Ouch! It hurts! When you try to be the most supportive friend or family member and all you get is: “Mmmm who does she think she is?” Not a ‘thank you’ or word of appreciation, but just plain criticism. Do you ever feel worn out by trying to please other people all the time? From trying to fit in and be accepted by your colleagues, family and community? Imagine what it would be like if you could stop placing importance on other people’s opinion and start valuing your own opinion. Just imagine not waiting for others to validate you, but you validating yourself – looking at yourself in the mirror and saying “I look good,” putting all your effort in a task and looking at the results and saying, “I am satisfied,” or taking a certain action and telling yourself, “I was justified.”
The problem is most of us, I included, have, from an early age, depended on others’ approval to feel our worth – our parents, family, friends and teachers; and when we grew up, our spouses, lovers, bosses and so on. It is not until we learn to value our own opinion of ourselves that we move to the level of fulfilment. Unfortunately most of us go to our graves looking for approval from others; feeling hurt each day of our lives because others don’t seem to approve or appreciate us.
Society’s external judgment systems tend to measure our value by what we have, do, look like, and dress; our education, faith, family background, ethnicity, and so on. Most of us value our worth using society’s yardstick. As children, we learn to measure our worth by the words of those around us – parents, teachers, caregivers and family members. If we are told we are the best and treated as such, we usually go out into the world fairly confident. If we are shouted at, told we are stupid, lazy or incompetent, we may believe it. At school we are judged on our exam results, how we do on the sports field and other extra-curricula activities, or even by the clothes we wear.
I was lucky to be a good all round performer in school so I got a lot of praise from teachers and my mother and other family members and I believe the confidence and belief I have in myself comes from there. But I now realise how the put-off and scolding some of my non-performing siblings got as children moulded their personalities in later life.
Because of societal influence, as we grow up, we learn to measure our value by how much we earn, the job we do, the car we drive, the home we live in, who we are dating or married to, or the clothes we wear. These days, currencies such as fame, political leadership, wealth, looks and youth are highly valued. If you are young, slim, rich and famous, everyone wants to be in your gang. You are never short of friends or people wanting to be around you and you love it because they validate you. But what if you are fat and ugly and don’t have much money? Does this mean you are not valuable? How many of us believe being valuable and successful depends on conforming to stereotypes, having a good salary, or looking a certain way? Unfortunately, very, very many; indeed, most of us.
Think about it, how do you measure your value? And what do you measure yourself against if you weren’t looking to others to see how you were doing? How would you know you were happy with where you are? What do you believe is valuable in a human being? Unless you ask yourself these questions and give yourself honest answers, you will never know how much dependent you are on other’s approval.
I remember a time I was so upset with certain family members who didn’t seem to appreciate me for whom I am and were always trying to make me be who they wanted me to be – like themselves. It took me a moment of great anger to say to myself – ‘Wait a minute, who am I and who do I want to be?’ The minute I said I wanted to remain who I was – the girl raised by mother with great Christian values and proud to be who I am, I started depending on myself for validation. It didn’t matter if you didn’t like me because I was not willing to conform, or you didn’t agree with me. And it works. I am a happier person and more at peace with myself.
If you had to score yourself on the qualities you value, how would you fare? Which bits of yourself do you like and which don’t you like? Imagine if, rather than having to prove how good you were to other people, it was up to you to decide how valuable you were, based on your own measuring system. When we move from needing external validation to reality, we get a grip on being internally motivated and the whole world shifts in its axis. Life gets much easier – you know what you want to do, what decisions you want to make and whom you want to spend time around. You then live in a whole new world, where you judge yourself but don’t wait for others to judge you.
You learn to value yourself just the way you are. You get to have conversations with yourself and ask valid questions such as: How do I treat other people? How do I treat myself ? Why did I do it that way? What can I change in me to make me a better person? What can’t I change in me and therefore must learn to live with it? You start using words of affirmation such as: “If I valued myself, I would appreciate what God has given me.” “I thank God for giving me ability to help others even when they don’t appreciate.” You start taking stands in your life fully dependent on your own judgment and based on values you feel are important.You choose to say the kindest things to yourself and others; you choose the most loving response to other people even when you disagree; you are always brave to make a stand no matter what others think; you always tell the truth because you are not trying to please anyone else other than you. And that is what thinking about You means.