Old adages ring true – it really is all in how you look at it. We know that the optimist sees the glass as half full and the pessimist sees it as half empty. What we may not consider is how our perspective/point of view/perception is impacted over the course of our lifetimes by countless people, places, and organizations. Experience expands or constricts our insight and understanding. One of the greatest and most painful benefits of therapy is to have someone ask you, “Why do you see it that way?”
“We see things not as they are, but as we are.” – Anais Nin
I think that most people live their lives without ever really examining the lens through which they view the world and themselves. For those of us who grew up in unhealthy families, we are burdened with maintaining two lenses. One through which we view the world and a very different lens through which we view ourselves. Many of us see others clearly but not ourselves. Really seeing ourselves is something we tend to avoid because we misperceive. It’s like looking in a funhouse mirror. Fear, past pain, and shame warp what we see.
Therapy is an opportunity to change how we perceive and what we believe. Oddly enough it’s a bit like going to an optometrist. The eye doctor flips the lens and asks you, “Better like this…or like this?” A good therapist will challenge you to look at your own lens and ask you, “More truth like this…or like this?” It’s not hard for the therapist to do because we’re the best kind of hypocrites – we don’t judge ourselves the way we judge others. We’re kind in judging others and “hard” on ourselves. In truth, we’re a lot more than hard. We’re overly self critical, deeply insecure, and we believe things about ourselves that simply aren’t true – the most common of which is that we are not good enough.
More adages – “The truth will set you free but first it will make you miserable.” It hurts to identify where and how the second lens was created. It’s scary to let go of that perspective and to change what we believe. The means to make these changes are easy to understand and difficult to do. We learn to apply the Golden Rule in reverse. We begin to treat ourselves as we treat others. This is nothing more than fair, but we feel guilty doing it. Taking care of ourselves feels selfish. It’s not. It’s healthy.
Change is scary, even when it’s positive. In therapy, in self help, and spiritually, we learned that we cannot change our lives alone. We need people to encourage our growth. We need “reality checks” from people who care enough to be completely candid and honest. We need validation that our perception is accurate. This is hardest in terms of our self perception.
It’s incredibly uncomfortable to accept how healthy people see us. It’s easier to stay with the familiar – to view ourselves as we were taught to. It’s more comfortable to play small and settle for less of a life than we can have.
Start by simply taking compliments. When folks say something nice, notice your reflex. We tend to kill ourselves to earn praise and recognition only to brush it off when it’s given to us. When people compliment you, smile and say thank you. Analyze the shit out of it later if you must but try to bear in mind that the person is trying to give you something.
Throwing it back or deflecting it misrepresents you as a person who is not grateful.
One of the most useful concepts I’m forever indebted to people in Recovery for teaching me is, “Just believe that I believe.” Very simply, we don’t have to believe the positives that others perceive in us, but we do have to believe that they perceive them. If we would only stop explaining praise away (by telling ourselves, “If they really knew me…”) our self esteem would climb. Between now and the time that you merge those two lenses, just collect the perceptions of healthy people and let those who care for you nurture those seeds of doubt that you are in fact good enough.