Are you kind to yourself at all??
When we have any type of problems in our lives, we tend to be harsher on ourselves.
And that’s not good.
It exasperates the problems.
And in the long term, it will erode our self-esteem and make shame grow bigger.
That, in turn, will make our problems worse. It’s like, we are not solving our problems; we are making them worse.
So, this article is here to help.
Surprisingly, I am not going to mention anything about being kind to yourself through the entire article.
I am not going to tell you to slow down and just love yourself. I am not going to tell you to stop overthinking.
Instead, I am going to talk about a few concepts that are likely to make us less kind to ourselves when we are struggling. Then, I will introduce a few solutions.
In my previous article, I talked about how our expectations can get distorted by negative ways of thinking.
Those negative ways of thinking are called, in psychology, cognitive distortions.
In that article, I mentioned one of these distortions –the all-or-nothing way of thinking; the black-or-white way of looking at things.
In this article, I want to talk about another destructive distortion.
We are likely to fall prey to it as a result of deeper beliefs we hold about ourselves.
Before we talk about this cognitive distortion, I want to talk about a concept that is known as the locus of control.
I will explain after that how it’s related to the cognitive distortion we want to cover today.
The locus of control: internalizers vs. externalizers
The locus of control describes how much control you believe you have.
And it divides people into internalizers and externalizers.
Internalizers believe that their actions affect the results they get, so they accept the responsibility to act productively.
Externalizers, on the other hand, believe that the results they get are because of external factors that are beyond their control. So, they act as if it’s some’s else responsibility to get them the results they desire.
The person who accepts that fixing his/her life is his/her responsibility, and who acts accordingly, is a good example of an internalizer.
The person who believes it’s other people’s job to fix his/her life is a good example of an externalizer.
It’s argued that internalizers have better chances of being mature, but they can suffer because of their nature as we are going to see. And it’s also argued that externalizers are more likely to be immature and suffer the consequences of immaturity, but they succeed at getting attention and sympathy.
We can safely assume that no one is a pure internalizer or a pure externalizer. We possess traits from both worlds. But usually, we orient toward one end more than the other one.
However, being an extreme externalizer or internalizer is dangerous and debilitating.
Internalizers usually take more responsibility than they should and they can be too self-sacrificing and not recognize their own needs as legitimate. Take this to an extreme and you will get a person who is depressed, anxious, resentful, and burned out from their inner-critic.
Externalizers usually refuse to accept any responsibility and often act impulsively. Take it to an extreme and you can get a person who is totally oblivious to their negative impact on others, and who is unwilling to make things better by, at least, accepting responsibility. This is a person who will hurt themselves and others.
Now that we have an idea about the locus of control, let’s talk about a cognitive distortion that can make those extreme situations a million times worse!!
Well, I might be exaggerating by saying ‘a million times’, you know! This is an overestimation.
It’s just going to make normal situations a little bit bad, and that is it!
Oh, this is probably an underestimation!
Do you get it?
This is the cognitive distortion I am talking about.
Zooming In and Zooming Out
As the title suggests, this is when you, totally biased, overestimate or underestimate something.
This ‘something’ can be a feeling, an outcome, a result, or an entire situation. But usually, it’s an outcome and/or feeling.
Here are a few examples.
When a friend doesn’t reply to your phone calls, you conclude the following: they don’t like me. No one cares about me at all. I will be alone forever.
This is an overestimation.
When a friend compliments you on something great you did and tells you that you are awesome for doing it, you brush it off and mention that it was nothing and that you still suck.
This is an underestimation. You underestimate your abilities/good traits. You do it by refusing to accept the compliment because you don’t see why you deserve it in the first place.
When you lose your job, you reach this conclusion pretty darn quickly: I will be homeless. I will beg people for money and humiliate myself.
I can’t find a better job because, hey, who would ever hire me.
Even if your skills suck, you are underestimating your ability to develop yourself and grow.
We usually overestimate the negativity in the world and underestimate our abilities to handle this negativity.
This is a recipe for a weak character that won’t be able to withstand any hardships.
This is a character that cannot get up and change something or solve a problem.
Now, combine this recipe with the extremes of being an internalizer or an externalizer. It can be quite disastrous.
