I know quite a few amazing people with immense talent, successful careers and devoted friends and family. Despite this they are unable to shake feelings of discontent or a lack of fulfillment. For some, it’s hard to put their finger on what it is exactly, and for others it feels as though they are occasionally consumed by a cloud of intense emotions. “I’m not depressed,” they might say, “but I don’t understand why I’m not happy either.” Rationally, they know they have it all, yet there’s still a sense of something missing. When I ask, “Do you feel you’re being a little hard on yourself?” the answer is almost always “No.” Let's see if we can catch our ways of thinking that hinder our happiness and success by considering the following:
The Friend Trick
Think about your closest friend or your most valuable social support. What would you tell them about themselves and their achievements? What do they have to say about yours? Would you discount them or validate their efforts or successes? Is there a reason for not taking our own advice or judging ourselves more harshly than we would others?
Minimizing Our Successes and Magnifying Our Failures
Consider the promotion, the new relationship or milestone, and the ways we discount ourselves with thoughts like, “I only got it because I held the position longer,” “I might have a significant other, but what about all the other relationships I’ve messed up in the past?” and “Sure I graduated at the top of my class, but I had easy professors.” On one hand, this way of thinking fuels ambitious goals, and on the other, it never allows us to acknowledge what we accomplished. It doesn’t hurt to give ourselves credit. In fact, it might even motivate us to do more!
Do you give yourself permission to make mistakes? Mistakes are part of the process and none of us as human beings are exempt from this. You may be capable of incredible feats, but you are not superhuman. Yet sometimes we think and act in ways that suggest we are never allowed to fall short of our expectations. We even beat ourselves up for minor setbacks along the way. Maybe we think, “If I am not the best, I have somehow already failed,” and we restrict ourselves from doing the things that will make us happy and complete.
Statements like, “That was weak (stupid, bad, etc) of me” or “I shouldn’t even be feeling this way,” are harmful to us! What if we allowed ourselves to feel what we feel without judging our emotions? Isn’t having a bad day enough without the extra dose of harshness? How we feel is how we feel. While we certainly don’t like feeling sad, lonely, etc., as human beings (and not robots) we do have emotions. How would it feel instead to give ourselves some compassion when we’re having a bad day?
Sherry Atanasio is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support with negative thought patterns, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com and learn how therapy can help.