“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” This line from The Godfather: Part II has become famous across national and generational lines. The idea has been repeated and rephrased in dozens of books, songs, movies and TV shows. Some people follow this adage in real life, and some people keep their greatest enemy inside their own skin.
You have probably heard the phrase “you are your own worst enemy,” and you may have rolled your eyes when you heard it. The expression has become a staple of self-help books and inspirational blogs everywhere. The idiom has become popular, however, because it is true. Most of us would never dare to treat another person the way we treat ourselves. We would push back or cut ties with the person being cruel. Whether for better or for worse, you can’t cut ties with yourself. You can, however, learn how to stop being your own worst enemy.
Before you can break a habit, you must admit that you possess that habit. If you want to stop being your own nemesis, you have to first admit that you are at odds with yourself. That said, how do you know if you are your own adversary? When does setting high expectations or being a little hard on yourself tip over into arch-rival territory? Here are nine signs to help you decide if you are your own worst enemy.
Here is another inspirational buzz-word. Cliché as it may sound, negative self-talk is a dead giveaway that you are your own worst enemy. Most of us would never speak to another person the way we talk to ourselves. How much time would you want to spend with a person who never did anything but insult you? Sadly, that is how many of us talk to ourselves. We are incapable of looking in the mirror without insulting our weight, hair, clothes or posture. Think about it. When was the last time you looked at your reflection and thought, “I have a great smile,” or even “These jeans look terrible on me, but at least my hair looks nice!”
Negative self-talk can focus on more than just your body image. Many of us seem unable to refrain from insulting our intelligence, sense of humor, memory or ambitions. In fact, negative self-talk can become so ingrained that people forget how to not think about themselves so negatively. In those cases, here’s a general rule of thumb for identifying negative self-talk: if you would be insulted if a stranger said it to you, don’t say it to yourself.
Trusting Others Over Yourself
Trusting yourself over others doesn’t mean believing you are an expert in all things. It does, however, mean that you stand firm in what you believe, and you listen to your instincts. If you find yourself doubting your opinions purely because a friend disagrees with you or discrediting your gut feeling when no one else seems to share it, there is a problem. You are trusting others over yourself. It sounds cliché, but no one knows you the way you do. No one else is living inside your head, heart and body. If you feel in your gut that something is a bad idea for you, stand your ground and refuse to do it. It may sound like every lecture you ever heard in middle school, but don’t succumb to peer pressure. If you trust others over yourself, you are letting others dictate your opinions and decisions.
Trusting yourself, however, does not mean that you should never let a friend talk you into trying something new. You are not being your own worst enemy when you let your best friend convince you to try Indian food for the first time. You are being your own worst enemy when you let your girl friends convince you to drink tequila even though you know it makes you sick. The difference between “this scares me because it’s new” and “this is a bad idea” can be hard to identify. As you learn to trust yourself, you will inevitably get it wrong occasionally. When that happens, forgive yourself and learn from the mistake.
Setting Unrealistic Expectations
Every one of us has done it at least once. We schedule every minute of our day and then wonder why we were unable to accomplish everything. We decide that we are going to go cold turkey and get up at 5:00 a.m. every morning only to hit the snooze button six times. Most of us look back at those moments and recognize that we were being unreasonable. We laugh at our naivety and learn from our mistakes. We cut down on the number of tasks on our to-do lists or decide to get up 30 minutes earlier than normal instead of two hours.
When you are your own worst enemy, though, you don’t laugh and move on. You stare at that incomplete to-do list and castigate yourself for being too lazy to get everything done. You are irritated all day because you are such a slug and couldn’t get out of bed this morning. You decide that you will do better tomorrow and set the same unreasonable expectations. Once again, you fail to meet those demands and spend the rest of the day cursing yourself. This becomes a vicious cycle that saps any and all ability to see what you did accomplish. To stop being your own worst enemy, you have to take a realistic look at your expectations. There is nothing wrong with setting a challenging goal, but make sure that goal is actually feasible before you commit to it.
Constantly Reviewing and Reliving Past Mistakes
We have all had those moments of truly spectacular screw-up’s. We put our foot in our mouth in front of the boss’s wife or tripped and spilled red wine all over our mother-in-law’s new white dress. We decided it would be a great idea to post that extraordinarily bad picture on Facebook or thought that nothing could go wrong when we decided to meet up with our ex-girlfriend’s latest beau.
Having a few cringe worthy-moments in your life is nothing unusual and neither is wanting the earth to swallow you whole when your brother decides to retell those stories over Thanksgiving dinner. However, when you are your own worst enemy, those terrible memories are on constant repeat. You keep reliving how you thought it would be a great idea to do the Electric Slide in stilettos or how you volunteered to sing the national anthem at the little league game even though you are completely tone deaf. Worse, you are convinced that everyone from your humiliated little brother to the waitress at your favorite burger joint remembers your caterwauling every time they see you. In reality, most people are too consumed with their own lives to fixate on your humiliating face-plant at the Christmas party. Next time you are certain that everyone around you is thinking about your mistakes, reflect on when you last thought about a coworker’s blunder. Their embarrassing moment had probably completely slipped your mind until you consciously tried to remember it. So, take a deep breath. Your mortifying experience was no more memorable than theirs.
