When it came to self-defeat, I was undefeated.
I took every opportunity to rob myself of happiness, prevent progress, and slap my own face. I was a tyrant to myself, and I thought I was doing the right thing. I was acting out penance for a religion that only existed in my head.
We all have our little ways of torturing ourselves. We have moments when we doubt we’ll succeed and wonder whether we even should. We harm ourselves in the process, and sometimes those around us.
But there are better ways of being. My self-esteem was damaged, and it wasn’t until I worked on repairing it that things started getting better. I had to identify and challenge what I believed about myself. Here are five beliefs that lead to self-defeat.
1. You Feel Like You Have No Right to Express Yourself
I’d feel the temptation to speak. Someone would say something I didn’t agree with, or they would talk about something I loved, and I would say nothing.
“No one wants to hear what you have to say,” my mind would tell me. “They won’t get you. Nothing you say will resonate with them.” It’s like someone who bitterly despised me was talking me out of everything. That “person” was the fear and doubt that had accrued in my mind over many years.
Here’s a thought: Your life and perspective are unique. No individual in history has lived the same life as you. You have a point of view no other person has.
Just as you have a right to breathe (and I hope you believe that) you have a right to speak. Even if you mumble. Even if you’re wrong or you make some innocent mistake, that doesn’t take away your right to contribute.
Maybe you’ve been convinced otherwise, but it isn’t true. Sometimes, your critical voice is someone else’s voice you’ve internalized as your own. If you have recurring self-doubt, try to put a face to it. It’s often someone you recognize. You need to examine who took that power from you and come to see why they’re wrong.
According to psychologist Nathaniel Branden in The Six Pillars of Self Esteem:
“…We need to confront those destructive voices, not run from them; engage them in inner dialogue; challenge them to give their reasons; patiently answer and refute their nonsense; and distinguish them from the voice of our adult self.”
2. You Think It’s Too Late
“My uncle used to have all these things on his bucket list
And now he’s actin’ like, “Oh, well, this is life, I guess”
Nah, fuck that shit
Listen, man, you can still do what you wanna do
You gotta trust that shit.”
Thanks, Drake. You always know what to say.
Some people like to disparage those who strive for things when they’re older. They believe youth is everything and if you’ve wasted that, then you’re beyond saving.
Sure, you don’t want to waste your youth, but life is more complex than that. Any number of things can drive a person off the conventional path. There is no predetermined course of success.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re going to die one day. And that death belongs to you. That means your life belongs to you too. Are you going to resign yourself to a defeated life? Are you going to label yourself a “fuck up” and spend your remaining days just existing?
Go live on your terms. Taking action in any capacity is the opposite of being defeated. If you can take responsibility for the sacrifices and time commitments it takes to reach a goal, then pursue any goal you like, at any age you like. And even if your endeavors end in disaster, could you forgive yourself if you never tried?
3. You Don’t Feel Like You Deserve It
Even the most competent, hard-working, kind-hearted people get caught up feeling like they don’t deserve success. And some of the most successful people do too. Anyone can self-defeat.
Humility is a virtue, but there’s a difference between being humble and refusing to give yourself any credit. Your standard for deservedness could be impossible to reach. Especially if you never feel like you’re enough.
You don’t need to feel like you’re enough to become successful. But you do need to feel like you’re enough before you can be satisfied with success. And if the reason you want to succeed is to prove you’re enough to the world, you’ve created an endless race to nowhere. To quote Nathaniel Branden again:
“If my aim is to prove I am “enough,” the project goes on to infinity — because the battle was already lost on the day I conceded the issue was debatable.”
Maybe you have to reconcile something from your past. Maybe you have to forgive yourself for things you failed to do. Maybe other people have poisoned your self-perception. Maybe you’re tortured by the idea of perfection. Feeling like you’re enough can take a lot of work. But until you’re on your own side, you won’t feel worthy of anything. You need to find a way back to living from your own perspective, and not external standards.
This will require you to take a hard look at who you are, but in the process, you can realize the negative beliefs you hold are exclusive to you. You may be the only person on Earth who thinks you don’t deserve to be happy.
4. You Think Regression = Failure
One step forward, and two steps back. That’s often how it feels when you’re trying to change, or form new habits, and get closer to a goal. But when this does occur, and it will, how are you going to react?
I’ll share a bit of myself here. I have a nasty emotional habit of feeling anxious if I accomplish something. This would always happen, even if it was 100% earned. I would much rather feel a sense of victory, satisfaction, or excitement. I’m sure we all would. After putting in a lot of self-work I was getting to the point where I was consistently feeling better about my little victories.
But then, it happened again. The old way of thinking conflicted with the new, and I found myself locked up in anxiety. Then I got angry at myself for feeling that way. Once you get meta with your feelings, things tend to spiral out of control. It made me wonder: “Am I still who I was before? Have I changed at all?”
Of course, I have. The wisdom is there, but it gets overridden by old wounds flaring up every now and again. There could still be more left to discover. Consider making a change or breaking a habit like being in recovery from something. It will look messy. You will backstep. It’ll feel like you’re getting nowhere. But breakthroughs and lasting change only come from weathering this back and forth.
5. You Don’t Think Your Success Means Anything to the World
It took me a long time to learn this, but your victories add something to the world. And when you refuse to show the world your greatness, you’re actually robbing it.
Happiness is not a zero-sum game.
When we see someone who’s human like us, or someone we love, reach a new height, we feel inspired. Personal success can add value to the lives of those around you.
If the greatest athletes, scientists, artists, and leaders all decided that success was something to be avoided to protect people from feeling bad, where do you think we’d be? What you manage to accomplish can serve as someone’s roadmap out of their personal hell. You have the wisdom to share, and an example to set.
If you’re prone to self-defeat, I bet you would never tear down a loved one the same way you do yourself. Imagine if you gave yourself the same level of respect.
If you want to stop your self-defeat, know this:
- You always have a right to express yourself.
- You’re the last judge on how you should live your life, and how you should spend your time.
- If you think you’re undeserving, you might be the only one.
- Self defeat can still happen. Try to forgive yourself when it does.
- Your success contributes to the richness of the world.