Thursday, June 26, 2008

An Epidemic Among Women

"I'm such a bad mom."

"I am so dumb sometimes!"

"I think I'm just broken."

"I'm so bad!"

"Am I a freak or what?"

"I am so lazy."

Over and over I hear phrases like this in conversations with women. Often these and similar phrases are used as deprecating humor. I hear it everywhere. It is so prevalent that it disturbs me. Why is it considered ok or even humorous to say thing about ourselves that would be frowned upon if we said them to our children? An accompanying habit is an inability to accept and/or believe compliments. Tell a woman that she looks nice, and she's likely to say something like, "Oh! I am having such a bad hair day, but thanks anyway." And even when some women say "Thank you," inside they're thinking, "That isn't true, they're just saying that to be nice." I know, because I do this. And a whole lot of other women I know do this.

I learned from a pro. My mom was the consummate compliment dodger. She was intelligent and accomplished, but this woman couldn't accept/believe a compliment to save her life. She was a wonderful cook; everything she made was awesome. But when anyone would praise her cooking, she'd look away and say "aww, well, it's not much." I could never tell if she really didn't think she was a good cook or if she was trying to be modest about it. When I would see her and tell her how nice she looked, or how much I liked her blouse, I might get a "oh, thanks," but the tone of voice and the look on her face belied that she didn't believe a word of it.

Why do we do this to ourselves and the people who want to be kind to us? Do we believe that by talking tough to/about ourselves, we'll motivate ourselves to be better, smarter, more competent, less forgetful? Do I think that by labeling myself as "lazy" that I'll develop a better work ethic? But, but... Idleness is a sin! If I'm not busy doing something productive every minute of every day, I'm sinning in the eyes of God! Right? And yet, ironically, telling myself that I'm a pathetic loser when I waste a few hours messing around doesn't change my tendency to waste time. It just makes me feel worse about myself.

I can't help but wonder if a desire for humility is the goal driving this kind of self-defeating thinking. Do we believe that it's prideful to accept praise? If someone tells me the food is good, am I hopelessly arrogant if I believe them and answer with a gracious "Thank you"? Is it sin if I actually believe the compliment, and agree that I can hold my own in the kitchen?

But what about compliments that I honestly believe are false? If I truly hate my physical appearance and someone tells me I look good, how do I deal with that? Then I become the one who says "Thank you," and then mentally shreds the compliment to pieces. I wish I knew how to change that.

I have a theory, only partly formed. I believe that our attempts to deflect praise for humility's sake backfire. I think that when we talk unkindly about ourselves and refuse to believe the honest compliments others give, that we are serving him who would destroy us. I believe that most of us don't even realize how constant and damaging this negative self-talk is. We feel self-conscious, and unhappy with ourselves, and we don't know why. We may even feel depressed and hopeless, and cannot see that we are helping to dig the pits that we stumble through.

I could be wrong. And I'm reasonably sure there are women out there who don't engage in this habitual self-beating behavior. But I can't think of any just now...


  1. When you figure out the formula to break this cycle, please post it. I am in desperate need of help with this potentially life threatening problem. Until then I will just try to take each day as it comes.
    Thanks for sharing, I guess it helps to know that I am not alone.

  2. Lisa, I know that you are completely right on this. Satan's greatest tool to "get" the LDS/christian/good woman is this kind of negativity. If he can get us to dismiss the beauties and talents that God has given us, then he weakens our relationship with our Father in Heaven. When we have negativity in our lives, we cannot feel or hear the whisperings of the Spirit. This is Satan's greatest tool. He would like nothing more than to get wonderful women of God to stop listening to their Father in Heaven -- especially when those women are raising the Father's children.

    Here is my secret. I am not great at this but I have learned something that seems to help.

    When someone gives me a compliment that I immediately start to not believe, I stop myself because if I contradict them, I am really calling my friend/family a liar. So my words instead are, "Really? Thank you. I hadn't thought about that." or "Really? Thank you. I hadn't felt good about (fill in the blank) but I value your opinion and so thank you." This positive response stops the negative thoughts in my head and allows for their kindness to sink in a little. I am not always great at this but I am trying.

    Another thing that I have found that works is to be really honest about my personal skills. I have many skill sets and some things the Lord has blessed me with as "weak things that I get to make strong". :) I am honest about knowing what I can do and what I get to work on. As long as I don't dwell on how horrible my weaknesses are but that I am ok with the fact that I get to work on them, I feel better about myself.

    For example. I am not good at cooking. It is just not a skill set that I have been blessed with. Do I beat myself up about it? No. I accept that I am not good at it and so I look for simple things that I can do to improve on it. I look for easy recipes that I can use for those times when you prepare meals for others. I figure that if I can have a couple recipes in my skill set that I feel good about, then I am making progress. Then I like to cook with others in the kitchen who do know what they are are doing and I pick up things from them. I am working to make a weak thing become strong and so I feel ok about the fact that cooking is not one of my skill sets.

    Sorry for the INCREDIBLY long comment. I wonder if there is a rule somewhere that comments should be short. :)

    In closing, I think we should learn to speak and treat ourselves like we would our dearest friend. If our dearest friend had 500 things on her "to-do" list for the day and she only got to 499, we would be singing her praises. Not in a self-serving type way but in true praise of a job well done. We should do the same for ourselves. Afterall, "men are that they might have joy" and we can't let Satan win this one. :)

  3. I have a tape by Carolyn Pearce Ringer called "Fath Unpuzzled", that speaks to this very thing. She says that when you say to yourself, "YOU are dumb", etc. that that is Satan working negitive words on you. I'll make this available to LISA if you want to listen to it or own a copy.

    I tried to get Lisa's mother to listen to it more often, because it alweays worked for a while. Let Lisa know.

  4. It looks like kit is copy writed, here is her web site.

  5. It costs $20. I will "loan" mine to Lisa.

  6. I found this ( while doing some work on the internet today. It reminded me of this post and I thought I would share it. Scroll down to the article titled, "10 Steps Towards Building Your Self-Esteem". I thought it was a good list. :)