Anxiety Can Make You Feel Inferior and Ignore Your Positives

Anxiety can make people feel inferior and erode self-confidence. The harsh, self-critical, judgmental voice of anxiety can also distort the way we see ourselves, causing us to ignore our positive qualities and exaggerate our very human flaws and foibles. If anxiety ever makes you hard on yourself, keep reading. You don't have to take anxiety's word at face value.

Do you find yourself comparing yourself to others and falling short? Do you disregard or minimize the positive things about you or brush off compliments because they feel untrue? How often do you feel inferior? Do you take others' words, gestures, and actions to heart, assuming that other people are judging you (a hallmark of social anxiety)? Do you use other people's words, opinions, and actions to judge yourself harshly? Too many people with anxiety struggle to like themselves. 

Discounting the Positive Can Make You Feel Inferior

Counseling approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) identify various negative thinking patterns that interfere with our ability to accurately interpret ourselves and the world. Regarding such destructive thought patterns, one of the biggies when it comes to anxiety and our self-concept is known as discounting the positive.

When we discount the positive about ourselves, we focus on what we think are negative personal traits--our flaws. Further, we blow them out of proportion, making them bigger and more pronounced than they really are. Then, we get into the habit of ignoring all our strengths and positive attributes. When people pay us compliments or point out the good in us, we "yes, but . . ." them away with a flick of the hand. 

Too many of us with anxiety are quick to notice our own flaws but slow (if we do it at all) to acknowledge that we have strengths and abilities. This unhealthy thought pattern is common enough that there is an entire negative thinking pattern associated with it. Yes, "discounting the positive" is a formally recognized way of thinking, and it's prominent in anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders and challenges. 

No More Ignoring Your Positives: Gradually Shift Your Perspective

Living in constant awareness of faults (and magnifying them) while disregarding strengths and other positive qualities is unpleasant at best. At worst, it fuels anxiety while eroding self-esteem and self-efficacy (the belief in our own ability to do things).

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) offers a tool: Pay attention to the things you tell yourself and how you respond to others. Deepen your awareness of your self-talk (this is uncomfortable at first, but sticking with it is worth it), and begin to name what you are thinking and feeling, fully acknowledging it so it is forced out of the shadows of your mind and into the open.

Allow yourself to have the thought or feeling. When you notice, name, and allow it, you take away its power. You no longer have to work so hard to prove it right or wrong, and you don't have to waste your energy judging yourself for it. You are free to let go of the self-judgments even though they're still floating around. 

Then, intentionally shift your attention to one or two of your strengths and positive qualities. The formula goes like this: I think [insert the self-critical thought]. AND I am [insert a realistic, positive quality about yourself that you can observe]. 

For example, if you're berating yourself and feeling like a bad parent because of an unpleasant incident with your child, and anxiety is reminding you of all the bad things you've done in the past plus the future damage you "caused," pause. Take a breath to help yourself calm down and reset. Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings about yourself as a parent, but don't get caught up in them. (Don't buy into them; don't let them lead you down a dark rabbit hole, and don't continue to judge yourself or your thoughts and feelings.) Then, tell yourself, "and I am teaching my child to be a responsible person. I support them and show my love by doing [fill in the blank]." 

Gradually quiet your harsh inner critic known as anxiety. The more aware you become of your negative self-judgments, the more power over them you gain. Shift your attention to your strengths, and you'll eventually discount your mistakes instead of your positive traits. With this shift, anxiety grows smaller. 

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, June 24). Anxiety Can Make You Feel Inferior and Ignore Your Positives, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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