By Andrea Owen
Read by Andrea Owen
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A cut-through-the-crap guide to quitting the self-destructive habits that undermine happiness and success
How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t is a straight-shooting self-improvement guide for women, one that offers frank advice about the most common self-destructive behaviors women engage in. Andrea Owen—a nationally sought-after life coach—crystallizes what’s behind several invisible, undermining habits, from catastrophizing and people-pleasing to listening to the imposter complex or to one’s inner critic. Powerfully on the mark, the chapters are short and digestible, nicely bypassing weighty examinations in favor of punch points of awareness. Her book kicks women’s gears out of autopilot and empowers readers to create happier, more fulfilling lives.
Now updated to address new challenges including the COVID-19 global pandemic, the toxic positivity of the self-care industry, and the destructive impact of social media, How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t enjoins readers to overcome their negative habits with compassion and understanding.
In early 2007 I found myself at my own rock bottom.
The man I was dating had convinced me to leave my job and my apartment to move away with him. As we were planning our move, I found out he’d lied about everything during our relationship, including fabricating a story about having cancer to cover up his drug habit. He had drained thousands of dollars from me, and that same week, I was holding a positive pregnancy test in my hand. About a month after that, as I was completely out of money, he left me. I had been conned.
I was humiliated, not to mention broke, jobless, had nowhere to live, and pregnant. To add insult to injury, the year before all this, my husband had left me for another woman.
The pity my family, friends, and colleagues had for me was unbearable. I could feel the discomfort of them around me—they didn’t know what to say or do. Some people even avoided me—it felt as if they didn’t want to get too close for fear they would catch my defectiveness. I hated my life and hated myself for what I had put up with that had brought me to where I was.
The loneliness and shame were crippling. It seemed like everyone I knew was either happily married and having babies, or if they were single, they certainly weren’t a giant hot mess as I was. I felt like damaged goods, not to mention the dumbest woman who ever lived. I asked myself over and over: How did I get here, and how could I have been so stupid? What is wrong with me?
In retrospect, I know now that in the years leading up to that all-time low, I had built a life in which I had made myself into something I thought other people wanted me to be. My spirit was shattered, and I had no sense at all of what my own value might be. I was petrified of the world. Panic-stricken over what would happen if people saw the real me. Terrified at the thought of people knowing just how much I didn’t know. Scared they would find out how desperately I needed other people and wanted simply to love and be loved. I had built my life around perfectionism, self-sabotage, and the need for control, habits and behaviors I thought would keep me safe. Until they didn’t.
Slowly but surely as I began to heal and piece my life together, I found out I wasn’t the only woman who had built my life around all those habits. As I built my coaching practice and began helping women who reminded me of my former self, I realized so many women were also engaging in exactly the same self-undermining behaviors I had. And they wondered why they felt like shit.
In fact, as time went on, I began to see that there was an actual pattern of habits that kept women down, and they were immensely common. As I spoke to other women whose hearts were hurting and souls were wounded, I found they were all suffering from fourteen detrimental thought and action behaviors, and I began to put names to them.
Once I saw the fourteen habits come together, I began to understand that while life knocks us down, it’s these habits that keep us down, and by paying attention, identifying, and putting an end to these habits, we can empower ourselves to find our way back to strength and happiness.
When I started my own work and even after I began to teach others, I thought there was a wrong way and a right way to “do life.” I thought if you were giving in to habits like the ones you’re going to read about in this book, that you were destined for doom and unhappiness.
Brace yourself. I’m about to say something that might surprise you.
All the habits in the chapters ahead—they’re all normal. No one will read this book and think, “Nope, I don’t do any of this at all.” And that’s okay. In fact, it’s good. Sometimes you will need these habits to protect yourself. We need them to protect ourselves from the agony of life. It’s what we’ve learned, and the habits do work—for a short while. It’s when we give in to them to such an extent that they are no longer protecting us, but actually holding us back, that we run into trouble.
Some self-help books will tell you that what you put out into the Universe you’ll get back. That your energy and attitude dictate your circumstances and reality. I used to believe this, but the more I looked around and heard people’s stories, I realized that sometimes…
Life just happens.
Crises happen, people are assholes, we get dumped, toddlers throw tantrums, teenagers keep us awake at night worrying, the doctor gives the diagnosis we didn’t want. You’re not doing life wrong; you don’t have a “bad vibration.” It’s just how it is.
But you wonder if you are doing it wrong because other people seem to have it all figured out and you don’t, so you end up feeling lonely and confused.
