The World is your Mirror (part 1)
Self-Esteem through honest Self-Reflection
Copyright… Kathie Strmota, LoveLight Co-Creative HealthCare
Our experience of life is defined by our perceptions. We each have our own unique way of seeing ourselves and our lives, and evaluating the meaning of our experiences.
Our perceptions are driven by many different factors. These include our past experiences and learning, as well as our physical, mental and emotional state at the time of having a particular experience.
Any or all of these various factors can intervene to colour our perception of a current experience, so it can be very difficult to see ourselves clearly and objectively.
We rely on the world around us to serve as a mirror by reflecting back to us what we are sending out.
This reflection can help to clarify our understanding of ourselves and serve as a useful tool for greater self-awareness. It can allow us to see ourselves more objectively, and therefore more truthfully, providing wonderful opportunities for healing and self-improvement.
Everything in your life can teach you more about yourself… the state of your relationships, your degree of satisfaction at work, the way other people respond to you, the way you respond to others, the success or failure of your endeavours, the challenges which arise for you and how you handle them, the choices you make, the situations you avoid, and so on.
All of these things can teach you more about who you believe are, as well as who you truly you are.
If you could view yourself only according to the story you have created in your own mind, you would never evolve. It is your interaction with life which creates the catalyst for your evolution.
If you existed in a vacuum, isolated from your life, your internal perception would be fixed. But, as soon as that internal story is reflected back to you through your outer experiences, your perception is naturally caused to adjust to a new reality. In that movement, you have the opportunity to see yourself more clearly and truthfully, and to grow, evolve, and become more like the person you dream of being.
Thankfully, you do exist in the world and not in a vacuum, so this reflection and feedback is occurring continually, in every moment.
You put yourself into the world, and the world feeds back to you in response. You adjust your perception according to that reflection, and then put a renewed self into the world. Again the world feeds back and you adjust once again.
Unfortunately, a lot of this adjustment is unconscious, an automatic reaction, and doesn’t really absorb the full value of what these reflections have to offer. Without conscious reflection, you can’t receive the full benefit of your learning experiences.
At best, you don’t get to improve yourself and your life as much as you could. At worst, you develop an unbalanced self-image which actually serves to limit your progress and success in life.
The Value of Self-Review
Honest self-reflection is motivated by a desire to discover the truth of what is. It doesn’t seek to find fault, attach blame, or make judgments. It’s simply a desire to know what is really going on inside you.
It’s also an opportunity to free yourself of limiting self-perceptions, unnecessary fears, and motivations which are not truly your own.
If you are willing to observe, more consciously, the way you are reflected in your outer life, and honestly review what those reflections tell you about yourself, you will be much more empowered to change yourself and your life in the best possible ways.
For example, you may have an experience of failure, which is painful and humiliating.
Let’s say you’re a singer-songwriter, performing your own work for the first time. The audience response is poor and people start walking out before the gig is even half way through.
You started off nervous. The poor crowd response caused you to withdraw even further, so you weren’t giving it your best, and this just became more extreme as people started to leave. You gave up after the first set and didn’t even go on for the second. You felt utterly defeated and disheartened.
If you’re not in a space of conscious awareness, but simply operating automatically, you may react to this experience in a defensive manner.
You may adjust your self-perception to include a few more negatives … “I can’t write good songs” or “I can’t sing” or “I’m just not an entertainer”. You may believe that you were wrong to think you could do something that fantastic, and decide that you’ll just stick to the day job.
These self-perceptions define you, and imprison you, and will limit your ability to succeed in any area of your life, not just the area to which they specifically relate.
You may also go to the other extreme of seeing nothing amiss in your own efforts, but putting all the blame on your audience, or the band, or the venue, or the weather. Either way, you shut down and reject the gift of growth in that experience.
If, on the other hand, you are in a space of conscious awareness, you would seek to understand the true reasons for the failure.
You may ask “what did my audience see, hear, and experience?” or “what did I give them?” or “what did I fail to give them?” You may explore how the reality measured up to your initial expectations, and why you failed to meet them. You may ask others for feedback on how you could have done it differently for a better outcome. You would try to learn what the experience tells you about yourself.
It’s not that you won’t feel humiliated or hurt by the experience. The difference is simply that you are choosing to be nourished by it, rather than defeated and diminished by it. You’re choosing to accept the gifts of growth that it presents to you.
