Why do we struggle so hard to view ourselves the way others do?
The other day, I made a new friend. I connected with someone who, prior to this week, I had only “spoken with” via responses to each other’s Facebook posts. We had never had a one on one conversation prior to this week and I knew very little about them on a personal level. However, this person had posted something on their Facebook wall and I felt compelled to reach out to them, say hello and just offer a few words of support.
That brief message of support has turned into a string of great conversations and, I hope, has been something positive for this individual. I know it has been positive for me.
One of the things this person and I discussed was struggling with that feeling of being “good enough” or “worthy” of good things and successes. As we talked, we both admitted to struggling with this feeling of not being good enough despite the individual successes we both have had. The irony of it all, we have always viewed each other as these incredibly capable, dynamic, driven and worthy individuals…despite the fact each of us struggles with feeling that way most days.
So why is it so many of us struggle with feeling worthy of being ourselves and worthy of what we achieve? The answer to this question is going to be very different for each person. I am fortunate in that I know what causes me to struggle with it. For me, its the sense of abandonment I still struggle with following my father’s death and my mother’s substance abuse. I know, that for me, the emotional abuse I endured at the hands of my first step father and a few other people in my life intensified that feeling. I know that, despite knowing my choices with transition were transition or suicide, the fact that those who try to “talk me out of it” or who berate me talk about tell me things like, “You will never be a real woman,” “No one will want to date you,” or “What are you, some kind of freak?” impacts my view of myself.
I will say that myself and this new friend have done some very positive things with our personal struggles about self worth. Personally, I have used that feeling to motivate me to blog and share my story. Knowing that my writings have let some know they are not alone, along with helping to normalize and help bridge that gap in understanding between transgender and cis individuals helps me to continue to write even on the days when I question whether or not its worth it. I know that drive to prove to myself, not to anyone but myself, motivated me to finally finish my bachelors degree at 38, complete my masters degree at 45 and push for new successes both in RL and SL. I know my desire to make sure that others overcome those questions of worth pushes me to try to be a positive influence on others and support them in their times of need. My new friend…well they have found their own successes, in RL and SL, and I am delighted to see that they have despite their personal struggles with self worth.
Often times, in my dating life, I would tell my partners, “If only for a minute, I wish you could look in the mirror and see yourself the way I do. If you could, I believe you would see yourself in a whole new light.” Unfortunately, people aren’t able to see themselves the way we see them. Their views of themselves are often skewed by negative messages, overt or subtle, they received in their childhoods. They are struggling with the insecurities that were created by abusive and/or emotionally absent parents, extended families and partners. They have this negative thoughts, instilled in them in their early years and/or pushed on them through intimate relationship that erode at their self confidence. Those messages, particularly from people who they were supposed to be able to trust, have become so powerful that sometimes it is all they hear in their heads.
They struggle to hear the positive words of others because every time they hear that compliment, there is this nagging negative message in the back of their heads that says, “Yeah, they say that now but if they only knew the real you…”
I can say that because that is what I did to myself for years and, as much as I hate to admit, I still do it on occasion.
But it is a battle we all can win. It takes time and hard work. But it is not impossible. Some of the keys though are surrounding ourselves with people who help reinforce those positive images of ourselves. Those people should, in a loving way, call us out when they catch us deflecting a compliment or minimizing our successes. It also takes us acknowledging those negative thoughts. And it takes being willing to openly discuss the destructive self talk with people we trust.
In the case of my new friend, I am grateful that we both felt safe enough to talk about it. In doing that, we each took away some of the power of those thoughts…and allowed each of us to be a positive influence to the other.
To my new friend…thank you for that and I hope I have given the same to you.
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