Why Acting Strong is Actually Weak

authenticityarmourA troubling theme that I come across in my work as a therapist — and in my observation of people in general — is the belief that we should always act strong and hide our insecurities and fears. The damage perpetrated by this “common wisdom” is incalculable. It decimates true self-esteem and damages our relationships.

Acting strong is acting. When we act or pretend to be different than who we truly are, we abandon our real self by putting on a mask. We do this in an attempt to control what we hope others will think of us. So we manipulate and camouflage our self as we seek the approval of others, or at the least try to avoid their disapproval. This sets up our primary betrayal of our genuine self.

Authentic self-esteem is derived from our relationship with our own self. If we contort our personality to seek recognition or approval from others we’re pursuing what I call other-esteem. This is other-esteem because it doesn’t come from within, but is sought from outside of us. We’re trying to feel better about ourselves by being disingenuous. How do you think that’s going to work out? The more we do this, the further we move from genuine self-esteem. This is the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be embracing our vulnerability.

What do I mean by vulnerable? For me the word vulnerable doesn’t elicit weakness, but openness. Don’t construe vulnerable to mean fragile. As humans we all experience vulnerable feelings like insecurity, doubt and fear. In moderation these are common emotions. But due to our misinformed cultural meta-narrative that demands the appearance of strength we decide to hide these feelings from one another. So we live out our lives falsely thinking that our shortcomings or self-doubts are unique to us. The sad irony is that those same individuals whose opinions we are so worried about are very likely doing the same thing. So the vast majority of people are disempowering themselves, thinking that others are more confident and secure. This tragic myth terribly limits our lives. On another note, the more you can embrace your insecurities, the sooner you’ll move past them. Hiding them cements them into your being whereas allowing them to surface tends to dissipate what you’ve been trying to hide.

Hiding our true self from others makes is what makes us fragile. Being yourself makes you strong. When I encourage this transition people may ask, “but what will they think of me?” How will I be seen? This is a common concern for people who grapple with revealing their genuine self. I’d offer that I want to be seen — as I truly am — as my authentic self. This is the path to a powerful self-esteem.

When we accept our vulnerability we have nothing to hide from others and this in turn makes us genuinely powerful. The key to a resilient self-esteem is found by embracing your vulnerability – your fears and insecurities. In doing so, you liberate yourself from setting up others as your judge, as you have nothing to hide. You must embrace your vulnerability to attain inner strength.

Who is my judge? Why is it more important to us what someone else thinks of us than what we think of ourselves? When we subordinate our self worth by setting up another person as our judge, we perpetuate emotional abuse on ourselves. Other people aren’t your judge so why appoint them that power? Everyone has opinions for sure, but to elevate someone’s opinions to the power of a judgment is both irrational and without merit. What you’re doing is judging yourself and then projecting that power of judgment on to someone else. I’m found of saying that the only person who has the right to literally judge me wears a long black robe and presides in a courthouse.

For relationships to thrive we must experience emotional intimacy. What I mean by this term is a transparent and safe sharing of our feelings. When we obscure feelings that we think will be criticized or scrutinized we block emotional intimacy.

We all just want to be loved, but to be loved you need to be lovable. Most of us struggle in actually being lovable. When you need to act strong you’ve erected a defensive wall that doesn’t allow others in. You become impenetrable and therefore, unlovable. Vulnerability – openness — is most often seen as lovable. In my work with couples and families, when someone expresses their softer vulnerable feelings, others not only listen, they care.

Isn’t it insane that we hide the very qualities that could have us feel validated, affirmed and loved? Embracing rather than hiding from our vulnerability makes us authentic and powerful. It suggests that we accept and value ourselves as we are, without fear of what we think others may think of us. We’ve been clearly playing from the wrong game plan.

My forthcoming book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love (Fall 2017, Sounds True) will provide more detail on this subject. Please enjoy many other similar posts on this topic found here on this blog.