Instead of becoming defensive and deciding that you’re hopeless, you seek to really know the truth. You seek to truly understand what limited your success, without judging or putting yourself down, but purely from the perspective of creating a greater opportunity for success in the future.
In the end, you may come to acknowledge that, in fact, you really aren’t a very good entertainer.
Your voice is great, and your songs are exceptional, but you don’t know how to let go of your self-consciousness and really get lost in the performance. If this is the truth, and you can see it, then you have the chance to do something about it, if you want to.
Alternately, you may realise that the order of your songs was a bad choice and that, perhaps, you should have started with the more uplifting material to engage your audience. You may come to understand that, had the crowd responded more positively in the beginning, you would have gradually lost your nervousness and performed more confidently, thus being able to continue to engage them right through the show. These realisations may give you the courage to have another try, with a new arrangement of songs, and new hope of success.
This willingness for honest review applies equally to any situation, not just the ‘big lessons’.
If you find someone at work totally irritating, try to see what that tells you about yourself.
If you react with discomfort on a crowded train, explore what causes you the discomfort.
If your relationship is unsatisfactory, look at what is lacking. Are you receiving the nourishment you need? Are you offering enough nourishment in return? What fears are limiting your experience?
In any situation, explore what motivates your responses to it.
It also applies to positive experiences.
If you feel extraordinarily uplifted by some small praise from your boss, explore why that made you feel so good? What need did it satisfy?
If you like spending time with a particular person, explore what it is about them that pleasures you, and ask yourself why?
Understand why any experience uplifted you and made you feel better, so you can get a better handle on what truly makes you happy. It often has nothing to do with the physical factors of the experience itself, and understanding this gives you an opportunity to access the same nourishment from different kinds of experiences.
Allow others to help you, as well, by being prepared to receive and hear feedback, praise, and criticism.
Take these on board and use them in the self-review process.
The aim of self-review is to understand yourself more fully… your needs, your fears, your doubts, your beliefs about yourself, your joys, your strengths, your weaknesses. The more you know yourself honestly, the more you are able to be at peace with yourself.
Even if you choose to change nothing, but simply see yourself as you truly are, warts and all, this in itself will increase your confidence, self-esteem and sense of security.
Often, we choose not to reflect too deeply because we’re afraid of what we might see.
The reality is that your fear of what’s hidden inside you is far worse than what’s actually there. If you bring your whole self into the light, and come to know it, as it is, that fear will diminish.
You simply need to understand that your basic nature is pure and good, even if your personality may be distorted by fears and doubts. This will make it easier to view yourself objectively.
Honest, objective self-reflection allows you to understand what drives you, what makes you suffer, what gives you fear, and why you make choices which don’t support your joy.
It is a way of taking your power back.
Instead of reacting unconsciously to life, according to hidden programs, beliefs and fears, and according to the will of others, you gain the freedom to make conscious choices, fully understanding your true motivations.
This means that you will inevitably make choices that benefit your own increased happiness, and it allows you to succeed in the areas which offer you the greatest fulfilment.
Comparison with Others
Allowing the world to be your mirror does not involve comparing yourself with others as a way of measuring your power, worth or acceptability. This is a self-defeating activity.
If you have a low opinion of yourself, you’ll always find ways in which others are better than you. If you have an overly high opinion of yourself, you’ll always find ways to see how you are better than others. Neither of these approaches will help you see the truth about yourself.
The only way comparison might be helpful, at all, is if you reflect on your reasons for judging yourself as better or worse than someone else. In this respect, it comes back to you reviewing yourself, and really has nothing to do with the other person.
Think about those times in your life when you look around at all the people who seem to have it all worked out. They all appear confident and happy and carefree, and you feel like you’re the only one who’s struggling to feel good and just handle the basics of your life. It seems as if you’re the only one with doubts and insecurities, and this just makes you feel even worse about yourself.
The reality is that every single person out there feels this way to some degree, when they look at others and begin to compare. You look just as confident and care-free to others when they see you getting on with your day. It’s only when you get to know an individual that you start to see the weaknesses behind the practical façade.
Sometimes this can make you feel better about yourself, simply knowing you aren’t the only one who’s struggling. Sometimes, it can make you feel even worse, particularly if you find that someone you’ve idolised is just as fallible as you.
When you do look at others, allow your experience of them to provide you with valuable insights about yourself. See yourself reflected in how they cause you to respond to them, and in how they respond to you.
