Why is it so hard….

positive1Why is it so hard for someone to identify a positive trait about themselves?  This is the question that confronted me all day today.  While meeting with clients today I found myself asking them the same question, session after session.  For some it just took me breaking the ice so they could begin to find positive traits.  For another I asked her to identify one and I gave her a few examples that I noticed and she broke into tears.  I don’t mean one or two tears, I mean almost the ugly tears of so emotionally overwhelmed that it took a little for her to regain her composure.  When I asked her why, she stated she has so little self-esteem that she cannot see these positive and when positives are pointed out it hurts.  I left that session after giving her the assignment of building on the compliments that I displayed for her.  She seemed reluctant but I really hope she will try. positive

So I’m left with the original question… Why is it so hard to identify positive traits about self?  I know we all struggle with finding positive things when we are asked.  But how hard is it for you to think something positive when I give you a few moments?  How about when I start you off:

“I am caring”

“I am motivated”

“I am….(you fill this in)”

How does this little project make you feel?  For me it makes me feel better, happier, gracious.

I don’t think I answered the question of “why” but my hope is that by making more of us aware of this lack of self-esteem others have (and maybe we have about ourselves) we are nicer to others.  We give more compliments to others and we ourselves truly believe those positive things when said to us.

“I am hopeful”…positive2


5 thoughts on “Why is it so hard….

  1. I still work to overcome this very difficult thing. I can’t speak for others, but for me it’s so challenging because of years of mental, emotional, and verbal abuse. Of course, I didn’t realize those things were happening until many years after the fact; every kid thinks the way they are raised is the way everyone else is raised.

    Like your client, I have had torrents of tears in trying to come to terms with good traits or good, successful things I have done. Why? Good question. It’s scary. As if what seemed good will fall apart without warning, and the abusive voices (real or imagined) will start screaming again: “See?!? I told you so! What the hell do you think you know? You don’t know anything! You’re so stupid!” Yes, that’s a scary, even if unlikely or impossible, scenario.

    I remember one day, a few years ago, I had fought hard for my daughter’s life. I had intervened during her deep, suicidal depression and gotten her into residential treatment. The steps I had taken, even against my ex-husband’s wishes and as awful and difficult as it all was, had literally saved her life.

    One day driving down the road, for no particular reason, I came undone. The tears would not stop, and I felt much like a small child saying, “I can too do it! I did it! I did something good and right, even though you always said I was too stupid. And now my daughter isn’t dead BECAUSE OF WHAT I DID.” I think they were tears of both relief and fear. I could analyze them for far more pages than you likely want, but it was a watershed moment for me.

    It still doesn’t necessarily make me feel better or happier to name my strengths; I think the fear will always exist that somehow I will have to defend myself regarding them and be found lacking. But the fact that I can say “I am compassionate; I am giving; I am capable; I am not stupid” – this is a huge victory. I think sometimes I have to purposefully keep the emotion out of it or I am a wreck. My best friends know that when they name my good qualities or give a sincere compliment or observation, they’d better pull out the tissues.

    (Perhaps all of this is fodder for today’s therapy session?!) 😉

    Take care,


    • Thanks for sharing Monica. I am thankful that you felt comfortable enough to share these tough moments and emotions. I am sure all who read your input will learn and for that you are a “teacher” too! 🙂

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