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Self-Esteem or Other-Esteem

Why You Shouldn’t Put Your Best Foot Forward

 

putting best foot forward

Most people begin their dating relationships by putting their proverbial “best foot” forward. We do this to entice the other person to like us and possibly fall for us.  If the relationship succeeds the courtship typically declines over time as the routine sets in. The months may turn into years and eventually one or both people may claim, “You’re not who I thought you were.” Of course not, how can we possibly know each other when we’re selectively hiding particular aspects of our being?

 

 

Putting your best foot forward makes no sense in light of the fact that over time, your true self will surface. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to present your genuine self and not worry about someone else’s judgment? When we manipulate or alter ourselves out of concern for what others will think, we abandon our authentic self-esteem and invest in what I call other-esteem Self-Esteem or Other-Esteem? . This is not only ruinous to our actual self-worth it is nonsensical in terms of the relationship itself. Two people doing a dance around authenticity doesn’t augur well for a successful relationship

 

From my professional experience – as a therapist and marriage counselor – it takes as much as two years of being in a committed and emotionally intimate relationship for a couple to reasonably feel that they know one another. Yet, very often, the pledge of commitment occurs prematurely for the other shoe hasn’t yet dropped. So what are we committing to? Who we’re pretending to be? This is a prescription for disaster and accounts for a large percentage of failed or unhappy relationships down the road. In fact, emotional intimacy requires removing the masks and disguises that we wear which obscure our genuine self.

 

A client of mine shared the following story: He met a young woman for lunch on a prearranged blind date. He said he had a really nice time, found himself emotionally and verbally engaged and quite attracted to her. I asked him if he thought she felt similarly. He happily indicated that was the case, as far as he knew. Yet, there was something nagging at him.

 

There were aspects of his life that he felt she would be judgmental about. I explored this with him and helped him consider that he might be constructing a problem where none existed. His inclination was to hide those aspects of his personality and his past that she might scrutinize. I suggested that he do just the opposite. I encouraged him to reveal his true self. What did he have to lose? If his fear was justified and she disapproved of him, why delay the inevitable? Did he want her to like who he was pretending to be or who he really was?

 

On their next date, he freely shared stories about himself that he otherwise would have kept hidden, for fear of her scrutiny. He reported with surprise and delight, that she not only accepted the cloaked parts of his persona, but, was actually intrigued by them. When we defend against our insecurities and put our best foot forward, masking what we feel vulnerable about, we betray our authenticity and self-esteem and sabotage the future of the relationship as well. Being thoughtful, considerate and sensitive shouldn’t be confused with hiding aspects of yourself that you feel tentative about. You owe it to yourself and the future of the relationship to embrace your discomfort and reveal your genuine self.

 

 

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Freeing Yourself from the Grip of Low Self-Esteem

self-esteem-wordleTo further our exploration of developing authentic self-esteem, I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Self-Esteem Workshop, a live, interactive videoconference, beginning Tuesday, August 13th.

In my previous articles in this series on self-esteem, we’ve considered how low self-worth surfaces as an array of psychological, emotional, and relationship challenges, and then we looked at how we misunderstand what we actually mean by self-esteem, seeking it in futile ways. We’ll now turn our attention to how we can free ourselves from the debilitating grip of self-denigrating beliefs and thoughts that script those lives tragically limited by low self-esteem.

I often assist my therapy clients in surfacing and articulating their core beliefs about themselves. Subtle or overt messages or treatment, typically in childhood, set up and mold our sense of self. Those who struggle with their self-worth have invariably secured negative imprints of themselves. These themes may play out in one’s head as “I’m not lovable,” or  “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or simply ”I’m a loser.” Once we internalize these messages, we integrate these beliefs deeply in our psyche. The beliefs become self-fulfilling. Our potential as human beings collapses and narrows as our limiting beliefs of self become our truth. And we act out our lives correspondingly. Read more

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Self Esteem or Other Esteem?

woman-low-self-esteemIn my previous article, Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis, I proposed that a devaluation of one’s self lies at the heart of most psychological and emotional disorders. Let’s now explore more deeply what the term self-esteem denotes and come to appreciate what we mean by it as well as what gets in our way of attaining it.