If you respect someone, identify what qualities you admire in them, and you’ll understand the qualities you desire to cultivate within yourself.
If you can’t stand to be around someone, again, identify the qualities which bring out your loathing, and you’ll begin to recognise things within yourself which you’d prefer not to acknowledge are there. Avoiding this person is can often just be a way of avoiding those parts of yourself.
In many cases, the stronger your reaction, in the positive or the negative, the more relevant these qualities will be to you.
Often, as you explore these things within yourself and begin to improve on them, you’ll find that the other person no longer holds the same strong attraction or aversion for you.
So, let others teach you who you are simply by being who they are.
Don’t judge them for their failings, or put them on a pedestal for their greatness.
Don’t judge yourself or become conceited either.
Simply try to see things honestly, for the purpose of understanding and wisdom.
In my opinion, good self-esteem is your best asset in life, more valuable than brains, beauty, or riches. A healthy sense of self will take you anywhere you want to go. It is the key to every true success.
In my private dictionary, self-esteem is short for self-estimation (esteem-ation) because that’s basically what it is. Self-esteem is the assessment you make of yourself, and the value you give to yourself.
Poor self-esteem reflects either an under-estimation, or an over-estimation, of your strengths and weaknesses. Both of these perceptions are unbalanced.
Believing you are so great that you can’t be faulted is just as unhealthy (and disempowering) as believing that you’re not good enough and full of failings.
Healthy self-esteem reflects an honest acknowledgement of all the traits and qualities which make up who you are.
It’s not about thinking you are perfect and can do no wrong. It’s about knowing yourself, as you really are, with all your wonderful strengths as well as all your fears and weaknesses, and accepting yourself fully, just as you are.
This is why honest self-reflection, which seeks to know the truth of who you are, without judgment, will naturally improve your self-esteem.
Healthy self-esteem also comes out of understanding that your true nature – your essential self – is basically good, beautiful, loveable and worthy, and cannot be diminished in any way by the limitations of your personality.
All of those gifts and talents and fears and weaknesses that comprise your personality, are just like the clothes you happen to be wearing. They can be changed at any time. They don’t define you and are no reflection of your true inner value.
When you have a strong sense of self-worth, your failings cannot diminish you because you also believe in all your potentials and possibilities.
You don’t see your weaknesses as a reflection of your value. You see them simply as reflections of your current experience in the journey of your growth, and you recognise how wonderful you could be once you successfully overcome the challenges they present to you.
You see your positive qualities as assets to your success, and you see your weaknesses as opportunities for improvement towards even greater success. You also maintain a level of self-respect which allows you to like yourself, regardless of whether you are successful or failing.
When you choose to see yourself honestly, and confront your limitations with loving acceptance, and without judgment, you become very secure about who you are.
You develop a strong sense of identity which gives you the best foundation for moving successfully through any life challenge – whether it be running a country, developing a healthy nourishing relationship, or passing an exam.
The doubts, fears, and limiting beliefs, which can so easily undermine your success, exist mostly because you have a poor understanding of who you truly are.
As long as you run from really knowing yourself, preferring to hold misconceptions which suit your chosen view of yourself, you remain blind to the hidden strings which manipulate your ability to live in your own best interests.
While you avoid facing the truth of who you are, you have little chance of expressing the power that exists within you.
When you feel secure about who you are, through having a clear sense of yourself, there is less of a tendency to take things personally or become defensive when others don’t agree with you.
You don’t feel the need to try and ensure that others see you a certain way, or fully understand your motivations. You’re more able to feel okay with simply accepting that you understand your truth, even if they don’t.
Knowing the truth of yourself, in this way, allows you to receive criticism more easily as well.
You feel safe in where you are standing, have a clear self-image against which you can reflect on criticism, and find it easier to discern if the information is valid or not.
It’s only when you don’t really understand yourself, or your true motivations, and particularly when you don’t accept yourself, that criticism makes you feel defensive.
Healthy self-esteem is a total acceptance of yourself.
The more you are able to feel okay about who you are, and approve of yourself, in spite of your weakness, the less you rely on acceptance and approval from others. You lose the fear of rejection that makes you want to hide your weakness, and causes you to shy away from having them recognised and pointed out by others. You already know what your faults and weaknesses are, and you’re okay with that.
With this attitude, criticism no longer feels like an attack, or something you have to defend yourself against. You are more able to view it as simply an opportunity for betterment.
If you have low self-esteem, you will not see yourself clearly and truthfully.
