By Rebekah White
Making judgments is something that everyone does on a daily basis. Will I need to wear the light jacket or the snow parka today? How much time should I block out for this meeting? How much ketchup should I put on these fries? Do I have enough time to run to the grocery store? How long should I make her time-out? Will he like the red dress or the blue dress better? Little daily judgements like these are necessary to life as we navigate our way through our responsibilities. But what we judge, and the standard we use to do the judging is important. Judging ourselves against the life and circumstances of others is a dangerous and slippery slope that we should avoid.
As a child, I was happy with myself. I loved my family, my friends, and felt loved in return. When I was ten, my parents moved our family to a new place with a new job, new house, new people and new school. It was tough. The kids were pretty mean, and I didn’t anticipate that. My naive decade-old self was completely blindsided by the way the other children treated me. To them, my clothes weren’t good enough, I looked funny, my hair wasn’t right. I hadn’t known them since Kindergarten, and that was a friendship deal-breaker for them. For the very first time in my young life, I began to see myself as different. Happiness was replaced by loneliness and my contentment replaced by self-loathing.
I navigated my way through adolescence, eventually found my talents, made lasting friends and salvaged my confidence. But my self-image suffered, and even into adulthood, I am not completely free from comparing myself with those around me-especially other women. I have sometimes found myself keeping mental tally-marks about the things I do better than other mothers around me, and when I see someone fail, I feel proud, like I’m so much better. On the flip side, I see attractive women walking down the street and after taking a look in my mental mirror, don’t see anything attractive about myself. We have been sold on the idea that there is only one good way to be.
All roads lead to Rome, right? But even if we end up in the same place, it doesn’t mean that our paths to get there are the same. Some people suffer, and others seem to have no troubles at all. We are envious of others’ situations, but if we knew what they have been through or are still going through, we wouldn’t want it. The grass is not always greener on the other side.
Comparing ourselves to others is a losing business. Taking stock of our strengths (rather than focusing only on our weaknesses and noticing the strengths in others around us) is the way to wring the most happiness out of life. We can do better!
Here are 5 ways to keep your self-image on a good track:
1. Change Your Perspective
Try to step outside of yourself for a while and consider the good things happening in your life. If you’re feeling ugly, unwanted, or tired out from the road of life, consider the positive things around you.
Driving down the road last week, I was really unhappy. I was weary, tired of bickering little voices from the backseat, not looking forward to getting home and making lunch- for the millionth day in a row, sick of being a taxi, anxious about bills… and on and on. A feeling of peace entered my negative thoughts. I was a woman of value living a blessed life. I had people who loved me, a comfortable home to live in, and food to eat. Those things alone were things to rejoice over. There is always something to be thankful for, and letting the gratitude in can help heal the hurt.
2. Look For the Beauty in Others
In order to find the beauty in ourselves, we need to actively look for the beauty in other people.
The first part of my formal education, I was trained as a classical musician. I had grown up on islands in the Puget Sound in a relatively sheltered life, and college was the first place that I saw people of all colors, shapes, sizes and circumstances. I found quickly that nothing on the outside mattered when it came to a musician playing their instrument. The beauty of the voice was not determined by the color of the hair. The melody coming out of the cello was not determined by the nose piercings. Neither was the heart-pounding rhythm from the marimba determined by the tattoos running up the player’s arms. The outside of the package held little bearing on what was contained within it.
If I had shut out people based on my initial judgments of appearance, I would have missed out on the gift of their musical talents. There are beautiful people in this world. Some carry it on the inside, some on the outside, and the really lucky ones are beautiful through and through. Once we are able to see that beauty and acknowledge it, we can start to see the beauty in ourselves.
3. Change Your Inner Voice or Leave it Behind
Everyone has an inner voice. We talk to ourselves, encourage ourselves, and try to solve dilemmas by talking through them. But sometimes, that helpful inner dialogue can turn ugly, hurtful, and critical. Heeding over-critical and negative self-talk doesn’t do anyone any good.
Dr. Deborah Serani PsyD, a practicing psychologist, psychoanalyst, and author of Living With Depression: Why Biology and Biography Matter along the Path to Hope and Healing, counsels individuals that it requires effort over time to change the negative critic to positive resource. She says, “It can take some work to jettison these kinds of critical self-statements, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Having a positive and realistic inner monologue is the key to well being.”
Dr. Serani recommends listening for, and writing down the negative self-talk that streams through our minds, She then advises replacing the untruthful, hurtful statements with ones that are true. Once we have switched out the lies for the truth, the talk becomes more and more positive all the time, and over time we begin to believe the truths about ourselves and that changes how we feel about whom we are. We can begin to see the beauty in ourselves.
Other ways to gain constructive inner dialogue are to engage in positive activities like meditation, prayer, listening to good music, talking to family, going on a walk through nature, emailing a friend, volunteering for a good cause, or keeping a journal. If all else fails, sometimes getting up and out of your inner dialogue can be as important as what it says to you, and can change the message.
4. Serve Those Around You
If you find that it’s impossible to let it all go in your mind, and are still finding yourself lacking in comparison to other people, get up and physically do something for someone else. Service increases our love for mankind. Visit your neighbor, rake some leaves for the widow, take a friend to lunch, read to a child, or volunteer your time at a soup kitchen. You may find that people’s lives aren’t always what you thought they were. You will develop more charity and compassion, and when you’ve done a good turn, you’ll feel better about you.
5. Identify the Good and Unique in Yourself
Not a single person in the world is bereft of some redeeming quality. Think of the things you do well or the good qualities you possess. Maybe there are some you would like to develop, and you can work toward those. I took up weaving and spinning several years back at a time when I felt like I had no useful skills. I have learned a lot about the art, and enjoy sharing my knowledge and textiles with the people that I love. Develop a talent that you already have, or take the time do develop a new one.
Sam Levenson, an American journalist, writer, and television personality once penned these words for his granddaughter: