Why Are We Our Own Worst Enemies?

Written By: Catherine Porth

Catherine Porth | Founder & Chief Advocate of Let Her Speak

When you meet with as many women as I do on a daily basis, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up having a lot of the same conversations. There are so many shared experiences among women that when we get an opportunity to share, we quickly learn that we are definitely not the only ones. But what has been the most enlightening insight I’ve gotten from these conversations is just how much our own negative self-perceptions impact our ability to expand our power and influence.

These negative self-perceptions act as internal barriers that get in our own way. Not only do these barriers hold us back from promotions, jobs, wealth, or notoriety, but they often spread to how we show up and support other women. The most frustrating part of this phenomenon is how often we don’t realize we’re acting as our own worst enemy. While I don’t have a simple answer to the question “why are we our own worst enemies?” – I am going to break down this phenomenon based on my experiences working with women and provide steps we can each take to become our own best friends.

It all starts with mindfulness & awareness

The word “mindfulness” gets talked about a lot, especially in the context of daily meditative practice. Mindfulness, in essence, is focusing on the here and now – specifically shifting that focus inward. It requires patience, purpose, acknowledgment, and non-judgment of our own minds. For me, that last piece is the most important – non-judgment.

Have you ever had thoughts like these run through your head?

  • “I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m a fraud.”
  • “I must be dumb because I can’t figure this out.”
  • “I should know better than this – I can’t believe I could be so stupid.”
  • “Look at (fill in person’s name), she/he/they have it all together. I wish I was more like them and less like me.”
  • “There’s no way I’ll qualify for this job/project/program. I don’t have enough experience.”
  • “Nobody cares about me or what I have to say.”

We’re often told to be mindful of how we’re talking to ourselves and to speak to ourselves as we would our best friend. But one step that I think gets forgotten is to not be judgmental for speaking to ourselves this way to begin with. To be human is to be self-critical. These critical thoughts trigger our brain’s “threat system” which is the oldest part of our brain. However, when we become more mindful of how we are speaking to ourselves and not judging ourselves for having these thoughts – we begin to trigger the more advanced and logical part of our brain. It’s out of this mindful practice of reducing self-judgment that we can begin the transition to self-compassion.

Which leads me to awareness…

While mindfulness is typically considered inward-looking, awareness is focused more on looking outward. When I talk about awareness, I am referring to paying attention to the world around you and how it is affecting you. More specifically, I mean:

  • Where did those self-critical thoughts about yourself come from? Was it your upbringing? Did someone tell you that and you believed them? Is it from media consumption? Are they tied to a traumatic experience?
  • When you’re with a group of friends or family – how do you feel? Are you anxious? Calm? Do you feel like you can be yourself? Do you have to put a “show” on for them? Are they supportive of your goals and believe in your abilities?
  • When you’re working – are you usually full of energy? Do you feel seen, heard, and valued by colleagues and managers? Do they seek out your input or make you feel silenced?

It’s easy to talk about these practices and much more difficult to actively integrate them into your daily life. Especially if you’re just starting your journey in self-compassion and acceptance. The greatest advice I can offer is to start small. You’re not going to rewire your entire way of thinking in the course of 24 hours. Breaking any habit requires time and consistency (it doesn’t hurt to have a trusted friend on the journey with you).

Getting started with mindfulness could include writing down every negative thought you tell yourself over the course of one day and then reading them without judgment. It could be practicing positive affirmations or posting them in spaces you need them the most or simply asking yourself the questions above. Whatever the small step you choose is – make sure it is something you can do consistently. And don’t judge yourself if you stumble.

“The most frustrating part of this phenomenon is how often we don’t realize we’re acting as our own worst enemy.”

Your mindset makes all the difference

When I first moved to Knoxville, I attended an event where Misty Mayes, Founder & CEO of Management Solutions, was the speaker. She spoke about being a woman in a male-dominated field but her talk really centered around mindset and she encouraged all of us to read the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. To this day, I find myself coming back to the key concepts in the book time and time again.

In her book, Dr. Carol Dweck discusses the “fixed” vs. “growth” mindset. She explains through her research that your mindset shapes how you respond to people and events that can ultimately create positive or negative outcomes. She describes a “fixed” mindset as believing your qualities cannot be changed. What you are born with naturally is a permanent part of who you are. Conversely, a “growth” mindset is the belief that your qualities and skills can be changed or nurtured through learning. Failure is viewed as a part of growing and is necessary to succeed.