You will have a tendency to feel you aren’t good enough, regardless of what you achieve or how much others seem to respect you. You will tend to be overly critical of yourself, and judge yourself as somehow less worthy (of love, approval, praise, and all good things) simply because you do have some weaknesses and are not perfect.
The less you truly know and accept yourself, the more prone you are to self-doubt, insecurity and fear. This can limit your success, in any area of life, because you’ll be less willing to take risks for fear of failure or humiliation.
This over-focus on how ‘not good enough’ you are prevents you from recognising and valuing your strengths.
When you feel unworthy, you can’t truly accept your wonderful qualities, even if you do occasionally see them, and this makes it very difficult to accept the gift of praise and acknowledgment from others.
It’s only when you love and respect yourself, that you can allow others to also love and respect you. And that’s the horrible catch-22.
The less you love and approve of yourself, the more you tend to seek love and approval from external sources. Yet, as much as you desire it, you are unable to truly receive it, even when it is offered.
All the wonderful love and praise and acceptance and respect that you seek from the world, you must first be able to give to yourself. When you can do this, truly, you will then be open to receiving it from anywhere … and you will find it, everywhere, without having to look too hard.
It’s ironic, but it’s a fact.
The inability to accept yourself, as you truly are, can be expressed outwardly in two distinct ways, and I believe that we all apply both versions at different times in our lives.
Sometimes we express as ‘the self-diminisher’ and try to make ourselves appear as small and unimportant as possible. Sometimes we express as ‘the self-aggrandizer’ and try to appear somehow bigger and better than we really are. Both of these are driven by the fear that we are not good enough, just as we are, and that we will not be accepted if we show our true selves.
As the self-diminisher, you may constantly put yourself down, in conversation with others, or place too great a focus on your weak points.
Unconsciously, this behaviour can come from a desire to ‘prepare the way’ so that people can’t possibly reject you or be disappointed later when they find out you’re really not perfect. The logic is that if they know you are ‘hopeless’ right from the start, and accept you anyway, then you can relax and feel safe. The irony is that you can often present such an undesirable picture that people lose interest in you.
We naturally seek companions who can lift us up, inspire us, and support us. If someone constantly tells us how useless they are, what motivation do we have to want to be in a relationship with them, or to hire them for a job?
When you express yourself in this self-defeating way, you cheat others by offering them the worst of you, and hiding away the best of you.
There can also be a bit of ‘the martyr’ in this expression, motivated by the desire for approval.
You may see everything that goes wrong as a reflection of your own faults, and fail to see the part that others play. You may take all the blame onto yourself, either inwardly or outwardly. You may use the self-put-down as a way to fish for reassurance or compliments. You may place yourself last, in any situation, accepting the worst seat, the most burnt steak, the most undesirable task, and just generally try to appear selfless.
Unfortunately, most people have a natural ability to sense the difference between true selflessness, as compared to attention-seeking behaviour, and they usually don’t engage with martyr patterns (unless they have their own guilt or loyalty issues).
So, the irony here is that, when you don’t get acknowledged for your ‘selfless’ acts, you can become resentful about the thankless-ness of others.
These self-diminishing behaviours often create the very rejection you fear.
If you keep sending out the message that you’re not good enough, and that you’re untalented and unlovable and unworthy, people will eventually believe you.
If you dismiss yourself, others will dismiss you too.
At the other extreme, as the self-aggrandizer, you may bury your faults and weaknesses, refusing to acknowledge them to others at all.
You may act like there’s nothing wrong with you, making every effort to hide your doubts and fears from others. You may never admit when you’re at fault, and constantly put the blame on other people, or external factors, when things don’t go right for you.
You may constantly tell people how fantastic you are, in an effort to try and boost your own fragile sense of worth. You may tell anyone who’ll listen about all that you’ve achieved, and all the wild and interesting things you’ve done, and how many famous people you know or how expensive your car is.
There may also be a degree of one-upmanship, always going one better than everyone else. If someone tells you about their new dishwasher, your dishwasher will be somehow better, or if they share a traumatic experience, you’ll have an even more traumatic experience to share.
Again, this kind of behaviour rarely gets you the approval and acceptance that you seek.
You may impress people initially, but it will wear thin after a while. People who have a healthy sense of their own worth probably won’t be too impressed right from the start. People who have poor self-esteem will eventually get tired of constantly feeling diminished in your presence, and being unable to compete with your ‘bigger and better’ approach.
