To err is human. To beat oneself up is Michael.


Low self-esteem, paired with Anxiety, sucks.

Because of those mental illness-imprinted traits, I frequently call myself stupid — out loud at home, under my breath in public. I blow my mistakes out of proportion. There are times when I fail to accurately perceive how my thoughts and actions come across to the outside world. And I often apologize for things completely outside my area of control.

None of this helps my mental health.

I know that everyone experiences these feelings sometimes. It’s just that when Anxiety rears its ugly head, it makes me feel as if my world and reputation is falling apart.

About that stupid thing: everyone makes mistakes. Some people can let it ride. Right now, I am not one of those people. If I say something awkward in public, I immediately start beating myself up inside. As a result, what ever good I was experiencing in public gets colored by how small I think I am.

At home, because of my wonderful life-partner, Rebecca, I have no reason to beat myself up. She often sternly tells me to stop it. The apologies for minor errs — which I perceive as big mistakes — she says only make her frustrated with me when I should have just let something pass.

Regarding my Anxiety-induced misperceptions, sometimes I think and feel like I come across as unskilled and/or inarticulate. Given a chance to relive those experiences, I can see how things actually were. Case in point: I remember one of my instances of testifying in front of a public body. I chose to read directly from an entirely written out statement — usually not the best with me. I do better working off an outline. At one point in my testimony, I lost my place for a few seconds. During those few moments, I found many ways to berate myself privately. From then until the end of my remarks, I perceived my speech pattern as slow, slurred, and garbled. Afterward, I sat down and felt humiliated. This, even though a few people came up to me and congratulated me for doing a good job and for pointing some things out that other speakers had not yet addressed. It turns out that the hearing was taped. I listened to my remarks. Yes, I got the chance to see my few seconds of silence as I tried to find my place in the written out comments. But the slow, slurred, and garbled speech patterns were only in my head. The rest of my testimony sounded just fine.

I also apologize for things beyond my control. Recently, I apologized to a large group I was presenting to via a public internet connection because the connection was terrible. What did I have to do with that!?! Nothing, but I apologized at least two or three times during a presentation, during which I wanted to leave the impression of confidence in the material I was presenting. Afterward, not only did I berate myself for apologizing profusely, but I also thought myself stupid.

So, is there a lesson? Yes, if you suffer from low self-esteem induced by Anxiety, realize that Anxiety likely has its way with you.

My therapist told me that if I was experiencing Anxiety, it was likely good to throw my first thought/impression away — perhaps even the second, third, or fourth. Instead, wait for the first thought that doesn’t seem fear-induced or focused on beating yourself up.

Make a mistake? Don’t call yourself stupid? Note that everyone makes mistakes.

Worry about how you flubbed something up in public? Realize that we are often our own worst critic.

Have something go wrong beyond your control? Don’t apologize. Instead, comment on how that thing was unfortunate or frustrating. But don’t pin it on yourself.

These are things my therapist has already told me multiple times. However, it remains one of the hardest things for me to change. A lifetime of self-blame and apologizing is hard to throw away.

But I will try.


One Comment

  1. Tracey 24 January 2020 at 11:31 am

    Oh boy, this topic is my life’s theme.

    I remember once, in grad school, one of my professors told me that I had no grit–and a few other things; I can’t remember what they were. But he couldn’t have been more blunt, and none of the things he listed were things any person would want to hear about themselves. Grit, that is the only word in the list that I recall, for whatever reason.

    In that moment of my life, he was 100% correct. I sucked at everything. I’ve never lived longer with more intense and unrelenting anxiety than I did every day of those three painful and humiliating years. I can’t believe I lived 3 years with daily nausea. As a result of the anxiety, I frequently embarrassed myself with unskilled social behavior and transparent insecurity. I spent many days trying to control the overwhelming urge to literally crawl out of my skin. And it was all very public. I couldn’t hide any of it. I felt weak and sniveling. I cried a lot. I made a lot of excuses about why I couldn’t do things that were expected of me. I blamed other people for my failings.

    I also can’t recall having worked harder or having tried harder in my whole life.

    I never worked harder, and never did more poorly afterwards, than I did in graduate school. Granted, I spent a lot of time paralyzed, doing nothing but trying to talk myself into doing the work. I barely graduated. I barely passed some of my classes. My work was underdeveloped and mediocre. It just was. It is true. I was my class’s weakest link. Or possibly second weakest link.

    Fast-forward to now, I publicly humiliated myself just this week. Very often, I am like you, merely thinking I did bad when I was probably just fine. But this week I did something CRAZY because I lost hold of my emotions and couldn’t reign them in. I had a microphone in a crowded room. And wow, that really happened! There’s no subjectivity around it. What I did was not okay.

    “So now what?” That’s where I keep landing. Did I really do that, and is it really as bad as I think it was? Well, regardless of the answer, I’m beginning to realize that if it really is THAT BAD, then the only thing left to do is to acknowledge it (to myself is all that’s needed) and then figure out how to move on from it. And if it really wasn’t that bad, then the answer is still the same anyway.

    I really do feel like a giant failure. I don’t rationally think that I am though. I think I’m actually okay. For the first time in my life. I have all my needs met (and then some). I’m largely healthy. And I’m slowly on track with aligning my actions and values in life. Where there are still gaps between actions and values, I only have to be honest with myself and open to listening when someone tells me there’s a gap. This is where I’m beginning to feel authentic and strong. As long as I can keep doing this, the other stuff doesn’t hurt as much. Not to say that it doesn’t feel awful to walk around with egg on my face. It does. But if I can’t change it, I can’t change it. I’ve grown tired of spinning my wheels on things I can’t do anything about. And the reality is that as long as I’m working towards aligned values with living, and I’m honest about where I am, then the other stuff (like acting a fool in public) doesn’t have such a tight hold on me. I’m not there yet, but it is finally starting to soak in and it feels good. I think my professor was wrong after all.


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