“It’s not your job to like me. It’s mine.” ~Byron Katie
I’m short. I’m stumpy. My nose looks like a pig’s. My inner thighs touch when I walk. My gums show too much when I talk. I have to change the way I look. Maybe then you’ll like me.
I obsess. I overanalyze. I get caught up in my head. I dwell on things I should let go. I can never simply go with the flow. I have to learn to be laid back. Maybe then you’ll like me.
I’m shy. I’m anxious. I’m dependent on reassurance. I ask for advice way too much. I look for validation as a crutch. I have to be more confident. Maybe then you’ll like me.
Day in, day out, plotting away—that’s how I spent my life. I didn’t like who I was, so I hoped you’d do it for me.
If only you’d tell me I was okay. If only you’d confirm that I didn’t have to change. If only you’d give me permission to be myself. Maybe then I’d like me.
It’s what led to more than a decade of self-torture.
I’d cut myself to feel relief and create a physical representation of the pain I feared no one else could see.
I’d stuff myself with food to the point of bursting, then hide myself away to purge it, up to thirteen times day.
I’d curl up in my bed and cry for hours, hoping maybe my tears would wash away the most offensive parts of me.
I remember once, when I was in a residential treatment center for bulimia, an art therapist asked me to draw a self-portrait.
I drew a bag of vomit with me curled up inside. That was how I saw myself.
I know why I grew into this needy, insecure person. I can trace the moments that, bit by bit, eroded my self-esteem and caused me to question my worth.
But it doesn’t really matter why I learned to feel so small and insignificant. What matters is how I learned to tame the fears that once imprisoned me.
Notice I wrote tame, not destroy. For some of us, the fearful thinking never fully goes away.
I have never seen myself as a before and after picture, because it’s never felt black and white to me.
There wasn’t a distinct turning point when my life went from painfully dark to light.
It’s been a slow but steady process of cleaning layers of grime from the lens through which I view myself—and sometimes, just after chipping away a massive piece of dirt, I caught a splash of mud in the spot that was briefly pristine.
I live, day in and day out, in a messy mind that, despite my best efforts, has never been fully polished.
But it’s far clearer now than it once was, and I have the tools to clean it a little every day—and to accept the times when I simply must embrace that it’s still dirty.
Perhaps you can relate to the lost, lonely younger me, desperately seeking approval. Or perhaps you’ve come a long way, but you still struggle with confidence every now and then.
Maybe you sometimes feel like a fraud because you’re human and imperfect.
Maybe you still want to fit in and belong—who doesn’t? We’re social creatures, and wired to seek community.
But there’s a difference between looking for connection and looking for permission to be.
There’s a difference between depending on people for support and depending on them for self-esteem.
Here’s what’s helped me shift from seeking praise and approval to knowing I deserve love and support .
Become aware of the layers of grime on your lens.
You may see yourself as someone else once saw you, years ago when you were too young and impressionable to realize they weren’t viewing you clearly.
Or perhaps your grime built up later in life, when people close to you projected their own issues onto you and convinced you that you were somehow lacking.
Most likely, a combination of both led you to form a harsh, critical view of yourself, backed up by caked on beliefs, reinforced through consistent self-critical thoughts.
Understand that, much like those other people, you are not seeing yourself clearly—or fairly.
You may see small mistakes as evidence that you’re unworthy. You may interpret your challenges as proof that you’re incompetent. Neither of these things is true, and you don’t have to believe them.
Learn how to clean your lens daily.
While I wish I could say I know how to power wash that lens, I’ve yet to discover such a process. But I can tell you how I’ve slowly chipped away at the mud:
Change your beliefs.
Once you identify a limiting belief—such as I’m not lovable—you can start to change it by looking for evidence to support the opposite belief.
Once upon a time I believed I was ugly. I truly believed my face was offensive when not covered in makeup, because I have light features.
I know where this belief came from—when I was a kid, someone told me light-skinned blonds are homely. And because this person valued physical appearance, and I desperately wanted them to accept me, I started caking on layers of paint.
Over the years I’ve met people with varied looks, who I found to be incredibly beautiful, and it had nothing to do with the color of their skin, eyebrows, or eyes.
It had to do with the light in their eyes and the joy behind their smile.
I, too, possess the capacity to shine from within and exude joy. More importantly, I feel good about myself when I access my inner spark, and how I feel about myself matters far more than what I look like.
Challenge your thoughts.