So far in this series we have talked about the idea of self-image and the way that the past has impacted and influenced your view of yourself. This week I want to bring this concept into the present and talk about how you see yourself in your current season, this year, this week, this moment. Hopefully the last few weeks have been making you more aware of the way you see yourself. I know that our self-perception is a bit of a fluid entity, so let’s look at the thoughts and feelings you have had about yourself in the last few months.
What thoughts have you had about yourself since the beginning of 2018? While New Year’s resolutions can have a tendency to make us see all the things we wish were different in our lives, January is probably one of the most hopeful months of the year. You start thinking about that Resolution List and think of a million things you dislike about your life. “I’m too fat”, “I am always broke”, “I’m not good in relationships”, “This house is horrible”, but at least in January those things are usually followed with “I’ll join a gym. I’ll save money. I’ll join Tinder.”
Usually by the end of January that hopefulness is gone, and you are left with a list of things you now feel even worse about than before. By Valentine’s Day you’ve added Quitter, Failure, Forever Fat, Forever Alone, and Forever in Debt to the list of things you believe about yourself.
By May we’re looking at new wardrobes, whether those are Southern Hemisphere sweaters and leggings or Northern Hemisphere bathing suits and shorts, and wouldn’t you know, pulling out all those clothes you haven’t seen in six months brings up some personal critiques. It’s kind of astounding to me how many little, seemingly insignificant things I believe about myself, but this process makes me realize all of them. We can judge and affix incorrect labels to ourselves about everything from our previous fashion choices to our organization skills and the time it takes us to put everything away again. Guys. It’s nutty, but true. Think of all the things you believe about yourself and you might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of judgmental thoughts your brain can hold.
If I can borrow an analogy from a discussion of time, self-image work is not a strict progression of cause to affect, but more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly self-perception stuff. There’s no simple five step plan. Sometimes you need to just sit with your new understanding of yourself. Other times you will be so on fire to change that you can’t sit still. There will be days or weeks that you entirely forget that you were working on addressing the negative thoughts and labels you have been living with because you are just so caught up in bashing yourself. As always, take a deep breath, have a seat, and take a little thinking break. When you have done that, here are some approaches to self-image work to consider as you bring this beastie into submission.
We see ‘em. We name them. We look deep into their eyes and make them know that we know about them. We capture all those random “Ugh, I am so fat”, “Hmm, broke like always”, “I did that again? I’m such a garbage person”, “Me? I’m always the last to have nice things”, and “I’m such an idiot”s, and say “Oh hey there, little self-image statement”. It sounds easy but in an average day, you probably think at least a hundred different things about yourself, usually without even realizing it. Just recognizing those thoughts is a good step, but stopping there usually just leaves you feeling worse than before. The important piece of acknowledging these thoughts is to frame them accurately.
Just as we did with the things in our past, we have to put our current situation and perception in context, and acknowledge the truth. If you look in the mirror you may see someone who is “fat, ugly, overweight, gross, unhealthy, skinny, jiggly, embarrassing, or disproportionate”, but what is the truth of your image? Are you fat, or not in the place you want to be physically? Are you ugly, or having a bad day, not sleeping well, not making the most of your features, wearing clothing that isn’t flattering, not willing to invest in your looks, or craving appreciation from others? What you label as jiggly might actually be that you aren’t as toned as you want to be because you are investing your time in your children instead of your body.
So many of us get stuck holding on to inaccurate and harmful labels of ourselves because of how we perceive our physical bodies, but my good people, your body is just the beginning of the self-image quagmire. Are you broke, or choosing to use your money to pay off debt for a better financial future? Are you “bad with money” or have you not chosen to learn how to budget? Maybe you had poor examples of money managers growing up and you are simply following what they did. Maybe you don’t feel worthy of having money or nice things, and maybe you actually think that having money is bad. Only by recognizing and acknowledging the truth of your thoughts about yourself will you be able to take action on them.
I’m obviously an advocate for progress. I believe that everyone has capacity to effect change in their life. However, even I have to admit that there are some things that we cannot change (at least not directly). That nose is going to be yours for the rest of your life, unless you decide to have it surgically altered. If you’ve moved from “I’ll never be normal because my family is crazy” to “My early relationships made it hard for me to feel ‘normal’ with those outside of my family” changing that perspective might be as far as you can move toward remedying that. You will never change your past, you can only change your perspective on it, and accept where it has brought you.
Accepting where and who you are right now is one of the hardest parts in changing your self-image. You have to look at all of those little things that you find so awful, annoying, gross, imperfect about yourself and at least for a minute, be ok with them. They are you. They may not be what you want, but they are what you have. Your negative bank balance allowed you to feed your kids and live in your house. Your wobbly arms and belly are evidence of a life lived with pleasure in food, and joy taken in sharing meals with others. Those quick replies that make you feel stupid, or unkind two minutes later show mental speed and exuberance. You are who you are, the things you love and the things you hate, and it’s your job and exquisite pleasure to learn to accept each little nuance.
Acceptance is not always the absence of change, it’s just another step in the process. One that I deeply encourage you to attempt. Your progress will always feel hollow if you failed to love yourself into it.
You’re here, so I’m trusting that you have taken a good look at your personal image, and unpacked it, mining for the nuggets of truth in there, delved into exactly what the truth of your negative self-image is, and have decided to take further action.
You have been living with these negative thoughts and feelings long enough! So what steps could you take to remedy the root truth of your negative perceptions of yourself? Are there decisions that you could feasibly make to alleviate them? You looked behind the label of “weak” and found that you frequently feel like you don’t achieve what others have in physical or mental feats. Do you need to get out there and prove yourself in some arena? Will becoming the strongest you’ve ever been convince you that you are capable of handling yourself in the world?
“Too Lazy” is no longer going to be your label, and the more accurate “Lacking sufficient challenges” doesn’t feel great, so it’s up to you to do something about it. Find a new hobby, work toward a promotion, change jobs, learn a new language.
You’re tired of being “anxious” and have determined that “not given the opportunity to fail in a safe environment” is the truth of your life. How can you work to add manageable ways to make mistakes into your daily life? Friends can create a surrogate family to hammer out some of the challenges of childhood, and learning to fail is one of the most valuable skills you can learn.
The message is this: you have the ability to see your flaws for what they are and what caused them to be, accept them as a part of your current state, and create a way for them to no longer cause you pain or cost you joy.
The opportunity is yours. I’m just here to remind you of your power. ❤