This week, we are going to deal with our emotions and on how to develop our self-image and self-confidence. My interaction with various kinds of people in the course of my career, has made me come to rather sad conclusion: Everybody among us have a problem of lack of self-confidence. People come to the Institute where I work with a variety of symptoms: Some of these people are depressed, some have phobias, some can’t sleep and some have marriages that have failed. But despite the differences in their problems, it often turns out that they have a basic lack of self acceptance. When my colleagues and I can help them gain a more realistic and positive self-view, many of their problems just seem to take care of themselves.
We’ve all have had feelings of inferiority or inadequacy at some point in our lives. Why is this the case? I believe the origins of self doubt lie in childhood and adolescence, when we venture away from our parents and begin to associate with our peers. When I conduct my seminars, I am always touched by the emotion people feel about early childhood experiences of rejection, even ones that occurred 50 years ago. Those early failures can make an indelible impression on us, and thus the key to independent living is coming to terms with our childhood. Since our culture assigns worth to adolescence in unfair ways, we’ve got to recognize that some of our early failures may have been misleading. Some of us begin to dislike aspects of ourselves very early on, as the result of humiliating failures at several tests. There are five tests that society commonly uses for judging individuals. They are:
- The Attractiveness test
- The Intelligence test
- The Status test
- The Popularity test
- The Production test
In this unit, we’re going to examine all these tests. You might want to read the following with a note-book to jot down your thoughts as you go on.
The Attractiveness Test
Without question the most highly valued personal attribute (at least nowadays) in our culture is physical attractiveness. Children don’t have to be too old to discover whether they are good looking or not, and it can make an enormous difference in how they view themselves. Some studies show that if you are beautiful as a child, you get more attention and better treatment, not only from children, but also from teachers. This happens as early as nursery schools.
As adults, we need to look back at some of our earliest experiences with our bodies. We probably jump to negative conclusions much too soon before we realize how little our looks have to do with who we are. Even now, many of us continue to have a great deal of confusion about our body, and thus about ourselves. For one thing, we don’t have a clear idea as to how our bodies look like. And this problem seems to be getting worse.
In 1985, the magazine "Psychology Today" surveyed 30,000 people about their body image. The study was designed by psychologist Thomas Kash. He made some interesting comparisons with a similar study taken 13 years earlier by the same magazine. This is what he found: In 1972, 15% of the men and 25% of the women were dissatisfied with their overall appearance. But in 1985, 34% of the men, and 38% of the women didn’t like their looks. Most of the dissatisfaction seemed to center upon weight. 41% of the men wanted to weigh less, and a startling 55% of the women thought they were over-weight. While 20% of the respondents didn’t like the way their faces looked, fully 50% of the men and 57% of the women were dissatisfied with their mid-torsos. Despite the fact that we are in an age of obsessive shaping up, and trying to look good, we are becoming more and more dissatisfied with ourselves. Perhaps the most important finding by Dr. Kash was this: There is little connection between how attractive people are, and how attractive they feel they are, particularly among women. A woman who seems quite unattractive can be quite content with her body, while another who is highly attractive can be so obsessed with every little flaw in her appearance that she feels ugly.
To help overcome this major obstacle to self-confidence, the rule is this: Determine to integrate your body and your spirit. Such an integration requires five steps:
- Keep your flaws in perspective. If we have obvious physical flaws, there are two things, we are ought to do. The first is to figure out whether there is something we can do to fix the problem, and the second is to act on those findings. If exercise would help, then by all means you should exercise. If corrective surgery is reason able, then you might consider having that done. But be cautioned that surgery may not provide the solution you are looking for. Plastic surgeons have been telling us for a long time that when people are obsessed with their noses and get them fixed, it usually does little to enhance their self-images. They simply move on to an obses sion with another part of their anatomy that they wish were different.
On the other hand, you might find out that there are no corrective steps possible. For example, if you think you are too short, then there is no exercise (past a certain age, that is) that can make you taller. Once you come to terms with this you can simply put the matter out of your mind, and focus on more important things. Fill in the following chart, regarding your experiences with the attractiveness test: (Use your journal, if necessary)
Apparent What can you do Is this really all that flaw in to overcome it? important, or have you just appearance magnified the effect? ————— ——————— ————————————— ————— ——————— ————————————— ————— ——————— ————————————— ————— ——————— ————————————— ————— ——————— ————————————— ————— ——————— ————————————— ————— ——————— —————————————
- Avoid needless comparisons. Part of our difficulty with body image is our tendency to compare. We are constantly comparing ourselves with those being admired or those being criticized. This habit of comparing ourselves with is others exceedingly dangerous, especially if we compare ourselves with the youthful examples of perfection found on the TV screen. But if you are walking through a crowd of people, it can be rather startling to realize how few people look at all like those who appear on television commercials. Instead, you’re struck by how normal they look. As Abraham Lincoln used to say, "God must have liked average people, because he sure made a lot of us."