When that happens, you might buy some self-help books and listen to some empowering podcasts, hoping for some answers. They’ve got to be out there, right? The secrets? The explanations? You compile your list: meditation, yoga, green smoothies, follow this person on Instagram, and read all the books.
But here’s what I know to be true: that checklist won’t make you happy and joyful.
The “answer”—the key to your happiness—lies in connecting the dots from your past to your current behavior and shining the light on things that hurt. It’s about facing the obstacles, working through and processing them, and loving yourself along the way. It’s about accepting all the feelings and emotions that come along with it (even if they don’t make sense and feel wrong), and starting the whole process over and over again. That is freedom and peace.
This book is about how to recognize a shitty habit, choose a different one, and practice the new behavior. Get it wrong and try again. Rinse and repeat. This book is about taking action. Not just reading about it and thinking, “Hmmmm… that sounds good.” No. It’s about thinking, “Hmmm… that sounds good, and it sounds a little uncomfortable. I’m going to do that. And I’ll probably mess it up. But I’ll keep going because I’m tired of feeling like shit.”
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF THIS BOOK
Ten years ago, when I went to therapy after my divorce, I sat down in my therapist’s office and said, “How long will it take me to heal from this? Because I’m ready and I want to start now.”
I probably even looked at my watch at that moment—maybe I was hoping we could wrap it all up in an hour. I wanted a solution and I wanted it quick.
Nowadays it’s no secret personal development is a process, not a fast fix. But that doesn’t keep us from wanting a clear, straightforward answer. We want a solution. A step-by-step process that enables us to check off items on a list with the end goal of being happy, having inner peace, and healing our broken hearts. We seek out gurus and experts we resonate with and admire; we get to work and wait for the heavens to open up in all their self-help glory.
Maybe the heavens will open up, and maybe they won’t. Everyone’s path and journey through this work looks different. Some people change quickly, and some more slowly over time. Either way, I want you to learn the immense power of understanding yourself. For example, say you threw a raging party. The next morning you wake up bleary-eyed and head into the kitchen, knowing you have to clean up. You step into the darkness of the room—what’s the first thing you do? Do you start cleaning up in the dark? No, you turn the light on! You see what you have to deal with—what you need to throw out, what you need to wash, and what you need to put away.
The same goes for personal growth. First you need to see what must change in your life—taking inventory will tell you which tools will help.
I wrote this book to fast-track your own self-awareness. When you know what trips you up and keeps you from happiness, you can change course. I want you to be familiar with what makes you feel like shit and to know your values as well as you know what’s on your grocery list. I mean, you know how you like your coffee, and you know who should have won The Bachelor, but do you know how you want to live your life? Every single day? Do you know your triggers and how to recognize them? Because when you do, you’re acutely aware of your missteps and you can correct course—and that’s how you step into a kick-ass life.
In addition, I’ve put together some additional resources and support for you, such as meditations and worksheets that correspond to the habits you’ll read about in each chapter. Simply go to www.yourkickasslife.com/HTSFLS-study to find out more about that.
The goal is to pay attention to your habits, see where they’re holding you back, and try your best to do an about-face from the ones that aren’t serving you. Do this and you’re well on your way to extraordinary happiness.
THE KEYS TO YOUR SUCCESS
In retrospect, there’s something crucial I learned early on in my journey. What has been instrumental in my own success in every area of my life over the past decade—friendships, marriage, parenting, career, body—has nothing to do with being smarter than anyone else, or finding one secret or just one tool. The key has been consistency and commitment to the work. This is a lifelong thing. It’s not about reading that one book or taking that one workshop, or only working on yourself when shit hits the fan in your life. This is a constant practice. It’s about failing and starting over time and time again. It’s about having small and large victories. It’s about having aha moments about things you didn’t even realize were an issue for you.
No matter what you’ve been through, no matter what your circumstances are right now or even a year from now, your chances of having what you consider to be an amazing, kick-ass, successful life all depend on your ability to commit to the inner work and be consistent. And if you just said you don’t have time to commit, I’ll tell you what you’ll end up having time for: feeling shitty. You do have time. You just have to prioritize. The words on these pages mean nothing unless you’re willing to look hard at your own life and take action.
