Dear Carolyn: I can't seem to get out of this pit of negativity about myself. I only hear the negatives people say about me. For example, I had a huge presentation at work, got several genuine compliments, and all I heard was one person's very mild criticism that I brushed too close to an issue our office does not discuss/handle. I constantly feel the need to apologize for anything and everything, even if it's just that someone got upset at a situation, not at me.
Even when my husband says something just to be ridiculous or silly — he's a bit of a comedian — I feel like it was my "fault" and did something wrong, so I'll start apologizing for his silly, made-up situation. He tries to help but refuses to acknowledge that I think I suck at everything and I'm worthless, which can frustrate me — which frustrates him, which I then apologize for . . . and the cycle continues.
He is wonderfully supportive and provides me a lot of help, even when I don't hear him saying it.
What are some strategies, other than "just think positively!," to bring myself out of this pit?
— Feeling Worthless
Feeling Worthless: This is a mental-health issue and not just another way in the long line of ways you feel you’ve let yourself down. Truly.
So, I won’t offer “strategies” — because that negative inner voice isn’t just the result of a failure to “work on myself” correctly or hard enough.
What you describe is what our brains do to us when they’re out of balance and need medical attention. It’s no different from the way our backs hurt when we strain them.
So get a full screening, for anxiety and depression to start. Appointments with good mental-health providers can be scarce (or a complete nonissue, depending on where you live and who you know, of course), so if you can’t connect with someone right away, make an appointment with your general practitioner and say you’re struggling with negative thoughts and a sense of worthlessness.
A “huge presentation,” by the way, suggests you have an employer of the type that offers an employee assistance program. If so, then that’s the fastest path to care.
Dear Carolyn: I have a genderqueer tutor who comes over once a week to teach me American Sign Language. I really like this person. At our first session, they made it clear that they prefer the "they" or "he" pronouns and do not use the "she" pronouns. Pretty straightforward.
However, I am having so much trouble with this. Not in principle, but in practice. My brain is interpreting their features as feminine (they were born female) and when I refer to them with others, I hear "she" popping out occasionally even though I am consciously trying to use "they." I hate that I do this. I know it is incredibly disrespectful. How do I train myself to use the correct pronouns when my subconscious is betraying me?
Anonymous: When you slip, apologize and say you mean no disrespect. Respect, repetition and time are the only training you need.