- Cultivate your senses. Our bodies are indeed ourselves. And the imperfections with which we are born are inconsequential compared to the good things our bodies can do for us. We have a great deal of control over our body. We can decide, for instance, how well we pay attention to the constant sensations coming into us. And the better we pay attention, the better we are going to feel about our body. Victor Frankl, now a renowned psychologist, was one of those trapped in a Nazi concentration camp during World War 2. He attributes his ability (and those of numerous others) to survive despite the horrifying conditions to the fact that he didn’t let the situations overwhelm him. He strove to find meaning in his suffering. He chose his emotion. Although he didn’t have control over what was going on around him, he had full control over what went on inside him. While others perished under the circumstance, he used it as a path for spirituality. Thus, we need to be open to all the good that may be coming through our senses.
- Use your body to give love. We feel better about ourselves the more we give ourselves away. And that principle applies to our bodies as much to the rest of us. When you share yourself with somebody through loving contact, they’ll usually respond in kind. While you are affirming the worth of their body and spirit, they are doing the same for you. Much of the information people gather about themselves has to do with the physical contact they receive from others. Young children form a perception of themselves, in part, by the way their bodies are handled by those who care for them. When you were a baby, your mother and father show the way they felt about who you are and the body you own, by the ways they touched you. Their feelings were also imparted by the way they reacted when your body was cut or bruised. The affirmation of worth that’s found in physical contact is so important for a child’s self concept. Later in life, a lot of data about ourselves comes from our mates.
There are few experiences in life that leave you feeling so good about who you are, as the joy of physical connection with the one you love. At some level, when we touch one another, we say, "You are lovable. You are valid." This communication may also be made through loving words, or a warm embrace.
- Keep your body finely tuned. Since physical health is a major contributor to our general happiness, it makes sense to treat our bodies well. Although we cannot say whether physical fitness leads to confidence or vice versa, people with good self images tend to eat better, and exercise more than those with low self confidence. An astonishing number of us almost abuse our bodies with almost a self- destruc tive bent. We eat so poorly and exercise so rarely that our bodies react with all sorts of pain and general lassitude. We can’t feel very positive about ourselves with all that going on. Despite the fitness boom, a recent study by a government health agency showed that 80-90% of us don’t get enough exercise. But keeping your body fit enough to make you feel good doesn’t require much effort, either. Kaneth Cooper, the doctor who coined the word Aerobics, says that walking 3 miles in 45 minutes, 5 days a week is all the aerobic conditioning anybody needs. Various studies show that such a simple but regular exercising routine is good for blood sugar control, the immune system, the circulatory system, breaking down blood clots, losing weight, gaining muscle, reducing stress, & alleviating depression. Beyond the physical benefits, a smoothly functioning body will also improve the way you feel about yourself.
The Intelligence Test
Although this test can be useful to a certain extent, the negative effects of failing at this test can be tremendous. In most countries, the major part of educational funds is spent, either on gifted students — students with high IQ’s, or on students with low IQ’s — who are mentally handicapped but trainable. Between these two extremes are students with mid-range IQ’s, students who are often called "Average." These children are made fun of by their peers and are often overlooked by their teachers. As a result, they hold an image of themselves as stupid, and this image can last long beyond their school years. The problem with IQ tests is that they are not completely accurate. They don’t take into account certain factors that may be holding the student back from better performance. The factors which could lead to poor test performance include slow motor co-ordination, a lack of fluency in the language of instruction, and a restrictive family atmosphere. This is often the case with students who have recently moved in from a different city or country, or those with a history of family abuse. These students aren’t stupid, they’re just disadvantaged. But most people don’t take their background into consideration before passing judgment. In order to come to terms with failures at the Intelligence test, you need to realize that this test doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. It does not present a comprehensive picture of who you are as an individual. According to Howard Cardner, a Harvard University psychologist, Intelligence tests focus mainly on your Verbal and Mathematical abilities. Cardner feels that represents only a portion of our intelligence. It doesn’t take into account the so called our Right-Brain abilities (Music, Art, etc.), our co-ordination, our spatial perception, our physical senses, our inter-personal skills, or our ability to understand ourselves, our dreams, fears and frustrations. And, all these are important factors in our overall potential. You may not be good at Math, for instance, but you may have an aptitude for design or negotiating, or sales, or one of thousands of other careers. Rest assured that your future can never depend on the result of one test. Life presents many tests and we can’t excel at everyone. That’s what makes it interesting.
