Developing A Strong Sense Of Self
If you missed the conversation about the dangers of comparing yourself to others, especially
in this world super connected through social media, click HERE :)
The edges of our two little square wooden tables were mere inches from one another. With my chilled hands wrapped around the warm mug filled with a creamy hazelnut latte I attempted to focus on the papers and notebooks I had laid out in front of me. I couldn't avoid overhearing the conversation that occurred between the two people who were my current coffee shop neighbors at the next table.
They were both beautiful young women. Dressed in tailored clothes and clutching their own coffee cups with well manicured hands They were clearly educated, and their chatter sounded articulate. Anyone who cared to make a brief observation would likely assume that these two were living charmed lives filled with perfection fit for the pages of Instagram. Perhaps those hurriedly passing by mistakenly believed that the friends were simply enjoying a morning visit to discuss all of their exciting weekend plans over foamy cappuccino.
Those observations would have been wrong. The morning activity and sounds swirling around the room could not drown out the pain and frustration I heard in the voices of the two friends.
Their conversation was filled with insecurity as they critiqued their hair and voiced disappointment in the shape of their bodies. They shared uncertainty of their individual futures and repeatedly asked each other, “What should I do?”.
They bonded with each other over a shared envy of varied acquaintances.
They dedicated a number of minutes making a verbal list of why a mutual friend was not as pretty as they assumed she thinks that she is and the one woman kept tally with the help of her fingers as the other woman added to the list, “... her eyes are way too close together, and she believes it when Matt tells her that she looks cute in those hideous glasses.”.
I had been attempting to offer them what privacy I could despite the closeness the space required but could no longer keep my eyes on my papers or my mind focused on my own tasks. I set my pen down and glanced up from the agenda in my hands. A wave of sadness settled over me at the realization that these two young women did not realize that their jealousy of their friend was only making themselves appear ugly and angry .
Seemingly oblivious to the other ears in the coffee shop they continued their conversation as they gathered their cups, stood from their chairs, and prepared to move on with their day. One friend began to lament to the other about her live in boyfriend refusing to propose. As they made their way to the door her fading voice remained colored with pain as she shared her fear of not being pretty enough. No one else would want her so she believed that she was unable to do any better than the current refuse-to-become-husband that she was now sharing her home with.
The two friends exited through the coffee shop door and the chairs they had just left quickly filled as two men in business suits settled in for their own conversation.
I allowed myself just a moment to process my thoughts about the two women and the unfortunate conversations I had overheard.
I was sad for those two women who seemed to be unable to see their own worth and beauty. And I was sad for the people who suffered the brunt of the jealousy and insecurity of these two friends.
I also felt sympathy because I had been there. I knew the pain and insecurity that welled in the hearts of those two friends. I've had moments in my own past where my feelings of worthlessness were used as my excuse to speak and act harshly, and to justify decisions that I knew at the time I was not comfortable with. I have clung to people who hurt me and made excuses for the way they treated me because I had been convinced that I was unloveable.
It still causes me some shame to think about all of these things now. But, I am also grateful for this past of mine because it eventually brought me to a place of acknowledging my desperate need to develop a solid sense of self.
When you don't know who you are you can be overwhelmed by others. Their opinion of you morphs and twists how you view yourself, and your importance hinges on their feelings and thoughts. You compare yourself to others and see proof that you are not enough. You struggle to make decisions and stick with them because you're fearful and tend to second guess yourself, so you ask everyone around you what they think you should do and you are left even more confused as you attempt to sort through the mess of opinions.
Without a firm grasp of your morals and a deep understanding of your values your beliefs are swayed at the whim of others and you are easily pulled into unhealthy situations.
When you do not believe in your worth you become an object to be used and thrown away. You allow others to disrespect you and you strive to please people even when their own intention is to harm you. You remain in situations that you shouldn't because sadly you're not sure you deserve any better. When you believe that you have very little worth you hide yourself away and miss out on the chance to inspire and help others.
But, it doesn't need to be this way.
When you take the time to develop an understanding of who you are, when you have a grasp on your values, and you believe that you are worthy you are then able to embrace your uniqueness and see clearly what makes you special. It is then that you're able to share your gifts and talents and bring value not only to your own life but to the lives of the people around you. You're able to be a solid emotional support to loved ones without taking on their feelings as your own. You have clear boundaries and the confidence to enforce them.
Life becomes more than an unwinnable competition.
You give yourself permission to simply be you and enjoy the journey you're on without worrying over what someone else is doing or has. You embrace opportunities of growth and you seek out adventures that thrill you!
This all sounds wonderful … but how do you go about developing this strong sense of self??
It all starts with letting go of shame, embracing who you are and who you want to be, and having persistence.
This is a process… a journey… and one that will look different for you than it does for anyone else.
I’ve compiled a few tips below to help you get started.
Now friends, please do not think that I am claiming to have all of this figured out. I am still learning and growing, still on my own journey. But I have learned some lessons, made some mistakes, and worked through some tough stages. My hope is that by my sharing here you are encouraged to continue on your own journey to a strong sense of self.
As you work through each point it might help to write down your thoughts and feelings. Make a plan on how you are going to move forward and allow that plan to be flexible. Revisit your lists and modify them when you need to. There are no right or wrongs here. This is all about learning to embrace the unique and very much loved child of God that you are.
1: Accept who you have been and heal your past…
You may have to face some difficult realities about yourself and may need to confront some painful memories. Ugg. This can be absolutely terrifying, I know. But, please do not shy away from doing the hard work here. We all have pieces of ourselves that we would rather keep hidden away. We all have parts of our story that we’d prefer not to acknowledge.
Pretending and repressing does not make these yucky parts of ourselves and our past go away, instead it will only cause the pain to linger and grow in your heart and mind. Take responsibility for your mistakes and embrace the memories of times others have hurt you. All of these decisions and events have shaped who you are today. Accept them and use them as a guide to learn what you will and will not allow of yourself and others.
2: Understand who are today …
What are you passionate about? What lights you up? What causes you heartache and why does it affect you the way that it does? What do you like about your personality? Take time to explore what those pieces are for you. Analyze the reasons behind your struggles and your failures. Get really clear about your strengths AND your weaknesses. Be realistic and honest with yourself. Then… accept those weaknesses, and do all that you can to nurturing your strengths and the pieces of your personality that you are proud of.
3: Take steps to become the woman you want to be…
We all have parts of ourselves that we wish were different. Well, why not reinvest yourself? Each morning when we open our eyes onto a brand new day we have the beautiful blessing of deciding how we want to present ourselves to the world. This is not about perfection, there is no perfect person, let go of that idea. And this is definitely not about being fake, a strong sense of self is only beneficial if you’re real and authentic.
This is about giving yourself permission to be the best version of YOU possible. Find a purpose for your life and use your uniqueness to bless others. Embrace your curiosity and do more of the things you enjoy. Go out and experience life!
4: Give yourself some grace….
This is perhaps the most important. Cling to your faith and spend time in God’s word. This is where you will find the ultimate template for a strong sense of self and will be reminded of the beautiful uniqueness that makes you so special. Learning to love yourself with all the good and the bad is hard. And changing the way you view yourself and the world around you is tough. This journey requires gentleness so take control of your thoughts and do not be harsh with yourself. You will never be perfect so allow yourself room to mess up and offer yourself some forgiveness and grace. And remember that no matter who you’ve been, what you have done, or who you will become, there is always love and forgiveness waiting for you.
What are your feelings on embracing all the pieces that make you YOU ... the good and the bad? Any strong feelings on my suggestion of reinventing yourself?
I'd love to hear your thoughts :)