How Do We Make Ourselves Feel Better?
When we believe something is wrong with us or that we’re ‘not enough,’ it hurts inside. It provokes feelings of unhappiness, emptiness and lack. Thoughts and beliefs that we’re bad or guilty for some reason, even though we don’t know why. We then begin to doubt ourselves and our value. And believing that we’re not as good as others, we may start to feel separate, alone and unsafe.
Instead of making ourselves feel better by doing the work necessary to restore integrity in our lives - being true to our real selves – accepting our thoughts and feelings, making empowered choices and growing into the magnificent lives that I believe we are destined for – we instead turn to the easier softer way – accepting substitutes outside of ourselves.
Here are some glimpses of what that might look like:
- If we’re feeling empty, we may try to ‘fill ourselves up’ through food, drink, entertainment or activity.
- If we think we’re not good enough, we may try to be ‘enough’ by working harder or trying to be “the best” at whatever we’re doing.
- If we don’t believe we have value, we may try to prove our worth through over-performing or trying to attract the praise of others.
- If we see ourselves as weak or vulnerable, we may try to suppress our feelings and emotions, such as tears, anger, tenderness or love. (As a result, we might become tougher and more aggressive, or shut down and become tight and unemotional.)
- If we’re afraid of being “wrong,” we may do everything we can not to make mistakes, be right or be perfect.
- If we believe we’re not lovable, we may compromise ourselves to do things to get what we think is love, acceptance or esteem from others.
In the short term, all of these seem like perfectly natural solutions to fill the gaps we feel inside. But in the long term, they actually perpetuate our problems – because we haven’t dealt with how we think and feel inside.
Seeing Others as the Problem
When we believe we’re not enough or something’s wrong with us, we also begin to compensate by choosing new thoughts to make us feel safe and okay. So we say things to ourselves like: “I didn’t do anything wrong; they did it to me.” Or, “There’s nothing I can do. Other people are the source of my problem.” And that’s where our victim thinking begins. The purpose of these thoughts is to stop us from feeling guilty – by putting responsibility onto others and stopping us from looking inside, because that would be too painful. However, this thinking also stop us from seeing the real source of our bad feelings.
I once heard a church minister state that this blaming mentality started with Adam and Eve. Not that this is the truth or not but I loved the perspective. He said that when God asked him why he ate of the tree of knowledge, Adam blamed both God and Eve, saying something like “it was because of this woman you gave me”. Implying of course that it was god’s fault for giving Adam the woman.
To make ourselves feel better, we may then start seeing ourselves as superior to others. We become the ‘heroes,’ or the ‘innocent’ ones, the ones who are doing our best – while we tell ourselves that others aren’t. “If only other people cared more or tried harder, the world would be a better place,” we think to ourselves. Or we may go the other way. We may start to see ourselves as inferior and feel sorry for ourselves. Thoughts of being hard done by or ‘poor me’ start to grow within us. The purpose of these thoughts is to make us feel okay by having “reasons” for our problems, and to elicit sympathy or caring from others. But in the end, both approaches keep us small, and result in a constant feeling of discomfort which we are driven to escape.
We’ll also try to ‘protect’ ourselves by judging and criticizing others. This makes us feel better by seeing others as the source of our problems. However, eventually this turns into CHRONIC blaming and complaining about people – a key trait of all addicts that I’ve known (including myself). And step by step, we come to see ourselves as victims, not responsible for our life.
Each and every one of these behaviours is a logical response to not feeling good enough. But with each of these ‘choices,’ we are actually burying or forgetting our true self. We use them to make ourselves feel safe, instead of growing. To mask our real thoughts and feelings, instead of being honest. To hide, instead of being seen. And eventually, we start to forget how we really feel and what we really want inside.
Relating through Co-Dependence
Many of these behaviours are characteristics of a specific kind of addiction called “codependence.” I’ve heard experts state that co-dependence is an addiction beneath all addictions. In other words, when you take away the drugs, alcohol, or the sex, or whatever the predominant addiction appears to be, you are left with a co-dependent. Let me describe what that means in terms of our unwanted habits, compulsions or addictions.
When we live and act in ways that are not fully ‘true’ for us, we attract people with similar patterns and characteristics. We then relate to each other in ‘co-dependent’ and unhealthy ways, because our behaviour is coming from our mutual ‘not enoughness’ rather than our real or true selves.
As we do this, a negative spiral sets in. Inside, we don’t seem to have that ‘spark’ anymore. Our well being is increasingly dependent on other people and things. We feel like we have less and less control over our lives. So we begin making more and more “safe” choices, instead of growing and taking risks. We blame others for our circumstances or when bad things happen, because it seems like ‘they’ are doing it to us. And we frequently turn to behaviours, substances and habits to fill ourselves up or make ourselves feel better. This is why co-dependence could possibly be one of the possible causes of all addictions and compulsions.