I have come to believe that the way the term self-esteem is used is actually a misnomer. The first half of the expression, self, would seem to indicate that esteem, the second half of the expression, is derived from one’s self. Yet if we look closer, we find that most people seek a sense of worthiness from that which lies outside of them. For a student, it might come from good grades; for a businessperson or worker, it’s derived from a promotion or a raise; and for most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide a temporary increase in esteem. Our society generates billions of dollars in revenues from inducing people to seek the quick fix of vanity as a means toward feeling better. Yet none of these actually contribute one iota to self-esteem. Ironically, they may even get in the way.

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Low Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis

low self esteem

According to the National Institute of Health, one in every two Americans will ultimately be diagnosed with some form of mental illness. What’s behind this staggering rate of malaise? Aside from the psychiatric/pharmaceutical collusion that tends to overly pathologize normal life challenges and transmute them into mental illness, I’d offer that the primary culprit is low self-esteem. Yet the DSM – the psychiatric bible for diagnosis – offers no diagnosis of self-esteem. My experience informs me that marginal self-worth manifests through an array of dysfunction, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, ADHD, codependence, failed relationships and, even more tragically, lives lived out in mediocrity.

We focus on the more specific diagnosable illnesses that result from marginal self-worth because we have medications that treat them, notwithstanding their questionable results. But there is no pill to offer someone with low self-worth, so there’s no revenue to be generated. Moreover, as a culture, our intellectual proclivity is to focus on the symptom and disregard the underlying and perhaps complex circumstances that contribute to the devolving of a human life. This is due to our drive to over simplify and seek quick solutions to the very complex tapestry of a human life.

 

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Seeking Authenticity

What does it mean for someone to be truly authentic? And how many people do you know actually fit that description? Do you feel that you’re authentic? Let’s take a look at what this word truly suggests and just what blocks us from achieving authenticity. 

Naturally, the word authenticity evokes an image of something pure or unadulterated. A letter of authenticity confirms that a certain object or work of art is not a counterfeit. The act of authenticating is a process of determining that something is indeed genuine, as it is purported to be. Experts receive training to authenticate precious objects, memorabilia, and documents, among other rare items. Yet we have no such method for ascertaining the authentic nature of people.

Short of being caught in a bold-faced lie or transgression, methods of determining an individual’s authenticity often go unexplored. One’s authentic nature is revealed in their ability to express and share what they think or feel in a relatively unadulterated form. Diplomacy, political correctness, false flattery, people pleasing, avoidance and silence may, in fact, be designed to mask the authentic, unfiltered self.

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Self-Esteem or Other Esteem?

self-esteemAfter some consideration and many years of practice as a therapist, I have come to believe that the term self-esteem appears to be a misnomer. The first half of the expression, “self,” would seem to imply that the esteem is derived from one’s self. Yet, if we look closer, we may find that very often that self-esteem is actually attained from outside of one’s self. For a student it might come from good grades, for a business person or employee, a promotion or a raise. For most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide an increase in esteem.

Although all of the above are understandably positive, it is essential to note that they depend upon things external to one’s self. Since the esteem is externally derived from the outside, we can see how we might be inclined to alter our personality and behavior to achieve more of this reward. Admittedly being approved of or valued by others is a natural desire, but we must be cautious not to betray ourselves in order to achieve these results. If we don’t receive the desired outcome, or if it is suddenly removed, how do we then feel about ourselves? If a mediocre performance or lack of praise – or even criticism – diminishes how we feel about ourselves, it becomes evident that the esteem is indeed not from self; it is actually what I call other-esteem. Read more

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