Discounting the Positive and Feeling Inferior? What Would Eleanor Roosevelt Say?

Apr 9
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Discounting the Positive and Feeling Inferior? What Would Eleanor Roosevelt Say?

A wise, powerful humanitarian, Eleanor Roosevelt’s legacy includes a vast array of wise words to inspire us all to be better people for ourselves and each other. Many people can absolutely live her words and apply their philosophy when it comes to the “each other” part. Sadly, it’s hard for so many people to apply her wisdom and kindness to themselves. Too many people struggle to like themselves. 

Mrs. Roosevelt is right, of course. No one can make us feel inferior without our consent. The problem is that often, we willingly give everyone full permission to do just that. And when others don’t actually try to make us feel inferior, we jump in and do it for them.

Counseling approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) identify various negative thinking patterns that interfere with our ability to interpret ourselves and the world. Regarding such destructive thought patterns, one of the biggies is what is known as “discounting the positive.” When we discount the positive, we focus on what we think are negative personal traits, our flaws. Further, we blow them out of proportion. Beyond that, we get into the habit of ignoring all of our strengths and positive attributes. When people pay us compliments or point out the good in us, we tragically “yes-butting” them away with a flick of the hand.

A great number of people are quick to notice their own faults but slow (if they do it at all) to acknowledge that they have strengths and abilities.  This unhealthy thought pattern is common enough that there is an entire negative thinking pattern associated with it. Indeed, “discounting the positive” wouldn’t be on the list of harmful thought patterns if it weren’t experienced by a significant number of us.

Making ourselves feel inferior really isn’t a healthy thing to do. It leads to increased anxiety, depression, general stress, eating disorders, and more, including physical health problems.

Clearly, living in constant awareness of faults and discounting strengths is unpleasant at best. So what to do about it? CBT gives us this technique: When thinking of our shortcomings, we should stop ourselves and find evidence to the contrary. Feeling like a bad parent because of an unpleasant incident with a child? Reflect on all of the positive interactions and realize that the “bad” incident isn’t the only type of interaction you and your child have. Looking for evidence to counter negative thoughts and then replacing the automatic negative thoughts with more realistic examples are powerful ways to, over time and with practice, over come the negative thinking about yourself.

While we’re working on that strategy, we can keep reminding ourselves of Eleanor Roosevelt. Why should we give anyone, ourselves included, permission to make us feel inferior? I admire and respect Eleanor Roosevelt. She didn’t see herself as superior to anyone, nor did she herself as inferior to anyone. She saw herself as a person with strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. That “everyone else” is you and I.

Truly, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Don’t give yourself that permission.

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