“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
These are great words, attributed to a special lady. Do you believe this or do you frequently allow your self-image to be colored by the world around you? Are you aware of your own truth and goodness? Do you realize that what you think of yourself, good or bad, is always more important than what others think of you?
I truly believe that we all are born with a healthy dose of self-esteem. In our early years, however, it often begins to be chiseled away by normal childhood experiences. Dysfunctional parents, as well as the well-intended ones, contribute to this in addition to most school systems. During teenage years the desire to conform takes us a step further away from knowing and appreciating our true selves.
If negativity and self-doubt are allowed to gain a solid foothold, this snowballs until we are old enough to reflect back on our life and wonder what went wrong. Why am I not happy? Why do I always try harder to please others than myself? When will there be time for me?
If you find this happening, take a moment to reflect on your own self-worth. First of all, no one is “better” than anyone else. We are all different, but equal as human beings. What are your special gifts and talents? What do you like best about yourself? What are you doing when you are truly happy?
Most importantly, you don’t have to own anyone else’s opinion of “you.” What they think of you, is not your business; it’s theirs. Mind you own and appreciate yourself.
Too often children are taught not to cry. “Be tough; don’t cry. You’re okay.” Maybe their feelings are hurt or they are afraid. Appropriate validation of his or her feelings and reassurance is essential for healthy emotional development. However, if those feelings are ignored or pushed aside repeatedly, it may teach the child to feel insignificant and to build protective walls. This can manifest in an older child or adult as overweight issues or addictive escapes into drugs, spending, alcohol, sex or even work.
It truly takes courage for an adult to melt down those walls and allow feelings of human vulnerability. It requires being honest with yourself and others about who you really are; it short, it requires acknowledging and becoming your authentic self. To fully feel unspoken pain and accept it, is a catalyst for healing. In some cases, this may require the assistance of a therapist. Perhaps the comforting ear of a close friend or loving family member may suffice. At the very least, journaling is a wonderful outlet to release those secret feelings.
Truly experiencing joy requires knowledge and acceptance of the darkest recesses of your sadness and disappointments. If you are unable to be fully open to all of life’s experiences, you are depriving yourself of meaningful relationships and your deepest joys. Vulnerability is not weakness; it takes strength to be vulnerable in the face of your sorrows or shame. Weakness is not allowing yourself access to the full spectrum of human emotions. Truly, vulnerability is a precious gift that you give to yourself because only those who live with it can fully embrace all the beauty and joys life has to offer.
Well, of course you are good enough! But why is it we don’t always feel that way?
We come into this life packaged with a mixture of genes and energies ready to take on the world. There is no question at that point, that we are equipped to forge the trail of the life that lies ahead. So why is it that when we journey into adulthood we find that fears and doubt have crept in? It’s true that life repeatedly shapes us as time goes on and often chips away at self-esteem, hopes and dreams, allowing negativity to slip into the cracks. But some of those cracks did not begin in adulthood; they developed during the powerful formative years in childhood.
Well-meaning parents may have repeatedly sent us messages such as:
“Your dreams are fantasies that can never happen, they are silly.” The child feels, “I am silly.”
“Shut up; I don’t care what you think.” The child comes to believe, “There must be something wrong with my thoughts and opinions.”
“Why didn’t you get all A’s like your sister? You can do better.” The child who has already done their best believes that the world, as reflected by their parents, will never see them as good enough. “I can’t do well enough even when I try hardest, so why even try?”
“You have to think of others before yourself.” The child hears, “Others are more important than I am.”
Lastly, one of my favorites for children born back in the day, “This hurts me more than it hurts you,” as they are being spanked. The child internalizes, “Love must always involve some pain.”
Of course, everyone’s childhood is different and the effects of repeated messages vary, but the words parents say frequently to their children during the first ten years of life are critical in their developmental foundation. At the end of that period, the child has some scratches and chips in that positive, enthusiastic, loving spirit that was born into the world.
The child becomes an adolescent where conformity is the watchword. This is the period where children learn how to interact in the world with others and parental messages are not as acceptable as the mores dictated by their peers. Trying to fit in by dressing, talking and behaving like the “in” crowd often robs the adolescent of more of their already fragile individuality.
We reach adulthood and the messages continue. Just listen to how TV, especially commercials, portrays the “ideal” woman or man and how social media can crucify an individual because anonymity allows it. By now, though, we hopefully begin to learn that we do have choices in life and don’t have to be dictated to by anyone. We realize that society will respond to us in certain ways depending upon how we present ourselves. Face to face interaction encourages a more realistic appraisal than social media of how we fit within the world, but that is unfortunately becoming less common. Romantic involvements become fertile ground for recreating the unresolved dramas of childhood. Some of these relationships foster emotional growth that is positive in itself but comes at the cost of more injury to that strong and vital birth spirit. Death, divorce and disease happen.
Many of us later in life begin to realize that who we have become is not who we want to be. We may feel discouraged, that something is missing in our lives. We have lost our true selves playing the game of life. All that programming of the earlier years and the busyness of adult life has hidden our true essence. We may have learned to please others and become neglectful of our own wants and needs.
The good news is that at the core of our being, our true self still exists. It is capable of being found if you begin peeling away and letting go of the layers of guilt, inadequacy, and stress that you have allowed society to place upon you. Begin by realizing that your true happiness does not depend on anyone or anything else. It simply lives inside of you as the joy of your existence. This is what you felt when you were born; it is the true essence of who you really are. Spirituality and meditation can help you find it. If that isn’t enough, play back some of those positive tapes from your childhood. Not all parental messages are negative. My father used to say to me,”You can do anything anyone else can do, and chances are you can do it better.” The bottom line is that you are good enough; you always have been and always will be good enough to accomplish whatever you truly wish to do in life.