Why Are Women So Hard On Themselves?

Jennifer Benjamin says her day just doesn’t feel complete until she’s found some way to take herself down a peg. Why do so many women do this to themselves?

For the most part, I’d say I’m pretty confident. I like who I am, I believe in myself and believe in the things I can do. I’m a good person, a nice person. I know that I’m smart, I know that I’m pretty, and I know that I’m a good mom.

Wow, did I just say all of that out loud? Yep, I did, and it feels really…uncomfortable.

As I was writing all of the above, I wanted to add the disclaimer. Sure, I believe in myself…when I’m not plagued with self-doubt. I’m a nice person…when I’m not gossiping like a petty bitch. I’m pretty…well, my face is, if you can ignore the rest of me. And I’ve got that mom thing down…until I lose my shit and scream, “No more Barney ever! Ever!”

I want to say that I’m awesome, and truly believe it, but my knee-jerk reaction, my go-to sentiment, is that I basically suck at life.

I spend some portion of every day wading around in my own insecurities and a sense that I’m doing something, maybe everything, all wrong. Sometimes I’m full-body submerged in it, and sometimes I’m only dipping my toe in for a few minutes. It’s a mean little voice that’s just always there, lurking. I hate being so damn hard on myself all of the time. I hate how the day is not complete until I’ve found some way to take myself down a peg.

And the worst part is, it’s generally just wallowing, a one-sided conversation in which I just berate myself for a little while and don’t really come up with any solutions. Some little thing happens—like I had an awkward conversation or I saw an unflattering picture of myself or I put too much salt on the pasta—and then decide everyone must hate me and I’m lumpy and a terrible cook.

Even if I’ve had a good day with good stuff, I find the charcoal lining. I could get some amazing career news, and yet, still feel like a failure because I’m not bringing in more of an income. My kids could do something impressive—like finish a multi-piece jigsaw puzzle—but I’ll go to bed worrying that I haven’t provided them with enough stimulating puzzle-completing opportunities. I lost two pounds? Hooray! Too bad I still have 20 to 30 pounds to go. No wonder I have trouble sleeping! Oh great, I’m bad at sleeping too. If it’s not one thing, it’s something else. Always. The low feelings don’t last and they’re pretty surface, but they’re consistent. It’s almost like an indulgence.

Actually, that’s exactly what it is: an emotional indulgence.

So why do I nitpick myself? I grew up with really positive female role models—confident women like my mom and my grandma who knew they were smart and charismatic and attractive and taught me to feel the same way. I could blame the media, assume I’ve been getting subliminal messages that I’m not pretty enough, thin enough, or good enough. I don’t think it’s that either though because, like I said, I had strong women in my life who convinced me not to buy the soul-crushing hype.

No, instead, I’m going to blame my friends. I blame other women. And I blame myself. Let’s blame each other, shall we? Because we’re all knocking ourselves on a daily basis and, I think, creating a vicious cycle.

In fact, I think it’s so insidious that we sometimes don’t even realize we’re doing it. We can’t even take a compliment, say “thank you,” and leave it at that. No, instead, it has to be like, “Oh God, this thing? I bought it at Old Navy for $5, like, forever ago.” Or, how about this: “Oh God, really? It must be this new BB cream because I swear the bags under my eyes are Costco-sized.” Or maybe, “Oh God, seriously? This place is such a mess right now and I want new throw pillows and maybe some pictures but, uch, I’m so bad at this stuff and just can never get it together.”

Come on, why the dialogue? We’re basically just making our complimenter tell us all over again how awesome we are. If you look at basic word efficiency, a simple “thank you” would be so much easier. Unfortunately though, the social niceties of dodging a compliment are ingrained in us. (There’s actually a funny Amy Schumer sketch where a group of women’s heads explode when one of their crew dares to accept a compliment.)

I’m no shrink, but if I had to guess, I’d say that the root of it all is the constant compara-thon between women. Sure, maybe there’s a little bit of jealousy and competition at play, but for the most part, I think it’s because we actually think our friends are freaking awesome. They’re a lot to live up to! And God forbid those women have insecurities of their own—well then we’re really screwed. When we hear a beautiful woman knock herself, we think, “If she thinks she looks like crap, I must look like super crap.” Or if your incredibly successful friend is complaining about not being very motivated these days, you really start to feel like a bum.

Here’s a little secret though: No one is perfect and no one’s life is perfect either. Every woman has her own crosses to bear.

While I wish I didn’t have to be so mean to myself sometimes, I’m starting to think that maybe a little bit of tough self-love isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it’s what pushes me and challenges me to do better and be better.

Still, I think this is one of those areas where we could learn something from men. They seem to own their accomplishments and brush off their perceived failures. They take the compliment and let it bolster them.

But old habits die hard. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop nitpicking myself, no matter how accomplished, fit, or Pinterest-worthy I may be someday. And I’m actually comfortable with that because as harsh of a critic as I am, at the end of the day, I really do believe in myself. I really do like myself. And I bet that most women, in spite of all of their insecurities, feel the exact same way.

Jennifer Benjamin is an LA-based freelance writer and editor with over thirteen years of experience writing for national magazines and websites like Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, SELF, Parents Magazine, The Stir and Daily Glow. More important, she’s a Mommy to identical twin boys, as well as an avid cook, a terrible housewife, and a loungewear enthusiast. Find her on Twitter @JennyBenjamin or Facebook.

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