At the end of each chapter, you’ll see a list of challenging questions. Because it’s not enough for you to read the words, read chapters on habits that aren’t serving you, nod your head and think, “Yes, I do that habit” or “I feel that way too,” and then continue to do those things. By using the questions to look deeper into your life, you’re getting the ideas out from your head in a creative way (writing), which will help you make some actual changes. So, get out a piece of paper and answer the questions by yourself, with a friend, or even with a group.
In addition to consistency and commitment, there’s one more thing I’d like to stress that will help you to get the most out of this book. And that’s paying attention. You’re going to read about many different habits and mind-sets that will resonate with you. What I want you to walk away with after reading this book is a clear idea of what each habit looks like for you (if you do it), as well as a set of tools to help you change it. The real change happens when you get good at noticing it quickly in your everyday life.
It’s about stopping yourself when you’ve said yes to something you didn’t want to do and within ten seconds you said to yourself, “Well, crap. That was people pleasing.” Or when you’re feeling sad after dropping your kindergartener off for his first day of school, get home, feel the prick of tears, and start cleaning your entire house. I want you to stop and say, “Oops. I’m trying to be strong and numb out.” That’s a win. From there it’s not about beating yourself up for people pleasing or numbing out, but just acknowledging the habit and/or belief and trying on the new tools.
That’s paying attention.
However, sometimes there’s a downside to paying attention too much. You might call it “overthinking,” but it’s more than that. In personal development, many women are apt to pick their behaviors apart, wanting to label each and every thing they do. Is this good? Awareness is good, right? Is this bad? Obsessing is bad, right? How do we know when to analyze and when to get out of our heads? And what if we can’t get out of our heads—what happens when the self-analyzing is constant?
That overthinking thing is called “over-identification,” and it refers to our tendency to hyper-examine everything we do. With smart, high-achieving women, this happens more often than not.
So, if you find yourself doing that, first of all, you’re normal and I want to commend your commitment to the work. But this isn’t about compartmentalizing your entire emotional and mental state. Try your best to pay attention but also try not to overdo it. Figure out where you stumble the most and where you have room to improve, catch yourself when you see these behaviors arise, implement new strategies as you learn them, and let that be enough. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself along the way!
In the summer of 2014, I went to San Antonio, Texas, to be trained in The Daring Way™, a modality based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown. The work rocked me to my core—both personally and professionally. I’m ecstatic the topic of shame is coming to the forefront of personal development, and I’m forever grateful to Brené for her work. You’ll read a few tools and concepts in this book that stem from her research.
Shame seems to be a buzzword these days, and it’s a good thing—people are talking more about the things that hold them back from experiencing happiness. But over and over again women have said to me that they don’t think they are experiencing shame, even when they are. It’s as though they can’t identify that feeling within themselves. I understand. When we think of someone feeling ashamed, we might imagine that person has done inconceivable things and her actions have been made public: She was caught embezzling money from her church and the whole congregation knows. He was caught having an affair with his psychiatrist and people are whispering around town about it. Or maybe that person feels shamed by someone else: her mom, an alcoholic, comes drunk to the school play, or her child was sent to prison for shoplifting.
But what I’ve come to know is that shame is not only more common than we think but also happens—often—in private scenarios. I hate to break it to those of you who think you’re living shame-free, but all of us feel shame. And if we’re not facing and claiming that shame, if we’re not honestly identifying and processing it, and learning how to move through it, then shame is owning us. We’re running from a feeling that we don’t even know exists within us.
Brené Brown describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging—something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
That is a fantastic definition, and a very helpful one, because many of us aren’t conscious that we are feeling “unworthy of connection.” Let me explain what it looks like, how it manifests in our adult lives, and what it has to do with the habits you’re about to read.
I’ll start by giving you an example of a scenario I remember from my own middle school experience, one that involves public shaming.
It was my eighth-grade graduation day. I wore the pretty dress my mom and I had shopped for, and I got to borrow her beautiful cardigan sweater with shoulder pads that were too big for me, but it was 1989, so it was perfect. As my parents and I walked toward the school from the parking lot, two of the popular girls saw me. One pointed at me and said to the other, “Oh my GAWD, what is she wearing?!” And they both laughed hysterically. I had felt pretty and confident that morning, and after I had heard that, I felt horrible and ridiculous.
That was shame.
This seemingly small scenario is not uncommon; we’ve all experienced some kind of public shame or humiliation. Anyone who’s been in middle school has a story (or ten) like mine. When we were young we were shamed by family or friends or at school. As adults, we see similar shaming in our partnerships, at work, with friends, and with our families.