The other limitation here is that you create an impression of yourself that you can’t sustain. People do eventually see your weaknesses, no matter how much you try to hide them, and it simply makes them feel disappointed and let down because you presented yourself as something that you’re not.
This applies equally whether you are getting involved in a new friendship or taking on a new job.
Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is the ‘just right’ expression, where you present yourself honestly and try to be as real as possible. This means not being afraid to reveal your weaknesses, but also not holding back on showing your strengths.
The only way to comfortably do this is by first acknowledging these to yourself, and giving yourself permission to be exactly who you are, without judgment.
Once you do that, you’ll be able to relate to others more fairly. You won’t give them less than you have to offer, and you also won’t make them feel small by falsely presenting yourself as a model of perfection.
You’ll express a balanced level of self-confidence which is not conceited, aggressive, or offensive. In fact, your inner sense of security will allow you to show your greatness with healthy humility, while also being completely sensitive and sympathetic to others.
Of course, revealing yourself honestly doesn’t mean showing every aspect of yourself, all the time.
There are times when it’s appropriate to be vulnerable and honest about your failings, particularly in intimate relationships. And there are times to play up your strong points, and avoid listing every single deficiency, such as in a job interview.
A healthy self-esteem allows you to be discerning about what is most appropriate to share in any particular situation, and gives you the courage to share that honestly.
When you are able to be honest with yourself, about every aspect of who you are, you will naturally express yourself ‘just right’ in any situation.
The Prison of Perfection
It is a wonderful thing to have high expectations and big dreams, to want to become better, kinder, stronger and wiser. If we didn’t seek improvement, we’d never evolve.
However, without the moderating effect of self-acceptance, this striving for perfection can become a prison from which you can never escape.
If you rely on external factors to make you feel good about yourself, such as the approval of others or material achievements, you will get caught up in a pattern of extreme swings in self-opinion.
You will feel fantastic and proud of yourself if you get an A in a test, and then be full of harsh self-criticism when you only get a C in the next test. You may feel full of self-satisfaction for weeks after impressing someone with your witty repartee, or loathe yourself for months after saying something stupid.
You determine your worth by how well or poorly you do in the world, by your external success or failure.
When you measure your value against a standard of perfection which you’ve defined according to external factors, you literally set yourself up for feeling bad about yourself 99% of the time. You can never live up to those perfect ideals, so it’s an impossible expectation.
At the same time, you deny the value of who you are right now. You deny the joy you could be experiencing right now.
The pattern here is one that says “IF I can do this (achieve this, succeed in this way), THEN I will be happy (loved, approved of, accepted)”. It cuts out any possibility of being happy with who you are right now and the wonderful life experiences you've already had. There will always be another step to take, before you can be happy with yourself, and you’ll never reach that final place.
Low self-esteem results in unproductive thought processes, and dissipation of energy, making it difficult to truly succeed in creating a fulfilling and satisfactory life.
A lot of energy goes into coping with the stress of not being good enough – and all the little issues and challenges this creates as you walk through life – rather than being directed towards consciously creating your life and successfully meeting its challenges.
When problems arise or things take a bad turn, you tend to focus on how bad the situation is, and how badly you (or others) messed up, rather than thinking about how to turn it around and get things back on track.
With good self-esteem, you tend to think constructively and make better use of your energy.
When things go wrong, you lean towards practical problem-solving (in relation to both the situation and your part in it), rather than going into panic or defeat or blame.
This gives you the ability to take more risks and meet greater challenges because you’re focusing on what could be achieved rather than how you might fail.
When you’re not measuring your worth against your successes, you actually free yourself up to succeed in many more ways.
You are willing to try and fail, and bounce back from failure easily.
You gain courage and experience and wisdom in the face of losses and let-downs. You recognise failure as the raw material from which you learn and grow, and are not imprisoned by the fear of it. You see it as just another part of your life experience, and not as a cause for self-doubt or loss of self-respect.
Turn your attention to really seeing yourself, honestly and objectively, through the mirror of your relationship with the world, with your experiences, and with the people around you.
Don’t be afraid of seeing something you don’t like. Accept that you are already a perfect creation, in essence, and can’t be diminished by the ever-changing expressions of your personality.
Instead of rejecting yourself because of your faults, seek to improve on them.
See your greatness, and seek to be even more wonderful.
Read part 2 ... The Gift of Criticism