Greetings, beautiful souls, and welcome to week two of this series about self-image. I hope that last week’s talk made you more aware of the perceptions that you have about yourself, and their impact on you. This week, we’re going start at the very beginning and talk about where you came from, where your self-image got its start. Appropriate in the week before Mothers’ Day, eh? We’re going to do a bit of a deep dive into the self-image quagmire, and things are going to get personal, and maybe even a little uncomfortable. Please remember, my intention is always to empower, encourage and help, and this topic is no different. You are important to me, as are your unique experiences and feelings. That said, growth doesn’t happen without some pain and challenge, so here goes.
We all have an origin story- the narrative of how we came to be, how our lives began, and what occurred before the present to make us who we are. That story is filled with triumphs and challenges, hurts and love, other people’s issues and learning to adapt. Naturally and intentionally, the majority of the forces shaping your character and worldview came from your family. Your mother and father, whatever siblings you may have, your aunts and uncles and grandparents, foster parents, whatever unit you found yourself in, all played their part in making you who you are today.
We’re talking about the origin of our self-image in the days leading up to Mothers’ Day intentionally. In the weeks leading up to this day stores are packed with bouquets and sappy cards, kids are bringing home crafts, we’re reminded of our mothers, mothers we know, the mother we are or the mother we want to be. For some, these are beautiful thoughts, full of security, joy and hope, and for others there is only pain, regret, emptiness. I know that there are some who never knew their mothers, or lost that relationship at a very young age. Others grew up with abusive and harmful women creating a life of chaos and heartbreak. Whatever your relationship with your mother, or your parents and family in general, the impact that these people have on our lives, and specifically the way we see ourselves, is apparent.
For at least the first five years of our lives our families teach us all that we knew about ourselves, the world, and our place in it. Five years of crucial development time amounts to about a million moments of self-image building.
When you were considering the things that you believe about yourself and trying to determine their roots, what did you come up with? Did your belief about your financial situation come from a father who avoided making purchases and thought that non-essential was frivolous? Did your obsession with food and fitness come from a mother who was never satisfied with her appearance and yet ate emotionally?
There were things in those years that made you feel tiny, powerless, ill-equipped, immature, afraid, embarrassed, unsure, timid. What did those moments teach you about your character? Experiencing those feelings or hearing negative statements about yourself can quickly form a belief that those things are reality and will be forever. When those most crucial relationships are broken the self-doubt and negative labels are almost impossible to avoid.
This is where all those bits of negative self-image originate. We have experiences as children, teens and young adults that make us wonder, “is this who I am?”. “People always told me X therefore X must be true.” “I tried something and failed so I am not good at it.” You know, I still don’t like baseball because when I played it as a kid I was never good at it. I believed for a long time that I was “Not Good At Baseball”, and refused to even participate in pick-up games or take a swing at recess. It wasn’t until a family reunion in my 20’s when the entire family, from my 90 year old grandmother to my then 4 year old cousin, staged their very own World Series. I had a marvelous time, and wasn’t even the least skilled person out there.
It’s a simple example, but I know that there are missing from your life because your early experiences made you believe that you couldn’t have them, didn’t deserve them, and weren’t capable of having them. Is it money? A loving relationship? Health and fitness? People who listen to and inspire you? The other side of that are all the things that are currently a huge stress in your life that you always knew you were destined to have. Weight problems, health problems, debt, fear of public speaking, displeasure or sheer hatred for your body?
I grew up as a dedicated Barney kid. Few things gave me quite as much excitement and inspiration as watching that big purple dude call all the kids to the table and start singing that Barney Bag song. Inside were “gizmos and gadgets, odds and ends and even some old strings”. I loved the things they made and was acutely disappointed when the episode ended without my favorite crafting segment. Imagine my jubilation when I went to school and learned that I would be having my very own Barney Bag time at least every week! Imagine my subsequent heartbreak when my art teacher would consistently use my artwork as an example of what not to do. I was an empathic little thing, but considered it a great joy when some other poor kid’s artwork became the gory spectacle of the day, because surely it must mean that, at least in this project, I was “Artistic”. It only took three years of this for me to decide that I hated art. The B- that I received for my mixed media representation of my ideal ice cream parfait did me in. I was failing Creativity with a 2x magnified representation of my favorite thing on earth, candy in ice cream.
Yes, the instructor was probably not fit to teach children. Art should not have been graded with numbers and letters in the third grade. People are mean and it didn’t mean anything about my artistic abilities. Yeah. I know. Now. I know now that the things that I experienced as a child don’t have to negatively impact my life. The beliefs that I held about myself for 20+ years don’t have to perpetuate into my present or the future.
Now I can look at that parfait, (yes, I kept it) and see the exuberance. I can appreciate the creative little adventurer who created perfectly dolloped cookie dough pieces in a swirling pink ice cream and layered it with some very brightly colored gummy bears. I can embrace that and re-label that experience. I am creative. I am artistic. I LOVE art in all its forms. I can create paintings and drawings without fear of what others will think or say about it.
And you know what? I think I needed that experience. It forced me into an educational track of singing which I loved. It was an early beginning of learning how to handle critics and what to do with others’ opinions of me. It definitely made me more resilient in my creative endeavors.
You have the power to make the same changes. Within you is the strength to look your negative self-image in the eye, decide that those beliefs are no longer true and kick them out. As much as your past may have caused you pain, with some time you have the capacity to recognize the positive things that those challenges created. It will take work. It won’t happen overnight. It’ll be a long process, but you can be free from the beliefs that you have held since childhood that are keeping you from reaching your goals. You have the power to see those experiences as something other than the feelings you initially experienced. That progress is the whole reason we’re doing this…
Before we go on to next week, take some time to think about the things that your origin made you believe about yourself, and whether they’re serving you, or holding you back. And get ready to kick ’em to the curb!! ❤