Another, more recent example exposed an identity that our culture deems “unacceptable,” which can commonly lead to feelings of shame. A few years ago we moved to a new state, which included a new school for my children. I was in a meeting with the elementary school principal, my son’s new teacher, and his special education coordinator. My son, who is on the autism spectrum, had his records sent over from the psychologist who had diagnosed him.
The meeting started, and the special education coordinator began to read my son’s health history aloud. She innocently said, “Colton lives with his mother, father, and sister. His mother has a history of alcohol abuse…” I have no idea what was said after that because all I could hear was the roaring of blood in my ears as my heart pumped furiously. My palms began to sweat and my armpits tingled.
We were in a new city where I knew no one. Minutes before, I was having a friendly chat with these women whom I felt could be my friends. When she read aloud, “His mother has a history of alcohol abuse,” I wondered: Should I interrupt and tell them I’ve been sober for years? Would they gossip about me? Were they judging me in that moment? I felt the overwhelming need to run, defend myself, and cry all at the same time.
The thing that all shame stories have in common is that the people telling them feel like shit. Really, really horrible. There’s no other emotion like it. As Brené Brown says, “Shame is a full contact emotion.” It’s a feeling so universally hated that when we experience it, we never, ever want to feel that again. Ever. We may not consciously think this, but deep inside, we know we want it gone.
My shaming at middle school graduation happened more than twenty-five years ago, and I remember those feelings as if I felt them yesterday. The details of it are still vivid—I even remember the names of the girls who laughed at me. The feelings from that seemingly small incident embedded inside me and started to shape not so much who I was, but how I behaved.
That’s why it’s so important that we understand how to identify shame before we even start thinking about the fourteen behaviors that we’ll read about in this book. We all have an instinct to avoid shame. Whether we’re aware or not, we go through life trying our best to avoid it, and that avoidance becomes a force that drives our own undermining habits. This is where perfectionism, people pleasing, blaming, self-sabotage, numbing, isolating and avoiding, control, overachieving, and all the other habits you’re going to read about are born. If you’re regularly participating in any or all those behaviors, guess who’s driving the bus? SHAME.
If you’re not learning about shame in your own life, it can take over by pushing you to participate in any of the behaviors you’re going to read about in this book. If you think you don’t have any or not much shame, you’re probably in a constant state of running from it.
When you read through the habits in this book, know that most likely you’re using them as protection. Know that these habits are the things you do to protect yourself from shame, and appreciate them for trying to shield you—and then get ready to let them go.
Because when we’re engaging in perfectionism, people pleasing, numbing, and all the other habits, we’re not actually creating a solution to the problem. At best, we’re slapping a temporary and crappy Band-Aid on a wound that needs more attention. And that attention looks like this:
1. Heightened awareness of the behaviors you’re engaging in that aren’t in alignment with who you want to be. I know you don’t want to be doing the people-pleasing party dance. I know you want to connect with people instead of hiding out when things get tough. I know you want to do your best instead of killing yourself with perfectionism. When you know you’re engaging in these behaviors, you can take steps to correct it.
2. Knowledge of your values. Know them as well as you know how you like your coffee (Chapter 15, y’all). What is important to you? Can you name the things that matter to you most about how you live your daily life? What does it mean to honor those priorities?
3. Practice. You won’t get it right every time, or even most of the time. Changing behavior is a messy task: sometimes you’ll get it all wrong, sometimes you’ll get it right, sometimes you’ll be proud of yourself, and on and on for the rest of your days. In the end, though, the more you practice, the more you’ll develop new habits that serve you and the easier it will become to let happiness in—for good.
You’ll read a few chapters that include the phrase “show up.” And it may seem obvious, right? Let me break it down for you…
Showing up is being willing to engage with something uncomfortable when you’d rather back off and say, “NOPE!” When you show up, you allow yourself to feel scared and awkward and out of your element. But you also feel inspired! You dig deep, do the work, and feel brave all at the same time.
That’s what it means to show up.
In your daily life, when you face a difficult and uncomfortable situation—negative self-talk, a conversation with an ornery coworker that sucks but is necessary, difficult kids—you have two choices:
1. You can do nothing and feel like shit and be scared, and everything will stay the same.
2. You can accept that you’re uncomfortable but be brave and scared at the same time and see real change.
Did you notice that both of those choices include being scared? Because we can’t go through life and be brave and live kick-ass lives without fear being a part of the mix as well.
