Do you know anyone who has no trouble pointing out their flaws but can’t seem to name what they actually do well? Even when success is banging down their doors, they dismiss it or even worse, they may deny it altogether. It may be clear to the outsider that they have succeeded, but somehow they are the last to know. A little modesty is one thing, but what I am talking about here can actually lead to significant consequences.
Unfortunately for some, taking responsibility for their mistakes and shortcomings seems easy while giving themselves credit for their achievements and strengths doesn’t come quite as naturally. When taken to the extreme, this pattern of only attributing negative events and qualities to oneself can lead to depression and anxiety as well as self-defeating behaviors. Further, when positive events and qualities are regarded as the result of chance or external circumstances, it is difficult to develop self-efficacy or truly experience satisfaction. Filtering the world through this type of lens is harmful, but where does it come from? It can emerge from low self-worth beliefs, for example “I must have been the source of these problems” and “I couldn’t have possibly been the force behind this success.” On the other hand, it can be associated with placing unrealistically high demands on themselves such that any success less than perfection (which of course, is just about everything in life) is regarded as something that “had to be done” or “wasn’t a big deal,” while even minor mishaps represent complete and utter failure and beating up on themselves. Only seeing the end (often impractical) goal causes them to miss out on all of the steps along the way that they accomplished. Not to mention, there will always be another goal to work towards and minimize the current endeavors.
Clearly, interpreting the world this way is counterproductive, but it also represents serious logic flaws. So what is the alternative? First, recognizing and accepting that most circumstances are the product of the interaction between oneself and one’s environment; there is no sense in taking all of the responsibility for the negatives and rejecting responsibility for the positives. It is more reasonable and also helpful to understand both factors as they relate to your situation and allow yourself to take ownership of the positives and negatives when warranted. Next, it is important to challenge the low self-worth beliefs and develop self-acceptance; along with that comes disputing thoughts that all negative events derive from the self and all positive events are external or simply chance. Finally, let go of the demands for perfection and enable yourself to work towards you goals while accepting the imperfect course and progressive successes along the way. Otherwise, you might miss out on a much of the rewards and satisfaction you have earned. Any progress towards your goals is an accomplishment to be recognized and didn’t “just happen.” If you’ve done a good job, or at least made a good effort (which sometimes is more laudable), why not reinforce yourself? Don’t hold your breath for someone else to do it, give yourself the credit when credit is due!
Next Up: Candice Siu, M.A. on Don’t Forget to Practice