power and energy.
    I often reference a gem of a paragraph from Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko’s book “Reinventing Your Life.” Their schema work identifies negative patterns as “Lifetraps” that are very difficult to change unless they are identified and appreciated. They cite that it is the “human drive for consistency” that keeps us returning to behaviors that are “familiar” even if they are painful and they don’t work to make us happy. I believe they also liken this to when a moth flies toward a flame.
    My clients appreciate being validated for why they experience difficulty trying to sustain changes.

  • ezra

    ezra

    March 30th, 2014 at 12:21 PM

    I was brought up in a home where I was told that yes I was a valued and wonderful and yet still ended up with a partner who belittled me and told me basically that I had no meaning. How did that happen? I mean, my childhood and life growing up were idyllic, so how did I end up in a situation where someone thought so little of me and then therefore I came to think so little of myself?

  • Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    Pandora MacLean-Hoover

    March 30th, 2014 at 7:42 PM

    It’s a great question and a complicated one.
    I’m sorry that this happened to you and that being with this partner resulted in you feeling less about yourself.
    While I won’t presume to provide answers to your questions, I will pose some things to consider.
    Many people are taught that certain personality traits are qualities that reinforce their status as a good person. In relationships, loyalty and honoring commitments are strong contenders for this coveted reputation.
    We don’t do things for no reason. Bullies do what they do to others to effect a change in how they feel about themselves. Sadly, bringing down another person in their estimation of themselves may complete a “misery loves company” dynamic for the person who has poor self-esteem.
    Many people who have idyllic childhoods want to share their good fortune with those less fortunate. This is a relational imbalance that often attracts opposites.
    I hope these thoughts help raise awareness for anyone who is trying to make sense of their feelings and actions.

  • zzz

    zzz

    April 2nd, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    Don’t let haters tell you who to be. Be your own person.

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