The Status Test
When you were growing up, if your parents had a bigger house than others, and if you had more money than others, your self esteem was elevated. If your parents were prominent in the community, and all your teachers knew they were important people, you had clout. If on the other hand, you had a parent who was known for some scandal, or if your parents were poor, it was hard to hold your head high.
But, we were misguided if we let our parents’ social status cause us to feel either superior or inferior. Unfortunately, it is hard to distinguish ourselves from our surroundings in those formative years. And some of us still have that problem today. In order to establish our sense of self worth as independent of our status, it’s important to keep things in perspective. You’re not defined by your parents, your possessions, or your social standing. Your value comes from who you are as an individual.
The Popularity Test
Some teenagers are popular and others are not, and it’s not always easy to see the reason. It has a great deal to do with status and beauty, but there’s certainly something more. It has also to do with the very fickle, and sometimes meaningless standards that adolescents use to judge each other. It has to do with our desire to please others. It has to do with isolated failures, like our getting embarrassed before a crowd once, and from then on being ridiculed for it. One of my patients, Ramesh, described a difficult period in his early years. Although very good at football, he failed to make the team because of a prolonged illness. This, coupled with rather average looks, made him the odd person among his friends, who began to ignore him.
When we are that age, we are looking for someone to tell us that we are OK. Our sense of self esteem is just being formed and the experience of that football season made Ramesh feel that perhaps he was not OK. He didn’t receive the affirmation (of acceptance and worth) he was seeking and his self confidence suffered. Things like these should not happen to children, but they do and the impact is enormous. Looking back at the many forces that shaped our self image, it’s not surprising that a majority of us have entered adulthood unsure of ourselves. But the self doubt doesn’t need to be permanent as Ramesh’s case illustrates. To counter the negative effects of the popularity test, we need to look back as Ramesh did. When we analyze the early standards by which we were judged and then learn to judge ourselves, we can make corrections in our faulty thinking. We’ll recognize that our early failures may have been misleading.
The Production Test
Some of us grew up with the idea that we have value for only what we do, not who we are. Without question, there are many of us who define ourselves with what we do. We try to position ourselves with others by the kind of work we do, how much our children are achieving, and how well we’ve done financially. In other words, we are what we produce. This philosophy is a dangerous trap, which can result in addiction to work and even greed.
We probably began confusing our personal value with our production very early in life. We learnt from authority figures that it was not enough to merely be someone, but we had to a great deal to be accepted. For example, I have a client who is a stunning success in his professional life, but something of a failure in his personal life. He tells about growing up in a home, where work was the be all and end all of life. His parents, especially mother, laid an enormous amount of importance to work. This man found that his worth was always tied to production. So, he naturally worked very very hard because it was the only way he could elicit praise from his parents. But eventually, it all backfired. After he was married, he assumed that his wife would value him for the same reasons for which his mother had liked him. So, he continued to lead the life of a hurried "Workaholic". He took it for granted that his wife would know that he was doing all this to please her, and that she would love him back for working so hard, but that was a fatal assumption, because she really preferred him home watching television, or simply sitting on the couch with her. He eventually got divorced. It was a hard lesson, but finally this man began to value himself as a person rather than as a worker.
