Most tips on how to stop feeling bad about yourself are surficial, meaning they only skim the surface of the problem. They don’t dig up the roots of why you feel bad about yourself. Nor do they help when you’re crushed under the heavy darkness of thoughts like “I feel bad about myself” or even “I hate myself.” Surficial tips aren’t good enough.
Is “surficial” a new word for you? It was to me! It relates to the earth, not self-esteem or psychology, but I like using it. Ironically, I learned it at a time in my life when I didn’t just feel bad about myself, I hated myself. I was teaching grade 8 Language Arts and high school journalism at a private American school for missionaries’ and ex-pats’ kids in Africa. If you think it’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re an adult working in an office or service setting, try teaching 13 year olds grammar. Middle school is not the place for a teacher to work out her self-esteem and identity issues.
In this article, I share three tips on how to stop feeling bad about yourself. These tips are general, so you can apply them to your specific life situation. Maybe you feel unloved and unwanted because of a breakup or divorce. Maybe you regret a bad decision you made in the past. Maybe you’re coping with a difficult husband who treats you badly.
Regardless of why you feel bad about yourself, you’ll find comfort and hope here. These three tips are practical and applicable to daily life…and I even through in a fourth tip for free! It’s how I stopped hating myself and started living in freedom, peace, and joy.
3 Ways to Stop Feeling Bad About Yourself
These tips are inspired by an article called “Get Unstuck! How to Avoid the Mistakes That Sabotage Success” in a back issue of O. I don’t even know who wrote this article because I tore the page out of the magazine seven years ago — and it doesn’t specifically address the “I feel bad about myself” problem. But her advice is pretty good, especially with my own little blossomy spin.
1. Notice when you feel most bad about yourself
What helped me was when I started to notice how bad I felt about myself when I was on Facebook. I found myself feeling lonely, isolated and unhappy while scrolling through all those updates, pictures, jokes and groups. I compared myself to my “friends” and always came up lonelier, sadder, uglier, unhappier. I realized that Facebook wasn’t helping me feel good, improving my relationships, or even brightening my day.
This tip isn’t about avoiding Facebook. Rather, it’s about noticing when you feel bad about yourself. Maybe you feel heavy and burdened at work because of a difficult boss or unhappy coworker. Maybe you’re struggling with problems at home or in your marriage. Maybe you feel worse at night, or after eating certain foods, or while you’re with certain people. Start noticing when those “I feel bad about myself” feelings rise.
2. Surprise yourself
“As a species, humans have evolved to respond to novelty,” write Hugh Thompson and Bob Sullivan in The Plateau Effect (as reported in the Get Unstuck article). “Once we’ve become accustomed to something, we may grow immune to its effects.”
We need to be exposed to new and different things, or our attention wanders. Further, our bodies and minds adapt quickly to the environment. For example, the best way to lose weight is to keep surprising your body with different types of exercise: walking uphill backwards, swimming in the ocean, playing soccer instead of swimming. Original situations surprise our bodies and minds, keeping us alert and focused. What might this mean for you — how does it stop you from feeling bad? It depends on your life; for me, it meant practicing my flute instead of surfing Facebook on my work breaks. This makes me feel good about myself.
3. Track your progress
We forget things — especially the good stuff. We tend to remember (and even dwell or ruminate on) our regrets, mistakes, failures and weaknesses forever…but our joys, moments of peace, spiritual highs, and feelings of love and connection? How quickly we forget.
“We found that one of the most important ways successful people stave off slumps is by establishing markers,” says Sullivan in Get Unstuck. “Some form of data collection — tracking your salary, recording your waist circumference, or periodically rating how you feel about yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 can help you spot and reverse a negative progression before it picks up speed.” If you pay attention to how you’re feeling better and better about yourself, you’ll keep moving forward.
These three tips on how to stop feeling bad about yourself — 1) notice when you feel most bad about yourself; 2) surprise yourself; and 3) track your progress — are good. But, they’re surficial. That is, they help with the surface feelings of “I feel bad about myself” or even “I hate myself”…but they don’t get to the root of the problem.
How I Stopped Feeling Bad About Myself
When I read my old journals — I’m talking about my diaries from 30 years ago — I see these words over and over: “I hate myself!” I also wrote about hating my mom, sister, teachers and dad. Mostly my mom, because she’s had schizophrenia my whole life. She had several nervous breakdowns and psychotic episodes, which meant I spent a lot of time in foster care.
I didn’t know I felt bad about myself until I started teaching in Africa (where I first learned what “surficial” meant). The school offered free counseling to teachers, and I figured I had nothing to lose. I like introspection and growth. My psychologist, Nancy, helped me dig up the roots of my self-hatred. It was painful, but I learned why I felt so bad about myself — and why I was self-protective, condescending, sometimes even cruel to other people.
Counseling helped me stop feeling bad about myself, but it didn’t heal the root of the problem. My problem was that I didn’t have a strong sense of identity. I didn’t feel loved or worthy. I felt insecure and scared all the time — emotionally, physically, socially, professionally. I never felt safe, or like I had a solid rock to stand on.
What changed me was listening to a podcast sermon by pastor Tim Keller. I walk every morning from 5 to 6 am; that morning I was in the forest at dawn. Keller was talking about the Father’s love for us, as Jesus described in the “Our Father” prayer. That was the moment that God’s love penetrated the stone wall around my heart and stared dismantling it, rock by rock. I was overcome with His power, love, strength and presence.
That was two or three years ago…and I rarely feel bad about myself now. It wasn’t that one moment that healed me, though. Rather, it’s been a progressive strengthening of my relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. My self-identity is different now and that changes everything.
I don’t know how you feel about Jesus, but I know God brought you here. And He wants you back. Instead of trying to overcome those “I feel bad about myself” feelings by yourself, let God catch you. Let the Holy Spirit heal you. Follow Jesus home, and you’ll never feel bad about yourself again.
In peace and passion,
P.S. If you’re not big on praying, read 5 Ways to Talk to God When You Can’t Pray.
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