Our mindsets influence almost every aspect of our lives, but based on how we are taught in childhood – it’s argued that girls are predisposed at an early age to adopt a “fixed mindset” while boys are pushed more towards a “growth mindset”. This isn’t something necessarily done on purpose. It stems more from how we are spoken to or praised from a young age.

Because girls in general are more mature and attentive early on in school – they are praised for their intellect, abilities, and obedience. All of these can lead to developing a fixed mindset because we start to see these accolades as unchangeable aspects of who we are. Boys on the other hand are often told things like “if you just sit and listen, you will understand this subject better”. Using that sort of language encourages learning and shows that with some effort, improvements can be made to yourself.

The other aspect of mindset is “abundance” vs. “scarcity” mindsets. I believe this aspect of our mindset is a crucial piece to women not always supporting other women (i.e., women being our own worst enemies to each other). I’ve always felt that “growth” and “abundance” mindsets work hand in hand with each other. These mindsets deal with an inward and outward view of the world, but they both lead us to a place of trust and joy – a trust that anything is figure-out-able and that there is plenty of opportunities for all of us.

On the other side is the combination of a “fixed” and “scarcity” mindset which preys on our fear – a fear that we don’t know everything and can never fail. A fear that there isn’t enough out there for all of us to thrive. It’s in this toxic combination mindset that we see women criticizing other women, being unfairly harsher on how they treat others, refusing to help another woman because it may undermine their work, and actively trying to keep others from getting “ahead of them”. The thing to keep in mind is that having this mindset is not always obvious and it may only show up in certain circumstances.

Having an honest conversation with yourself and referring back to mindfulness + awareness practices can help you see those blind spots. And remember – don’t judge yourself too harshly but do put into practice small steps to overcome these toxic mindsets.

“Our mindsets influence almost every aspect of our lives”

You don’t get to tell yourself “no”

Now that we are armed with our mindfulness + awareness practices and have developed the right mindsets – it’s time to discuss where we can still act as our own worst enemies. I believe it all starts whenever we tell ourselves “no”. This can sometimes sound like: “I’m not qualified”, “I don’t have the right experience”, and any number of other excuses that ultimately lead to inaction.

Several years ago I watched a video from a woman (which I can’t find anywhere now) discussing the greatest thing she believed held women back – and it was telling ourselves “no” before anyone else could. At that moment, I started recognizing this phenomenon all around me. I would encourage women to apply for a pitch competition or reach out to someone they admire for a meeting – and I would hear them instinctively want to say “no” because they were afraid of being rejected.

After spending the first part of my career in sales, I know what it feels like to be rejected over and over again. And I am here to say – it’s really not as bad as your mind makes you think it is. When you don’t speak up for yourself or throw your name in the proverbial “hat” – the answer is ALWAYS going to be “no”. After seeing that video, I made a rule for myself and my friends. We don’t get to be the person who rejects us first. And if we are being invited by someone we respect to a room, space, or table they think we belong in – we DEFINITELY have no reason to reject ourselves.   

Think back to a time recently when you denied yourself an opportunity before anyone else could. What were you telling yourself in that moment? Is it true (be honest!)? If you had gone after that opportunity and failed – what would have been the worst thing that happened? If you had succeeded – where would you be now? Remember – if it was your friend asking if they should go for it, chances are you would tell them “hell yes!”. Why wouldn’t you say the same to yourself?

“We don’t get to be the person who rejects us first.”

Practice & fail, practice & fail

This article just barely touches the surface of the internal barriers we all face on a daily basis, but it’s a starting point. As I said in the beginning, I believe change happens from the inside out. It starts within ourselves and expands as we strengthen our understanding and influence at each level. It requires practice, time, and consistency. We’re never going to be perfect and failure is inevitable – but that’s what makes the journey so much more interesting.

So, here’s your homework:

  1. Develop a small, simple first step in adopting mindfulness + awareness practices into your daily life.
  2. Using those practices – begin to notice where you have a “fixed”/”scarcity” mindset in your life and where you have a “growth”/”abundance” mindset.
  3. Talk out loud to someone you trust about what you are learning about yourself.
  4. The next time you want to tell yourself “no” to an opportunity you really want – respond as you would to your best friend with a “hell yes!”.
  5. Expand your power & influence at each level of success you obtain and don’t be afraid to SHAKE THINGS UP!
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About the author » Catherine Porth

Catherine Porth is the Founder & Chief Advocate of Let Her Speak. Her mission is to improve and grow opportunities for women, one inspiring story at a time. If you are interested in learning more about or getting involved in our community, contact her at catherine@letherspeakusa.org.

Instagram: /letherspeakusa

LinkedIn: /catherineporth

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