During my first therapy session a few weeks ago, we had started to wrap the conversation up, when my therapist said, “It sounds like you take on the world. You seem to take on everyone else’s problems, and because of that, you never focus on yourself.”
That statement didn’t sit right with me.
I paused and chewed on it while I tried to figure out how to answer.
It wasn’t the first time I had heard that from a clinician or friend, but this time, I wasn’t jumping to say—“Yes! You’re right—that’s exactly what I do. Poor me, right?”
The truth is, I’m not totally convinced that is true for me anymore.
“Let me be honest with you,” I said to her.
“I feel like I made it seem that way, because in reality over the years, I have gotten so much better at not taking on other people’s problems. Secretly, I think I’m really just a bad person, and someday everyone is going to find out. You coming to that conclusion, feels like another scheme of mine in order to make you believe that I’m a good person, when really, I’m not.”
I had never said that out loud before, and it wasn’t the answer she was expecting.
Part of me was expecting me to say yes so we could move on and end the session on a nice note, but what’s the point of seeing a therapist if you’re not painfully honest?
I’ve gotten better at fighting the urge to tell people what I think they want to hear.
Her first response was, of course, “Oh no, Chloé, you’re not a bad person”, but I don’t think that’s the point.
The point isn’t whether or not I am.
There’s no definitive answer or way to judge something as abstract as good and bad. What is important, and interesting to me, is the fact that I think that way.
I believe that I am my own worst enemy.
Noticing that I have this deep rooted belief is a huge source of the things I am seeking out therapy for: the need for outside validation, my feeling of being an imposter at work, and a whole truckload of issues related to not being enough.
This realization, as surprising as it was to my own self-discovery, caused me to start wondering how other people feel and think. So, naturally, I started asking.
One night a few weeks ago, as my boyfriend and I were lying in bed, I asked him if he felt that deep down, he was a bad person. At first, he didn’t understand.
“Well for me, I feel in my roots that I’m a bad person, and I’m constantly doing things to make sure people don’t find out that I’m actually a really bad person. It’s like I’m constantly stressed that people will find out that I’m actually not awesome, or decent, or even nice like I portray myself to be,” I explained.
“No, I don’t think that,” he responded almost instantly.
“I think I’m a good person. Yesterday I was going to stop for a lady who was having car troubles on the side of the road. There was a cop that ended up pulling over behind her so it wasn’t necessary, and I kept driving, but every time I see someone on the side of the road, I feel guilty all day if I don’t help or do anything about it.”
I was stunned.
I had expected him to say, “yes—I think that too”, but he was so adamant and sure, that the question seemed completely absurd to him.
His response challenged the idea that this is something everyone believes and feels in their core, and this further sparked my curiosity.
So, I started telling my friends how I felt, and asked “Deep down do you feel like you’re actually a bad person?” Here are some of the real answers I got:
V: “No. Not really. Sometimes I think I’m too hard on myself though. Like I’ll spill something and think – ‘You stupid idiot, get a grip. You can’t do anything.’ But I think I’m a good person.”
T: “Yeah, I think I’m the opposite. I think I’m a good person, but I feel like I’m constantly trying to prove to other people that I’m not a bad person. And it’s like all the time. I’m constantly thinking that the person I’m talking to thinks I’m dumb, or weird, or annoying, so it’s this constant wave of self-criticism, and I feel like I have to prove I’m actually an okay person.”
S: “Oh yeah, I feel exactly the same way. I feel like I’m a really bad person, and I have to do things that good people do to make up for it—like all the time. I don’t know why, or how I got this way, but it’s always there.”
B: “I think I do some really horrible things, but then I also think I do some really awesome, nice, good things. That kind of balances it out. I also don’t think I do as horrible things as some other people. Plus, because I’m aware of it—I think that makes it a little more all right too. Sometimes I choose to do horrible things, but at least I know I’m doing it.”
R: “No. I go to bed at night really grateful to be alive, and I’m excited for the next day. I’m a true altruist, and bring good things to the world.”
I think these answers, and how different they are, are really interesting, and even more interesting because of how I personally perceive them.
Each one of these people I perceive as positive people, who are good, kind, and who bring value to the world. Yet each of their answers were vastly different.
So what does that mean?
One of my closest friends, “S”, agreed with me, and this surprised me.
She is one of the most empathetic, sweetest, and caring people I know. She’s the type that makes you feel good about yourself just by being around her.
She brings light, and love, and joy wherever she goes, and yet, she feels the same way I do.
So let’s get real.
There is no way that “S” is a bad person.
Not even the tiniest part believes that she is a bad person.
I know she is imperfect and has issues like the rest of us. But that in no way makes her a bad person. I think I can apply that same logic to myself.
If one of the best people I know believes she is one the worst, then there must be some flaw in my own belief.
Self-perception is king.
I know everyone is different. Of course not everyone thinks the same way I do. Everyone has a valid perspective that was created by their belief systems and experiences. And somehow my self-perception is negative. What I find interesting is that it never crossed my mind that I didn’t have to believe that I’m a bad person.
Hearing the perspectives of my friends reminds me that I can change my thoughts. I can change my deep-seeded beliefs that are subconsciously sabotaging my happiness.
I promise this post is not a cry for people to tell me that I’m not a bad person. That is not what I’m looking for, and also not what I’m trying to convey.
The logical part of me knows, that my deepest parts can be wrong, and I’m actually not a bad person.
This post is about an observation.
It’s about recognizing a thought that I want to reverse and replace. I think discovering your subconscious beliefs that have no objective truth behind them is valuable when trying to change.
I want to change my self-deprecating thoughts.
It starts with recognizing the false beliefs I’ve relied on for years.
After all, we can’t grow if we don’t figure out what’s blocking the sun. Here’s to cutting off all the dead leaves. Cheers to collecting the dead branches that do not serve you in order nourish and nurture your roots.
Now, I am SUPER curious what your baseline is. How do you feel deep down? What are the thoughts you bury?