“I wish I were as successful as she is.” “Why can’t I look like he does?” We all have people we want to imitate. We crave their success or long for their confidence. Having role models is a good thing and there is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition. Note the word “healthy.” Healthy competition and healthy comparison push you to do your best. You see someone surpassing you, so you work hard to top them. They see you outdoing them and try to beat you. You then try to do better than this new standard. Everyone improves.
When you are your own worst enemy, you don’t use other people’s success as a way to motivate your own improvement. Instead, you use your perceived inadequacies as a method of self-flagellation. Rather than seeing an attractive woman as motivation to go to the gym more often, you call yourself a pig because she is thinner than you. You see a more successful man and call yourself lazy. None of this helps you achieve your goals. The reality is that there will always be someone who is more successful, more attractive or more intelligent than you. Stop focusing on your shortcomings and think about your accomplishments.
Not Appreciating the Little Things
From having a roof over your head to the aroma rising from your morning coffee, the odds are good that there are a lot of things to be grateful for in your life. When you are your own worst enemy, you lose track of the small moments that give life colour and beauty. Instead of enjoying your child’s smile, you think about how much you wish your house had a bigger yard for her to play in. Rather than appreciating the beautiful sunrise, you focus on how much you have to do at work today. There is nothing wrong with keeping your ambitions in mind or striving for more, but you should not let what you want make you forget what you have.
Grateful people tend to be happier people. Make it a point to stop a few times a day and enjoy the little things. Take a deep breath of the steam rising from your morning coffee and take pleasure in the smell. Pause long enough to appreciate the colors of the sunrise. Give thanks for the roof over your head. The stresses inherent in life cause enough problems. Don’t let them take your joy away, too.
Practicing and Perpetuating Bad Habits
We all have bad habits. Some of us chew our nails. Some of us drive too fast. Some of us just have to eat one of the donuts our coworker brought in this morning. Bad habits are far from ideal, but there is nothing wrong with you if you have been unable to kick a bad habit. When you are your own worst enemy, however, those bad habits tend to be more serious. You are always running late for work because you hit the snooze button three times every morning. You know drinking that third cup of coffee will give you a headache but you do it anyway. You buy things you have no use for. You let your groceries go bad. These sorts of bad habits get in the way of your success. A tardy employee gets passed over for promotions or fired. A constant caffeine headache will leave you irritable and unproductive and also has the potential to do damage to your heart. When you are your own worst enemy, your bad habits damage your everyday life.
Breaking bad habits is not easy. You will encounter setbacks and have days where you backslide. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Remind yourself of why you need to break a habit and keep working at it one day at a time.
It is one thing to analyze a situation before making a decision. It is another to come up with every possible scenario and then let the endless options paralyze you. The first is a sign that you are making a rational, sensible choice. The latter is an indication that you are your own worst enemy.
Over-analyzing decisions can lead to all sorts of problems. You can create unnecessary negativity and pessimism when you identify absolutely everything that could go wrong in a relationship instead of enjoying the time you have with your partner. You might start second guessing your career choice and start a new job without any confidence in your abilities. You could over-analyze a previous choice and have buyer’s remorse. Rather than enjoying the process of decorating your new apartment, you convince yourself that the apartment you didn’t move into would have better. You can also develop analysis paralysis and spend so much time over-analyzing a situation that you never make a decision. If you are always over-analyzing things, take a deep breath and ask yourself how much a “wrong” choice really matters. How long will it upset you or affect you? Most likely, a “wrong” choice won’t matter for very long. In that case, force your shoulders to relax and decide on an option. Then, force yourself not to think about the other choice you could have made and focus on making the best of the choice you did make.
Friends Dissimilar to Yourself
This is not to say that your friends should agree with you on everything. It is important to have people in your life who are of different backgrounds, religions and political ideologies. That said, your friends should share the same basic morals and value similar things. Not everyone you are close with has to enjoy Monday night football or reading old comic books. If you hate negativity, however, your friends should be generally optimistic people. If forgiveness is important to you, your best friends should be people who try and mend bridges. If you look around and realize that none of your friends share the same basic values as you, there is a problem.
When you lack any close friends who are similar to you, you are your own worst enemy. You probably struggle to share deeply personal things with your friends or you know that you are an outsider. If you are unable to befriend or refuse to look for people similar to you, you have one of two problems. You either have no idea who you are or you dislike who you are and are trying to be someone else. Neither of these are healthy ways of living. Do some self-reflection and figure out why you refuse to make friends who share your same basic principles. Then, go out and meet some new people.
When you are your own worst enemy, you get used to feeling inadequate, dejected and unattractive. You struggle to escape the constant harassment because your tormentor shares your very skin. Leaving your nemesis behind is difficult, because you have to completely revolutionize the way you think about yourself and the world around you. It is challenging to stop being your own worst enemy, but breaking bad habits is always difficult. Nothing worthwhile was every easy. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth every struggle in the end.