“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
People in recovery often have a distorted view of themselves. They may see themselves as inadequate and unacceptable. Some of this thinking comes from a cold and steady drizzle of negativity dripped onto you by the harsh realities of a difficult life. This pessimistic message may also be presented by those you love the most. As I talk with clients coming through the counseling center I have heard hundreds of variations of this story. The people from whom they wanted to hear a positive message always seemed to be the least likely to give it. And instead of getting sick of the hapless pursuit, the clients often ended up working harder trying to attain it, only to be disappointed again.
Internalizing the Lie
I suppose one could listen repeatedly to an inaccurate message and not be influenced by it. Typically, however, the negative message starts to sink in and like a corrosive acid, slowly eats away at the structural material of self-identity. Instead of rejecting this devastating message, it is internalized and believed. It isn’t what you say about me that matters; it’s what I believe that makes all the difference.
The Distorted Image in the Mirror
The lie we are discussing permeates with impact because it matches an already distorted self-image. To better understand common image distortions, think about how we get used to seeing ourselves. We might look at ourselves in a mirror for 5, 10, or even 20 minutes per day. We see ourselves in photographs for a minute or two per week (unless you’re feasting on selfies). The image in the mirror is reversed. For our purposes in this discussion, we’ll call that a distortion. You get very used to seeing a distorted image of yourself, so much so, that when people see themselves in a photo they often don’t care for it. In the same manner, many people get used to a distorted or inaccurate view of themselves emotionally. Their identity is not distorted, but their perception of themselves is. This becomes crucial because people rarely live differently than how they see themselves.
Wow. That’s Huge
If you held a magnifying glass over an object, the item appears bigger. Obviously, the object isn’t any larger, it merely appears that way. If you hold a magnifying glass over a defect, the flaw looks larger. But you and I know it’s not. Too often, people use a magnifying glass while examining their own defects, faults, and mistakes, nevertheless, magnifying something doesn’t make the thing bigger, it only makes the thing appear bigger.
When people criticize you, point out your faults and shame you, they teach you the script and hand you a magnifying glass. With the formula for self-criticism in one hand, and a magnifying glass in the other, ruthless, exaggerated fault-finding soon becomes a service we supply for ourselves. The good news is we can reprogram our minds with positive thoughts and affirmations. We do not need to be products of a miserable past or the slanted misperceptions of others.
The True View of You
The image you have of yourself may be tainted by others, distorted and inaccurate. The flaws you examine might be magnified. Remember, being called an idiot doesn’t make you stupid. Learn to identify the distortions and misperceptions, reject the inaccuracies and get used to the truth. We often feel and act in strict accordance with how we see ourselves. If you see yourself as adequate, influential, and valuable you might act more assertively, talk to others freely, and express your opinions openly. Learn to view yourself as powerful, influential, important, valuable, and competent. Examine your positive qualities with your magnifying glass and learn to accept the truth and rehearse it regularly. Changing the way you think in the present will change your future.
Recovery is a journey. Enjoy the ride!