I am full of doubts and debates. My mind vacillates between confidence and extreme insecurity. Sometimes, mostly when I’m hypomanic, I am REALLY confident. And I mean, through the roof I can accomplish anything, let me buy all the materials to build this monstrous project, let me sign up for a million things that I can be an active part of, I am the most awesome person and I know best, kind of confident.
My mom used to tell me that I always had to be right. I think that sometimes I absolutely believed I was right, even if I didn’t actually have all the evidence to support it. Also being wrong felt bad, and bad feelings were to be avoided. Bad feelings could be dangerous and lead to spirals that would lead to pits from which I might never escape. Most of the time, I had this conversation in my head, from the drawing above. “Everything’s great, I’m pretty awesome. But wait, I’m also the worst.” I know this is something so many people can relate to. Self-esteem is a fluctuating trait. I have had perpetually low self-esteem most of my life, to the point where I was absolutely convinced that I was worthless, hopeless, and did not deserve to continue living.
I’ve mentioned this before but it bears repeating: I have a negativity bias. This is also common for people with BPD. I hear compliments, I hear praise, but even if it’s heartfelt it slides off my psyche into a pool of confusion at my feet. If I received one insult and ninety-nine compliments, I would be more apt to believe the insult than the overwhelming compliments. This is because I believe the negative of myself and hearing it from others reinforces my beliefs.
While I know I am predisposed to think like this, I have been working on my own and with my therapist to learn to accept positivity. My first step is to listen, really listen, and hear what the other person is saying. I roll it over in my head. Then if I start to feel negative or dismissive, I remind myself that this person wouldn’t go out of their way to compliment me just for fun if they didn’t mean it. Maybe they’re actually on to something. The more I actively listened to positive reinforcement, the more I started to be able to believe it. I still have lots of doubts, and I still have the immediate debate in my head that negates any incoming positive thoughts, but what’s changed is that I’m aware of it happening and I’m able to argue with it. So the exchange in the picture actually has another step for me. “Hey, I’m pretty awesome. Or wait, no, I’m probably the worst. Stop. Think. Oh ok, maybe I’m somewhat awesome and not really the worst ever.”
This is the difference between believing I deserve a space on this planet and believing that I should just give up and stop bothering everyone. The positive reinforcement doesn’t have to come from other people either. A lot of it is self-talk for me. Like that SNL skit, “I am good enough, I am smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.” It’s about being mindful of how I perceive myself and employing the right internal debate mechanisms to end up with a positive result.
It doesn’t always work. Sometimes I still end up in a pit thinking everything I am and everything I do is the worst. That is largely mood dependent. These days, because I am more stable and functioning at a higher level than I have been, my self-esteem has been higher and more stable as a result. I am trying to let the good in and keep it, to grasp it and absorb it so it becomes part of who I believe I am.