This is a long-standing issue but I only really clocked it recently. I believe the reason for that difference is simple: If I do something right, I have put some effort in to make it happen, and that feels like a good enough reason to congratulate me. On the other hand, I feel strange when I receive a compliment for something that is intrinsically part of me and that I have no hand in making, something that I have no control over.
Of course this is a silly distinction to make, and it’s built on a separation of the material world I live in and the inner world that makes up my personality and that the body it inhabits. I can do some things to change what I look like, but my internal makeup is the result of many years of development that mostly happened on its own and was shaped by circumstance and environment rather than active involvement. Yes, yes: some personal development has happened over the last years, and a lot has changed in my mental makeup, yet I’m not all that different from before, really. Same hang-ups, same drive, similar ways of thinking.
The annoying thing is this: for most of my life I have been looking for confirmation of my value from the outside, though recommendations, work achievements that are recognised by my bosses and colleagues, words of praise from family and friends, etc. and thereby made myself completely dependent on those. Once I realised this, I shifted away from that mechanism and looked for value inside of me. And found it.
I can actually see value in what I am doing, because it’s usually something you can measure through results, physical creations or similar. I’m good at seeing achievements on that level and crediting myself with them.
Seeing value in who I am is immensely more difficult to me: how can I measure who I am? It’s not possible, bar through my behaviour around others, and that brings me back to basing my value on outside interactions. Upon closer inspections, there are differences, though: I’m not being evaluated by others, but I’m gauging the effect my actions and presence may have on others. While that depends less on others taking pains to tell me, I have to look for signs of value myself, and that is where things fall apart again.
Most of those things I am are just natural to me, and do not feel like anything out of the ordinary. Interestingly, others sometimes say things that I never realised I was actually doing for them, how I support them by just being there, or how I make them feel better about themselves. There are many other things like this, but I’m sure you get the gist of this: it’s all about that blind spot we have when it comes to who we really are and how that affects others without our interference or even our knowledge.
I’d like to ask you to try a little experiment: sit down in your favourite spot, make yourself comfortable and consider ‘appreciation’. Here are a couple of starter questions to start with:
Even the words ‘normal’ and ‘ideal’ seem to have been twisted out of shape: ‘normal’ now has a tinge of “not ideal” and “needs improving”, while ‘ideal’ brings with it a taste of “unattainable for the likes of us” and a good level of pressure to align your own body to that image.
All of this is silly, of course: we are given a body to live in and – while there is a certain amount of things we can do, like exercising, watching our food, etc. – some of what we have is not open for modification. And believe me: there are more elements you cannot change than there are those that you can change! Just think height, hair type, bone thickness, hip size, etc., although many are spending a lot of money to have those ‘repaired’ with plastic surgery.
I say “f*ck that sh*t!” Isn’t it more helpful to be okay with what you have and make sure that others can see that you are? If you feel that you are somehow ‘less’ than others, you’ll always send the wrong message, because you are not! You are different, but no less worthy of attention, affection and love than anyone else!
I speak from experience here: I have gained a bit of weight over the last couple of years for the usual reasons: getting a little on in years, not moving enough, not motivated enough to work out properly. I never considered myself to be handsome by any description, and even worse: because I did not conform to the ‘ideal’ image in my own head, I felt bad about who I was. The trouble with this is that this feeling is actually reinforced each time you feel as if someone has rejected you.
When you start a conversation with someone who then blows you off, the first instinct is to assume you don’t look right. In reality he may just have other things on his mind, is not interested in conversation, or simply wants to be on his own. Ultimately, how you see your own body is very much in your own hands, and the outside influence tends to be bad rather than good.
It’s so much easier to let yourself be dragged down by bad feelings than it is to haul yourself back up from that hole you have been digging for yourself, and anything you can do to change the weight of those thoughts on your soul will make a difference!
There is a remedy that I only came across very late myself: I try to push those negative thoughts and assumptions to the side and let them weigh less on my mind, and then create a space for the nice comments I am getting and make sure to remind myself often of those.
I have been at the receiving end of a bit of lovely attention from several men lately, after a long period of feeling unseen. This is proving to be a large change in my own perception of myself: seeing your own light shining in the eyes of someone else provides a much needed reinforcement of that basic knowledge that we all have: “I am just fine the way I am”.
Of course, if there is a way to shed some of my weight to feel less tired, or to do more yoga to become a bit more flexible, that is fine. The point is that I’d be doing this for myself rather than to please someone else. If I feel better about myself, I won’t be affected as much by what feels like a rejection to me.
My plan is to keep those people in my life who make me feel good about myself. And ditch the ones who don’t because how could they be real friends if I feel bad when I’m with them?
These are my own thoughts on aspects of my work I feel strongly about.