By showing up and doing the work, you’re making a declaration that you’re tired of being mean to yourself and of engaging in habits that make you feel bad and that you’re ready to change. I commend you to the nth degree for that.
And sure, there will be moments when you feel so strange and awkward that you wish you could run from your own feelings and your own awareness. That’s okay. Of course, it feels awkward. You’ve been behaving a certain way for decades; it’s going to take more than a minute for you to feel comfortable implementing more healthy behaviors. I don’t know anyone who looks forward to hard conversations and setting boundaries. “Yay, I can’t wait to have that awkward talk with my mom about how I can’t have political arguments in my house anymore.” But it will all get so much easier! You will feel the fear dissipate, and you will feel confidence and energy take its place.
So, to the broken-hearted, uncomfortable, and afraid women of the world: Welcome. We’ve saved you a seat. You’re just like us; we love you the way you are, and you can still want to change for the better. There is one thing I know for sure: when a woman is determined to change her life, when she pays attention to herself and what she’s after, she’s unstoppable. And that, dear reader, is you.
I’m ecstatic for you that you’re committing to learning more about yourself. Because if you start learning more, you’ll begin to make good use of these new tools that can make you feel better, and you will become a changed person.
And when you become a changed person, one who is kinder to herself, you inspire others. The ripple effect can move mountains, and women have the power to change not just ourselves but the world.
So, push your sleeves up, put your hair in a ponytail, and let’s get to work.
Being an Asshole to Yourself: Learn to Manage Your Inner Critic
Have you ever been in a verbally abusive relationship? One in which the other person constantly criticizes you, thinks you’re never good enough, and always makes you feel terrible? A relationship in which you start doubting yourself and believing all the mean things the other person says to you and about you? Or maybe you haven’t been in this type of relationship, but you know someone who has? And it was so excruciatingly painful to watch?
And oh, how I wish I were talking about someone else. But I’m talking about the way you speak to yourself.
Even if you’ve never had someone speak to you in this manner, I will bet that you speak to yourself this way at times (or all the time). That your inner dialogue is less than loving. For instance, how do you speak to yourself when you see your reflection after you step out of the shower? Or when you make a mistake? Or when you get passed over for a promotion? Or when you start comparing yourself to other women?
In those instances, is your self-talk kind? Compassionate? Like a warm blanket just out of the dryer that smells like love?
I kind of doubt it.
I start with this chapter because your inner voice—or what is often rightly described as your “inner critic”—is the most common behavior women engage in that makes them feel like shit.
Take Valerie, a thirty-one-year-old hairdresser:
I tell myself quite often that I’m fat and this is the reason I’m still single as my thirty-second birthday approaches. I’m constantly criticizing my food choices and second-guessing most of my decisions.
My friends are getting married and having kids, and I’m always comparing myself to them, feeling like I don’t measure up. If I were thinner, more outgoing, more “something,” I would have had a successful relationship by now.
Part of my job is to look nice, and people tell me often I look pretty, but I never believe them. I feel like they’re just making polite conversation.
Valerie’s story is a common one—comparing herself to everyone else (more on that in Chapter 4) and believing her happiness depends on something outside herself she needs to attain.
- "Fearlessly tells it like it is, offering its readers no-nonsense and insightful advice to help them get over their crap and wake up to their own brilliance."—Jen Sincero, bestselling author of You Are a Badass
- "Andrea Owen [is] an expert at calling bullshit on behaviors and thinking that keep women stuck, unfulfilled, and unhappy . . . How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t delivers in a powerful way, and women everywhere will be thanking Andrea for changing their lives!"—Debbie Reber, New York Times-bestselling author of Differently Wired and Doable
- "I found myself nodding along as I was reading, knowing that I too have some of "The Complications" within, but even more excited to know that there is a solution. A solution that's tangible and doable. I can't wait to recommend How To Stop Feeling Like Sh*t to all my girlfriends!"—Rachel DeAlto, author of Relatable and Flirt Fearlessly
- "Andrea Owen has done it again with her straight-shooting wisdom from her heart. She calls out the most common behaviors that keep smart and capable women stressed out and living with expectation hangovers!"—Christine Hassler, author of Expectation Hangover
- "After reading How to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t, I stopped feeling like shit! I think this book is a great read for anyone who is looking to accept the joy that already exists in their lives, live life according to their values, and to stop catastrophizing."—Dr. Eris Huemer, star of Bravo's LA Shrinks and author of The Break-Up Emergency
- On Sale
- Jan 2, 2018
- Hachette Audio