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ASK THE THERAPISTS: I need help to deal with feeling so stupid


This writer finds they’re always saying stupid, embarassing things and wants to know how to change that feeling.
This writer finds they’re always saying stupid, embarrassing things and wants to know how to change that feeling. - 123RF Stock Photo

My whole life I’ve felt stupid. When I’m in a group of people, I always seem to end up saying something embarrassing, even though I try so hard not to. Just the other day it happened again, I said something and everyone looked at me like I was an idiot. I don’t want to feel this way anymore, how do I stop saying stupid things and feeling badly about it when I do?

I feel stupid

Blair

You’re in good company my friend. Marilyn Monroe was known to script answers to questions prior to social events or interviews just so she could avoid the same feelings. While I’m not suggesting you do this, I am saying that you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has never felt the same way.

In my younger years of public speaking, the fear of saying something stupid would engulf me so much that I’d turn down opportunities. Through self-reflection, I realized that I too was holding onto a negative core belief that I was stupid, which stemmed from having an undiagnosed case of dyslexia. It wasn’t until I finally committed to changing my inner dialogue I was able to grow beyond this limiting belief and accept myself as a person with unique learning needs.

It sounds like you have developed a fear of making mistakes and when you do, you judge yourself harshly. This is a big issue for many of us, as we believe that mistakes are humiliating and reflect poorly on our self-worth. But the real truth is every successful person has given themselves permission to fail or fumble the ball in order to develop the skills needed to succeed. Why don’t you do some research into the life of a successful person you admire? I can almost guarantee their early years were not glamorous but rather wrought with mistakes, because they are building blocks to the learning process.

This understanding is instrumental in getting out of your own way. One of the sure signs of someone with a strong self-esteem is they allow themselves to make mistakes. In fact, when they do make mistakes, they might even laugh at themselves. The next time you find yourself in a social situation and mucking it up, find a way to laugh at yourself in a loving way, not in a self-diminishing way. Jennifer Lawrence is notorious for this, tripping her way through Hollywood and then using it as a conversation piece later. I invite you to write this quote on sticky notes around your house, so that every time you see it you recite “It’s okay to make mistakes.”

That said, I wonder if the real issue is less about being stupid, and more about low self-esteem. Did you know people possess various forms of intelligence in different arenas of life? Even doctors, who may be specialists in their field, might be at a loss to change a tire. The difference is they likely don’t mope around dwelling on the fact they have little automotive knowledge, they just rely on people who do.

If I told you to not think about white elephants, what would you do? That’s right, you’d think about white elephants. By focusing so much of your attention on being stupid, you’re making it the centrepiece of social situations. Instead, expand your perspective by making a list of the areas of life you excel in, (and feel free to ask your loved ones to contribute to this list) and focus your attention on your attributes!

Jenny

Since you’ve spent your whole life feeling stupid, it’s safe to assume it’s a well-practised belief, regardless of your age. Let’s unpack it by exploring where this hurtful belief came from. Did someone tell you this? Did a parent have the same belief about themselves? It’s very possible to inherit limiting beliefs from our parents or grandparents. When it comes to behaviour change, it’s important we go to the source of the issue, (which likely occurred in childhood) and uproot it from there. Otherwise, we’ll spend our time just snipping off the heads, which will continue to grow back.

Once you’ve identified the root cause of your limiting belief, you can consciously release it from your life. In our yoga teacher training program, we guide participants through a letting go ritual by writing down a belief that’s infringing on their happiness and then they throw it into a bin or a fire pit. It can be very emotional to choose to release old beliefs that have, in some way, served us or kept us safe our whole lives. But it’s not until we let go of living small and learn to embrace self-respect that we’re finally able to fulfil our potential. As it did for Blair, just imagine how this belief of being stupid has limited your life.

By bringing awareness to your limiting thinking, you can choose more supportive thoughts. For me, I’m pretty weak at anything mathematical (I’m the one whining when the kids bring home math homework), but I have a rare intuition and emotional sensitivity which has served me well in my chosen work, and that's what I focus on. You might want to check out the best-selling book Strengths Finder 2.0. Instead of focusing on fixing their shortcomings (which you might be doing), Tom Rath encourages readers to identify their top five strengths and then develop them. I don’t know about you but that sounds like way more fun than spending painful hours on topics that bore me!

In summary, identify the root cause of the belief that you’re stupid, choose to let it go, find a replacement belief that jazzes you up and then let yourself mess up as you learn a new way of being. You’ve got this!

Blair Abbass and Jenny Kierstead are certified therapists, award winning educators and partners in life and business. They are the co-founders of Breathing Space Yoga Studio/Teacher Training, Yoga in Schools and Girl on Fire. They have been married for 17 years, but who’s counting.

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