In her book, cardiologist Ray Rosemen mentions ten signs indicating whether a person is a workaholic or a "Type A Person," as she put it: (Place a tick in the box, on the right, if you feel you fall in any of these categories)
- He usually feels vaguely guilty when he is not doing anything for several hours or several days. [ ]
- Vacations are difficult. [ ]
- He is always in a hurry. [ ]
- He talks, eats, walks rapidly, and is constantly looking at his watch, and worrying about being late. [ ]
- He finds him dropping in on a conversation saying how late he worked last night, or how early he arrived at office this morning. [ ]
- Upon meeting another driven person, he feels compelled to compete. No one arouses the aggression or hostility of one Type A person than another Type A person. [ ]
- His frenzied long houred day has caused him symptoms of stress, such as headaches and constant fatigue. [ ]
- He quantifies everything, and finds himself evaluating not only his own but also the activities of others in terms of hours worked or money earned. [ ]
- He attempts to schedule more and more in less and less time and is unable to say ‘No’ to people who need his services. This chronic sense of urgency and indispensability is one of the core components of the driven person. [ ]
- He is no longer able to appreciate interesting or lovely objects, and he is separated from the aesthetic and spiritual things that once gave him pleasure. [ ]
If you have workaholic tendencies, your relationships may suffer because you always put projects above people. Typical workaholics have few friends beyond their spouses. People who are addicted to work, are really not as effective as they like to think. Many studies show that such people do more but accomplish less. They give the appearance of doing a lot of work, but in the long run, they often don’t accomplish as much as the slow but steady worker.
High achievers are committed to results whereas the workaholic is simply committed to activity. Driven workers usually seem to flatten out on their careers. Dr. Charles Garfield says that one can almost predict the professional trajectory of the driven person. They rise quickly on the basis of their initial effort, and then they level off when all their time is spent managing the details of their careers instead of delegating these details to people they trust. Workaholics can never meet their own standards. No matter how much they accomplish, it’s never enough. These people are caught in a tragic bind. They can never feel a value when they are relaxing, and they can never do enough work to supply their need for confidence.
Here are 7 guidelines for curing workaholic tendencies:
- Engage in some honest reappraisal of your work patterns. According to Rosemen, 4 out of 5 Type A people will either deny they are in that category or downplay the amount of driven behavior they display. You might want to ask your family or close friends for their opinion on your work habits. This will have a two fold benefit. First, it will give you a more objective view of yourself. And second, you’ll get some indication as to whether your obsessive behavior is sabotaging your relationships.
- Examine your ethical and spiritual priorities. Are you working at such a frenzy because the job is actually that important to you, or has it simply become a way of living — a habitual compulsion. By looking beyond your job, you may be able to find some activities that are more satisfying and enriching. When you truly experience the great works of art, music, spirituality, philosophy, history and science, you can retrieve your deeper self.
- Spend some time outdoors. I find that nature has a calming effect on people. Too many urban people go for days without taking note of the whether, the colour of the trees, the movement of the stars. I believe, we were all made to be outdoors part of everyday.
- Become deliberate in the way you control your schedule. For example, if your work till 9 every evening, that’s your choice. But, you may have forgotten why you work that late each day. See if your schedule can be modified so that you can come home at 5 three nights a week. Plan some events, such as going out for a movie, or visiting a museum, something that will enrich you and get you off the driven track.
- Take time for people who are important. Psychologist Paul Turney wrote something very interesting in one his books: "When we open the gospel, we see that Christ, whose responsibilities were far greater than ours, seemed to be in much less of a hurry. Jesus had plenty of time. He had time to speak to a foreign woman he met at a well, time to spend holidays with his disciples, time to admire lilies or sunsets, time to wash his disciples feet, and time to answer their naive questions without impatience." We’re all given the same amount of time in a day, and it’s vital to devote some of this time to the people in our lives.
- Make time for play. By play, I am not referring to the philosophy of "Work Hard, Play Hard." This is the typical attitude of a competitive driven person. Rather, I mean time to play with your child, or your dog, time to become like a little child, time to enjoy life as it is.
- Devote yourself to regular spiritual disciplines. The people who are happy with the way life is going on, invariably turn out to be ones who regularly have a daily appointment with their spirits through regular prayers, meditations, etc.
The driven, obsessive worker needs to shift the basic criteria for self value, away from doing and having towards being. When that foundation is established for our worth, we begin to display a balance between work, play and love. There is a simple mindset that can help you avoid the traps of the production test. You need to realize that you have worth simply by existing. This might sound like an invitation to laziness, but when you feel valuable and loved by virtue of who you are, rather than what you do, the added self-confidence makes you want to accomplish even more.
The above discussion should help you reevaluate your self-worth in a new light. Try to reflect on the areas in which you were criticised, and try to clear your mind of these hang ups. It is important to make your mind free of all these negative thoughts from the past. To help you accomplish this I have described a few exercises later in this unit.