This article is part of a series on types of negative thinking and their impact on self-esteem and relationships. The types of negative thinking are at the core of Cognitive/Behavioral Psychotherapy, and presented in “The Feeling Good Handbook” by Dr. David Burns.
What do you say when someone pays you a compliment? If you’re like many, you say something to downplay it like, “It wasn’t much” or “I got it on clearance” or “I just got lucky.”
You may feel that your response was simply an attempt to appear humble or modest. You may believe that any response that acknowledges the accomplishment or agrees with the complement would appear conceited or proud. You may be right.
But, what do you think in your head when you hear the compliment? Do you downplay the compliment in your mind as well? Do you minimize the accomplishment or positive attribute in your thinking? Do you find a way to negate the positive so that it somehow doesn’t count?
Compare your reaction to a compliment with your reaction to a criticism. Do you downplay the criticism? I suspect not. Most people replay, analyze and long remember criticisms or failures. Not so much with compliments.
For most of us, this has been a lifelong habit. We’re totally unaware that we’re doing it. We don’t recognize the impact. The effect is subtle, but powerful.
Think of your self-esteem as a bank savings account. When you internally recognize a positive attribute, an accomplishment or a success, you make a deposit. When you experience a criticism, a weakness or a failure, you make a withdrawal. When your withdrawals exceed your deposits, your self-esteem account becomes overdrawn. Your “insufficient funds” notice may come in the form of depression, anxiety, helplessness or loss of motivation.
You may argue that you just don’t have any positives to deposit. You feel that your negatives simply outweigh your positives. This belief just illustrates a powerful aspect of perception.
You see, when you downplay a positive experience, you soon forget it. It escapes your awareness, as if it never happened. If reminded, you may recall the event, but it feels small and unimportant. It fades into the background. It never gets deposited into your account.
A healthy self-esteem is an accurate one. The individual recognizes his strengths and his weaknesses. He doesn’t see himself as better than others. He sees himself as being equal with all other human beings, who have strengths and weaknesses.
Recognition of his positive traits, helps him deal more effectively with his negative ones. He works on his weaknesses, but doesn’t allow them to define him. His failures hurt him, but don’t crush him.
Make a conscious attempt to acknowledge your strengths. Consider your positive traits. Enjoy your successes. It may feel odd, conceited or proud at first, but you’ll get used to it.
Think about it this way. What would you want for your children? Would you want them to negate their strengths or accomplishments, or would you want them to recognize both their positives and their negatives? Wouldn’t the same attitude work for you?