When you look at yourself in a mirror what do you see? (Perhaps you avoid mirrors?) Is the person looking back at you acceptable as is, or do you feel an overwhelming need to be somebody else? If you think you should be someone else, why is that so and who do you think you should be? Who is driving the decision—you or other people?
How we view ourselves has built up over our lifetime as the result of our experiences and the feedback we have received from the people in our lives. The question is, do we see ourselves as they see us, or is there a complete (or even partial disconnect) between what we think about ourselves and the opinions of others? Our own self-image can be quite different from how the world perceives us. Some people who outwardly appear to have it all (intelligence, looks, personal and financial success, even fame) may actually have a poor self image. They may and feel ashamed of their background, where they came from and who they really are. Conversely, others who have had a very difficult life and multiple hardships may think quite highly of themselves. They are the ones who, no matter what happens in life are resilient; they can always manage to be optimistic and find a blessing somewhere. They have somehow managed to overcome their past difficulties and allow themselves to soar, free from the bonds imposed on them by circumstances and the judgment of others.
While judgment and criticism can sometimes be constructive or even helpful, too many times the results are hurtful, harmful and destructive. Especially as children, we internalize what we hear, and we love to heap punishment on ourselves when we perceive we are falling short of what someone else thinks we should be or become.
Do you have a posse in your head standing by ready willing and able to call you out on every blunder or bad decision? (Whose voices are you hearing?) How many times have you slapped your forehead and asked yourself “What was I thinking?” How many times have you called yourself a stupid idiot when you did something foolish or made a mistake? Is that what you heard as a child? But as an adult, would you ever let someone else talk to you using the words or tone of voice you use on yourself? Probably not!
As children, many of us were taught that having a high opinion of ourselves and going after what we want is egotistical and selfish. Women especially have been brainwashed to believe they must take care of everyone else first, even if they have to sacrifice themselves to do it. Thus we have internalized the idea that we are somehow unworthy or not good enough to be or have what we want. However, we cannot fill someone else’s cup if ours is empty. What are we told on board an airplane? In the case of an emergency put your own mask on first—how can you help anyone else if you are unconscious from lack of oxygen? Thus it is important to remember that self esteem is not about selfishness or self absorption. On the contrary—self esteem is about self worth and self respect. How can we expect others to respect us if we don’t value and respect ourselves?
If we think we are unworthy and can’t respect ourself, our negative self-judgments will keep us believing that for our own protection and self preservation our true self must remain hidden. Isn’t it time to get over that and stop living according to other people’s expectations and opinions? This can take courage but it’s also an inside job–the only person who can really change things is ourself—it’s a choice. Are you willing to make it?
Perhaps Steve Jobs said it best:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”