You’re thrilled to be hosting Thanksgiving dinner — until you realize that you’ve left the turkey in the oven too long, and it’s now as dry as the Sahara Desert. “Well, this year is a failure…I’m a failure,” you sigh to yourself, despite your family’s rave reviews of your delicious sides and lovely handmade centerpieces.
“We, as women, are naturally conditioned to motivate ourselves through self-judgment, but many of the things our inner critics tell us — like that we’re not good enough or competent enough — simply aren’t true,” reveals Margaret Paul, PhD, author of The Inner Bonding Workbook. In fact, she adds, we tend to believe many negative, untrue things about ourselves that we’d never consider believing about other people. “This leads to a vicious cycle of guilt, anxiety, and stress.”
How to debunk these counterproductive untruths? Pay attention to red-flag feelings. “Toxic emotions like anxiety, stress, and depression actually aren’t responses to a situation, but to something we’re telling ourselves about that situation,” says Paul. “In other words, they’re signals that we’re being too hard on ourselves.” But when we feel calm and happy — despite challenges we may be facing — we know that we’re anchored in our truth and supporting ourselves with the kindness we need to thrive.
Here, top experts share empowering ways to unleash the positive, self-compassionate feelings that act as inner lie detectors and instantly silence our critics. The result: more confidence, peace, and joy — and that’s the truth!
“I have to be perfect.”
You’ve prepared for the big presentation at work, which goes smoothly, despite the graph not loading on one of your PowerPoint slides. Your boss says you did fine, but you still feel like a failure. “None of us is infallible,” observes psychologist Marni Amsellem, Ph.D. “So when we set an unrealistic expectation of perfection, we’re sabotaging our own self-image.”
“I would be happy if only…”
You’re sticking to your diet, but when you see that you’ve gained three pounds, your mood sinks. “Betting all your joy on a specific outcome puts too much pressure on yourself,” says Amsellem. Plus, studies show that attaining the thing you think you’re after, like a lower number on the scale or a higher one in your bank account, doesn’t guarantee happiness.
Shift your starting point.
“The way we talk to ourselves impacts how we perceive our reality,” says Amsellem. “If the gist of these messages is, ‘It’ll go horribly’ or ‘I won’t be good enough,’ we set that expectation.” Instead, Amsellem urges starting from a place of positivity. “Tell yourself, ‘I can do it’ or ‘I’ll give it my best shot.’” Positive self-talk is so motivating, it’s proven to boost performance and help us achieve our goals.
Remind yourself of this.
“When we read too much into a minor situation, we’re using our past hurts to guide how we interpret it,” says Amsellem. “Rather than jump to the conclusion that something is wrong with you, remind yourself that you’re not a mind-reader and can’t know what others are thinking. The truth is, more often than not, people are caught up in their own worries and aren’t even thinking about us at all.”
Appeal to your ‘wise self.’
To pinpoint what will truly make you happy, have a chat with your older, wiser self. “Imagine you’re sitting across from 100-year-old you,” urges Paul. “She represents your inner sage.” Let her remind you that what you’re striving for in the moment, be it losing a few pounds or climbing the next rung on the job ladder, likely won’t make you as happy as simply being the kind, loving person you already are.
‘I always have to put others first.’
After an exhausting day, all you want is some quality time with your pillow. But just as you’re about to hit the well-deserved hay, your sister-in-law calls asking you for yet another last-minute favor. Rather than say no, you put her needs first. “Most of us think that if we take responsibility for someone else’s happiness, they’ll take responsibility for ours,” says Paul. “But if you’re always giving and no one is giving back, you end up feeling depleted, used, and resentful.”
It’s easy to fool ourselves into believing that we should always put others before ourselves, but the reality is, we can’t give when our own tank is empty, says Paul. “If you saw a helpless child crying, you’d comfort her and try to figure out what was wrong,” she observes.
“Show yourself the same kind of compassion by looking inward to see how you’re treating yourself.” Prioritizing your needs and finding your way to contentment before trying to make others happy will banish your stress.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.