Many of us (especially those who struggle with depression or anxiety) tend to internalize our flaws, making them a part of our identity. For example, you’ve probably said to yourself at some point:
“I’m such a loser.”
“I never get anything right.”
“No one likes me.”
“I’m bad at this.”
These phrases operate from the same assumption: you are inherently flawed, and you can’t do much to change it.
I won’t try to convince you that you don’t have any flaws because you do. We all do. It’s a part of being human, and although you may not realize it, these flaws help you relate to and understand others. But it is important to stop seeing these flaws as a fixed and ingrained part of who you are. It’s a subtle mindset shift, but it can make a big difference.
Let me give you an example. I often get critical (and sometimes downright mean or threatening) comments on social media. It’s very easy for me to internalize these when they touch on things I already feel self-conscious about. Someone recently left an angry comment on a YouTube video, saying (in more descriptive terms) that they would have expected better speaking skills from a doctor. Despite knowing better, I’ll admit that I initially internalized this comment. I decided, “They’re right. I’m a terrible speaker. This is so embarrassing. I’m not cut out for this.” Essentially, one of my tried and true self-criticisms: “I’m a loser.”
Thankfully, I soon realized that I was labeling myself as inherently flawed and made the conscious effort to reframe my thoughts. Yes, there is still much to be desired in my speaking and many other skills. But I am not defined by these deficiencies. I am simply a human being who is trying my best and sometimes falling short in the process. In other words, I went from telling myself, “I am a loser” to “I am a person who is still learning and doesn’t always get it right.” The difference may seem subtle, but the effect it has on your self-esteem can be massive.
So the next time you are struggling, take the labels off yourself. Describe your struggles in a way that removes the flaws from your character. Your shortcomings exist, but they don’t define you.
You aren’t a “bad teacher.” You are a teacher who sometimes makes mistakes when planning lessons late at night.
You aren’t an “idiot.” You are a student who didn’t do well on an exam.
You aren’t a “terrible mom.” You are a mom who accidentally missed a baseball game.
Reframing your struggles in this way helps you feel better about yourself and even makes it more likely that you will work on some of these shortcomings. When we stop internalizing our mistakes and weaknesses, we can view them less defensively and learn from them. If I consider myself an awful public speaker, that closes the door on potential improvement because, well, what is there to improve? I’m just bad at it. I’m also more likely to go on the defensive when I feel criticized in that area, which then closes me off to potential new insights or ways to improve.
Are there any flaws that you are internalizing? Are you labeling yourself as a mistake when the reality is you are simply a person who has made a mistake? Can you step back and see yourself as a more complex and flexible person who is learning and growing?
If you want to learn more about this topic, click the links below to find more reading:
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Growth Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
The Growth Mindset: A Guide to Professional and Personal Growth by Moore and Glasgow
Ten Days to Self-Esteem by David Burns
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff