Why is it that we find it so difficult to identify the positives in ourselves and so easy to see the negatives?
As human beings we seem to be programmed to be able to identify our failings, e.g. what we’re no good at, what we haven’t done or what didn’t go well. Or it might be that you can’t stop thinking about the one negative comment that was made about something you did at work or the one criticism that you received amongst all the compliments. It maybe that you find it really difficult to accept compliments, that you dismiss them, play them down or bat them back instead of fully accepting them.
We can have a bias to notice our faults rather than our qualities. This can stem from being taught in our early experiences to focus on our mistakes and wrong doings and being told as a child to do better.
We may also have encountered disapproval or ridicule if we have shown appreciation of our own successes. Consequently we may have stopped valuing our achievements and come to believe that anything we do well is luck.
We can find it difficult to think well of ourselves. To think well of ourselves or to say positive statements about ourselves can feel uncomfortable, risky or just wrong. This may stem from being told to not be big headed, to not boast or blow your own trumpet and not to get to big for your boots.
Thinking negatively of ourselves can lead to low self esteem, depression and anxiety. If we hold negative beliefs about ourselves we tend to screen for evidence from our experience that these beliefs are true. This leads to negative thoughts, in particular self critical thoughts or anxious predictions, which then corroborates and strengthens the belief.
To change this negative view of ourselves we need to focus more on all the positive aspects of ourselves. A useful exercise to shift your focus to a more positive view of yourself is to write a list of all the positive aspects of yourself, to consider all your achievements, skills, qualities, strengths, and good characteristics of yourself.
We rarely pay attention to all the positive things we do, our qualities, positive outcomes or positive comments from others. The fact that we don’t do this can make this a challenging exercise to do. It maybe that you only come up with a few to start with and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have any qualities or strengths, it means you are out of the habit of noticing them.
It can be useful to ask for the help of a close friend or family member, someone you know who would be supportive and may have a different perspective of you than you do of yourself. Be aware you may still get into negative self evaluations or discount the positives as being small or not significant. You wouldn’t do this with the negatives so don’t with the positives! Also remember you don’t have to do these positive things 100% of the time, that wouldn’t be possible.
To build on this it can be useful to keep a positive data log in which you recognise examples of your positive attributes on a daily basis, i.e. at the end of each day write down examples from your day that illustrate certain positive qualities you have. For example: listened to a work colleague – considerate and a good listener, did the hoovering – being house proud, played with the children – fun to be with. By keeping a daily record you will not only be acknowledging your positive qualities as things you did in the past, but also acknowledging them as things you do everyday.
Increasing your awareness of your positive qualities on a regular basis can have a positive impact on how you feel about yourself. It can help you to view yourself more kindly, to appreciate and value yourself. This in turn can help to improve self esteem and self worth.
Melanie Fennell (2009) writes on Overcoming Low Self Esteem and suggests the following questions to help in identifying your good points:
What do you like about yourself, however small and fleeting?
What characteristics do you have that are positive?
What are some of your achievements, however small?
What are some challenges you have overcome?
What are some skills or talents that you have, however modest?
What do others say they like about you?
What are some attributes you like in others that you also share?
What aspects of yourself would you appreciate if they were aspects of another person?
How might someone who cares about you describe you?
What bad qualities do I not have?
Rebecca Mead is an accredited, registered and experienced Psychotherapist offering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) to individuals adults. Rebecca is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.
Further reading by Rebecca Mead –