4 Common Behaviors That Secretly Make You Feel Bad About Yourself

These traps can lead to poor self-esteem, guilt, anger and more. Here's what to look for and how to fix them.
Practice more self-love by adjusting these habits.
Tirachard Kumtanom / EyeEm via Getty Images
Practice more self-love by adjusting these habits.

When therapist Lizandra Leigertwood’s friend asked to borrow a large sum of money, she immediately had an answer in mind: no. But instead, she said yes. This hurt both her and the relationship.

“Eventually, by me not having healthy boundaries, it caused the friendship to become strained,” said Leigertwood, a therapist with New Frame Counselling & Psychotherapy. “Not only did I not receive back the loan, I became resentful. That wasn’t just down to my friend not being a very good friend — part of the problem was down to me not communicating or asserting my boundaries.”

This is one of several behaviors that can cause us to be mad at (or even hate) ourselves. Here are some other sneaky actions impeding your ability to feel self-love, as well as steps to take afterward.

Self-sabotaging

Directly disrespecting our personal boundaries is only one way in which we self-sabotage.

“For example, we might be getting over an ex and starting to feel good about ourselves, but then end up sleeping with them, leaving us once again reeling from the pain of the original breakup,” said Hannah Beckett-Pratt, a psychotherapist with WellSpace Counselling. “Or, we might be close to a promotion at work, but go out the night before a big presentation and fail to impress when it counts. A very common form of self-sabotage is procrastination.”

If you’ve had these experiences before, you know how easy it is to give in to those temptations and think it’ll be fine. But then, when the results are bad, we (understandably) feel upset.

The fix: Think about what the thoughts and emotions underlying your self-sabotaging behaviors are.

“Often, sneaky behaviors hint at much deeper negative core beliefs, such as ‘I’m not enough’ or ‘I’ll never succeed in life,’” Beckett-Pratt said. “Even though these aren’t nice, they are familiar and we keep them so by unconsciously confirming them through sneaky behaviors.”

She suggested keeping an open mind and “experimenting” with new behaviors, “rather than criticizing and setting rules for ourselves, which we likely will rebel against, leading us back to self-sabotage.” Those new behaviors are usually ones that are more helpful in the long run.

Lying by omission or on purpose, even if you believe it's harmless, can contribute to negative feelings.
10'000 Hours via Getty Images
Lying by omission or on purpose, even if you believe it's harmless, can contribute to negative feelings.

Lying by omission or commission

We may lie to others either outright (by commission) or by leaving out crucial information (by omission). This could include lying about where we’re going or what we’re doing, or secretly engaging in an unhealthy habit.

“It can often lead us to feeling shame and guilt, and hate for ourselves that we do them or feel the ways we feel that lead to the behaviors,” said Cassandra Fallon, a therapist and regional clinic director at Thriveworks in Colorado Springs.

The fix: If you’re tired of doing this, Fallon recommended seeking support.

“When we do catch ourselves, getting help is a great first step, either from those around us, self-exploration, or seeking out a personal coach, mentor or mental health professional,” she said. “Some of us may even seek out time with our best friends to help us figure out what is triggering our behavior, fears [and] stressors. Feeling self-loathing or self-hate can mean that we need [to] explore the people we have in our lives [and] the ways we are living our lives.”

Negative self-talk

With all the diet talk and self-help content out there, negative self-talk can weasel its way in before we notice it. You might say cruel things to yourself about your intelligence, appearance or talents. You may feel a constant, urgent need to “better” yourself.

“We say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t dream of saying aloud to another person,” said Leigertwood. “Negative self-talk can be incredibly insidious and can lurk beneath everyday thoughts. People generally don’t want to think that they hate themselves, but treating themselves poorly isn’t an act of self-love.”

The fix: Leigertwood recommended keeping a journal or mood diary to help you stay aware of this negative talk. Once you recognize the thoughts, challenge them so you have a more balanced view.

When you actively practice self-compassion through self-care practices and self-kindness, it can help you shift your negative self-talk into more nurturing and soothing statements,” she said.

“Real self-love requires consistent and deliberate commitment to congruence and self-awareness over a long period of time; it is the antithesis of sneaky behavior.”

- Hannah Beckett-Pratt

Behaviors or choices that don’t align with who you are

Have you ever done something and then thought, “This isn’t me”? That’s an incongruent behavior.

“Incongruence refers to when our behaviors are somewhat different to our internal experiences; they do not reflect our true thoughts and feelings,” Beckett-Pratt said.

An example she gave is when you have a secret affair despite knowing it’s unsustainable and harmful. “Such behaviors distance us from our true selves and ultimately leave us feeling lost, lonely, frustrated and unfulfilled,” she added.

So if acting these ways makes us feel so bad, why do we engage in them? “Fear underlies most sneaky behaviors, whether that is fear of failing, or even a fear of succeeding in living and being how we truly want,” Beckett-Pratt continued.

Additionally, we sometimes feel pressured to act a certain way because of a holiday or pop culture. “Instead of considering what health means to us and the best way to achieve it within our current lifestyle, we just leap on the latest diet trend and then blame and shame ourselves a couple of weeks later when we can’t sustain it,” she said.

Leigertwood’s experience saying “yes” when she meant “no” is another example. She explained why we might fall into that trap, saying, “We think that by saying ‘yes’ when we mean ‘no’ that we are being kind, but it’s really being particularly unkind to ourselves. When we treat ourselves poorly, it can open the door for others to do the same.”

The fix: When you notice you’ve engaged in this kind of behavior, be compassionate with yourself — which is easier said than done, I know! — and try to do better next time.

“If your incongruence appears as people-pleasing, experiment with putting your own needs first,” Beckett-Pratt suggested. “When a friend asks where you’d like to eat, choose somewhere instead of saying you don’t mind.”

After, focus on how the outcome made you feel, and if that’s a feeling you want to have again. This can encourage you to make healthy changes.

If not-people-pleasing is difficult for you, she recommended asking people to hold you accountable, letting them know your struggles and goals.

Leigertwood recommended listening to your body and emotions. When you feel angry or resentful, you know your behavior needs to change.

“Give yourself some time to reflect before you respond with an answer. Even if it means telling people that you’ll get back to them later once you’ve had a chance to think,” she said. “This can give you the space you need to tune into whether you’re genuine about your ‘yes.’”

Practicing self-love in these ways can be tricky and we’ll mess up. That’s OK! Just remember it’s important to practice self-compassion as best you can throughout it all. As author Lori Deschene said, “We can’t hate ourselves into a version of ourselves we can love.”

Beckett-Pratt reminds us self-love isn’t just a daily pill to take. “Real self-love requires consistent and deliberate commitment to congruence and self-awareness over a long period of time; it is the antithesis of sneaky behavior.”

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