Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror?
Do you trust it?
I find the concept of self-esteem to be a complicated thing, because if you asked me if I generally have a good opinion of myself, I would say “yes”.
- I think that I am basically a good person who tries to do the right thing.
- I think that I am reasonably intelligent – above average, though not a genius
- I think I have a modicum of writing talent.
- I think that I can train dogs well enough.
- I believe that I deserve good treatment, and that I deserve the love that my son, my husband, and my parents (although PH would argue that I harbour far too many doubts about his affection, I actually do believe that he loves me – I just worry sometimes about him stopping).
- I generally like myself and would be friends with me if I weren’t me.
- I also see myself as slim, winsome, childlike (but not childISH), occasionally wise, often clever, well-read, and generally likeable.
So that sound like a fairly health self-esteem, doesn’t it?
But here’s the thing:
I’m also fairly convinced that my self-image is incorrect.
For one thing, I find that most people are incorrect in their self-perception.
(Sample quote: “I’ve never been mean to anyone in my life,” – Mean Vet).
Self-perception and reality are tenuously connected at best. Thus an anorexic looks at skin-and-bones in the mirror and somehow sees fat, while I see myself as thin, and occasionally am flabbergasted by a photograph which shows a Carol I barely recognize.
The world is full of hypocrisy, and I really have no interest in being a part of it. So I am constantly examining myself, wondering if I really behave the way I think I do.
And that’s were my self-esteem falls apart, because I trust the opinion of others over my own.
From what I can gather through objective observation, people actually find me scattered, socially inept, off-putting, and clumsily incompetant.
My psychiatrist seems to think that I may be jumping to conclusions. But how do you tell the difference between being objective and being negative?
I have this problem whenever I get into a disagreement with someone, or I get scolded at work for something I thought I was doing right. I start to see the situation – and myself – from their point of view and then get upset that I was so off in my perception of reality/the truth.
While this doesn’t sway me from an objective argument – i.e. something which is not directly pertaining to myself – I immediately defer to anyone’s opinion regarding myself.
What’s that? You think I’m an evil war monger who eats babies?
Gee, I had no idea that I came off that way. I’m going to go crawl into a hole and deconstruct everything I have ever said or done now. If you’re looking for me, you’ll find me buried under the wreckage of my fragile self-esteem.
My psychiatrist seems to think that this is a bad strategy.
She points out that I put far more weight on people’s negative reactions than on their positive reactions. But after all, you KNOW a negative reaction is honest, whereas compliments are often false or calculated.
Then there’s the ratio to think about. Praising people is nice, and polite, and just makes everyone feel fuzzy. Criticism feels terrible to deal out, and so is best only done when absolutely necessary. Therefore, praise should always be more plentiful than criticism.
And yet, no one ever seems to want to tell me that I’ve done something right. In the last three jobs I have had, I could probably count on one hand the number of positive reactions I had from my bosses. The only reason I can think of for this must be that I simply never do anything worth praising.
That just seems like logic, to me.
Long story short, I have a good opinion of myself, but I’m also fairly convinced that my opinion is WRONG.
And I try to argue with myself. I remind myself of those wise words of Albus Dumbledore:
Really, Hagrid, if you are holding
out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time.
I remind myself that NO ONE in history has EVER been universally liked.
Even Shakespeare had critics and they nailed Jesus to a log. I probably shouldn’t aim to be better liked than JESUS.
…Or maybe I really SHOULD.
Anyway, I probably shouldn’t get so upset whenever I think that ONE person here or there doesn’t like me or simply sees me differently from how I see myself.
But I do.
Because I wonder if their perception of me might, after all, be the most accurate.
How can we ever know what the truth is about ourselves? How do we know what to believe, and what to toss aside, when trying to have a realistic and correct self-perception?
I want to like myself, yes, but I don’t want to like a lie. I want to like myself as I really am.
But I can never really see myself – only see the way I am reflected in the eyes of others.
So, how do I know which image is the true one?