Don't ask "what's wrong with me?" Ask this instead.
Updated: Feb 11
Do you ever notice that our default response to struggle seems to be to ask this very judgmental, blaming question: “What the f*ck is wrong with me?!” Usually, this question is asked of us with disgust, disdain, annoyance or anger. It’s as if we belief ourselves to be faulted for having common human struggles. To struggle is to be human and so why are we so mean to ourselves for being human? Why do we do this?
First, it’s important to understand blame whether towards ourselves or others, as a defense mechanism constructed by the brain to help keep us safe and alive. But, how? Hold on while I geek out on the brain for just a minute.
When we struggle, we usually experience uncomfortable, sometimes intense emotions. Our survival instinct turns on and interprets these emotions as a threat. Our amygdala does not differentiate between actual threat vs. perceived threat. In an attempt to protect us from this “threat” of these intense emotions, our brain constructs defenses to “protect” us. Blame is one of them. You see, this part of your brain believes that if you blame yourself or others, you won’t feel the uncomfortable “threatening” emotions. The problem with that part of the brain is that it’s loony. It’s not rational at all. So, with this type of defense or “protection” the brain is unintentionally creating more uncomfortable emotions that feeds the belief that there’s something wrong with us. That we’re genuinely faulted. Now, emotions multiply, the survival response intensifies, and then we end up in either the fight, flight or freeze. The freeze response is where we begin to feel stuck, caught up in a cycle of uncomfortable emotion and self-deprecating thoughts. It’s not that you’re unmotivated or that there’s something wrong with you, you’re likely in a freeze response and not sure how to get out.
Was that too much brain geekiness? Are you still with me?!
When you ask, “what’s wrong with me?” you are putting yourself down, criticizing yourself, insinuating that your struggle is beyond normal human experience. When you ask this question, your brain wants to answer and it’s happy to provide you with a long “evidence” list of how much is wrong with you. Your brain freaks out and begins to scan for more “evidence”.
What if we switched gears and asked this question instead: “I wonder what’s happening?”
What if instead of judging or criticizing we leaned into our inner experience with a gentle curiosity, a wondering about what we were feeling or experiencing? What if we responded to ourselves the way we would a good friend? If your friend was struggling, would you ask with disgust in your voice, “What is wrong with you??!!” I doubt it.
So, what does it mean to get curious?
1. Explore gently what is happening for you.
Whatever it is that you’re struggling with and the related feelings, see if you can spend a little time exploring what might be going on? I wonder what this feeling or sensation is all about?
2. Identify feelings
Are you angry? Are you sad? Are you frustrated? Annoyed? Identifying the feelings that are coming up helps us to move through them with more ease. It keeps our brain focused on getting through them rather than run from them.
3. Don’t judge or criticize your feelings.
There are no wrong feelings. Period. Our feelings are there to give us information about what’s happening in our environment. They’re our friends not our enemies.
4. Be compassionate and understanding with yourself.
Give yourself a gentle touch, or talk to yourself with kindness, “It’s ok, dear one.” Respond to yourself the way you would a good friend.
5. Take a deep inhale.
Take a nice, long deep breath. Notice your agitation decrease. As your agitation decreases, your survival instinct begins to calm down and bring you back to your rational Prefrontal Cortex.
Learning to respond to ourselves with love and compassion is a practice that helps move us out of stuckness and out of the cycle of self-deprecation. Practicing self-love and compassion helps us move through times of struggle with more ease, more grace, more love.
Remember, the goal is not to avoid feelings of discomfort, that’s physically impossible. Instead, move towards shifting your pattern to responding to yourself with compassion, love and kindness, and help yourself move through it with your own loving support. Doing this will bring more calmness and centeredness into your life.
Myriam Martinez is a Women's Personal Life Coach, Licensed Psychotherapist, and Registered Art Therapist based out of Northern California. Her calling in this life is to teach women how to find happiness, success, and ease in their lives through the power of self-love and compassion. To learn more about Myriam click here: https://www.myriammartinezcoaching.com/