An internalizer who overestimates and underestimates
Internalizers usually overestimate their responsibility share.
This can make them end up taking responsibility for things that aren’t their responsibility. In turn, this will make them end up either resentful or just totally burned out. Or both!
They also overestimate the outcomes of them not doing something well enough. In other words, they overestimate their mistakes, which makes them either too afraid of making mistakes or guilt-ridden and shame-ridden because of making mistakes.
They may underestimate other people’s responsibilities (which is why they have the tendency to attract externalizers). This can make them unable to hold people accountable for abusive, disrespectful behavior they may receive.
They may also end up underestimating themselves and abilities.
I believe this happens because their inner critic is too active.
Their failure to ‘fix things’ despite taking responsibility for everything, and their failure to get what they need (they don’t take many of their needs seriously. They underestimate them), are going to hit hard on their self-esteem.
An externalizer who overestimates and underestimates
Externalizers often overestimate other people’s responsibility for whatever is going on.
This makes them act like victims.
They also overestimate the external forces such as luck and fate and government and the weather and how people are stupid and [fill in your favorite external force that is believed to oppress people!].
They obviously underestimate their responsibility; they underestimate the impact their actions can have on any situation, so why bother doing anything or taking on any responsibility?
When it comes to making mistakes, they often overestimate the mistakes others make as proof of the existence of the external forces that fuck them up.
What to do
If there’s anything to learn from this article, and the previous one, it’s this: extremes suck. And being kind to yourself is anything but an extreme.
One of the ways we jeopardize ourselves is by taking the things that hurt us and make them as extreme as possible.
We do that when we use the all-or-nothing mentality to see the world.
We do it when we take our tendencies to be internalizers or externalizers to the extreme.
And we do it when we overestimate the negativity in the world and underestimate our ability to face this negativity.
So, balance is the key. Resisting the extremes is the key.
The next step is awareness.
You catch yourself going to an extreme, overestimating or underestimating, and you pull yourself back to the middle.
Whenever you catch yourself worrying too much, or thinking too much, or whining and complaining too much, it’s often a sign you are seeing the world through this cognitive distortion of overestimating and underestimating.
Here’s a practical way to handle those distortions.
Have two police officers inside of your mind.
Call one: the anti-whining, anti-bitching officer. This one handles the overestimations.
Call the other one: the panic monster. This one handles the underestimations.
Both of them root for you and want the best for you.
And not only that. Give the part of you that overestimates or underestimates a funny name. And make those 2 officers use it.
I call mine SASA. It’s derived from my own name: Mosab.
Now, when that part of you starts overestimating or underestimating, make those two officers interfere.
Your friends don’t invite you to hang out and you start overestimating. You think of how unlovable you must be and how much they hate you.
The anti-whining, anti-bitching officer jumps into the place and says, “really? Like, really?? Stop it, [SASA], for god’s sake.”
I lose my job and I start playing video games all day instead of doing anything regarding my financial situation. And I don’t think I have enough skills to have any other job.
The panic monster comes out and screams, in a scary voice, “[SASA], get away from the control’s room. I will guide from here. We need some panic to get our ass up and do something. Plus, what the hell you mean by saying we are useless and don’t have any skills? What the hell??”
It’s a monster, but it’s wise.
And the anti-whining, anti-bitching officer interferes when I start thinking I would be living in the street or not find a job that is good for me at all. It stops me overestimating and catastrophizing while the panic monster stops me from underestimating myself or external events. They can work together, by the way.
This reminds me that you need to have some wisdom. The part of you who controls those two officers must be wise enough to recognize when [SASA/Your funny nickname] is being negative and demoralizing.
Self-awareness is good for this reason.
Having wise friends who want the good for you is also good. They can play the role of these officers or help you realize it’s time you used these officers to get some balance in the way you think.
Yeah, a lot of characters. You will either get crazy or will have a healthier way of seeing the world and yourself. And as a result you will be kinder to yourself. It’s worth the try.
(Note: for extra information about internalizers and externalizers, check the book Adult Children of Immature Parents. It has an entire chapter about internalizers and few more information about externalizers. Get it for free as an audio book from here or grab the paperback from here.)