I remember my self-perception as an adolescent. I never really liked myself. I harbored a dark inner secret regarding my same-gendered attraction and, when learning in church that God considered homosexuality an abomination, I sensed that there was a monster lurking within me that was loathed: the real me that no one knew for certain was an abomination. I ran to Jesus out of fear more than love. Perhaps Jesus would protect me from the all-seeing and all-knowing Father who detested the secret me. Little did I know at the time that the Father's love for me was drawing me to Himself in and through Jesus. So, out of fear and shame I tried to become a people-pleaser.
Granted, some of that changed once I graduated high school, and I moved out on my own. Once I was freed from my smalltown context, no longer under the authority of my parents, I began not to care what others thought of me. Still, when I visited home, I fell back into the same frame of mind and tried to please others -- tried to be, or at least appear to be, what others wanted of me. The consequences for living like that for years were, in a word, tragic. I began repeating a cycle: the double-sided coin of fear and shame caused self-loathing; but I wanted to feel good about myself so I lived a secret life in my mind that began to manifest in reality. I would then give in to fear and shame again, which compounded the self-loathing, and so I would try to make myself feel better.
Yet, the ways in which I tried to feel better were emotionally, psychologically and spiritually unhealthy. I will spare you the details. Living like this for years was bound to take its toll. I was not getting better but worse and yet no one knew. Fear is debilitating; and shame is an inept motivator toward recovery, a positive self-image, and a change in cognitive behavior (i.e., positive thinking that affects positive emotions that produce positive behavior). Our actions do not occur in a vacuum. In other words, our actions begin not with motion but in thought, and how we think affects how we feel. So, if you think negative thoughts about yourself, then that will inevitably cause you to feel bad about yourself. If you then think and feel that you are a bad person, even a monster, then your behavior will match your self-perception. How can you break this vicious cycle?
Knowledge is power, so you may have heard or read, and this is true. Once a person learns the root cause(s) of her actions, discovering that they begin in a thought process, then change is possible.
Henri Nouwen, with himself in mind, writes and encourages himself as well as us:
For as long as you can remember, you have been a [people-] pleaser, depending on others to give you an identity [and self-worth]. You need not look at that only in a negative way. You wanted to give your heart to others, and you did so quickly and easily. But now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you. You must stop being a [people-] pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.2
Until you stop trying to fit the mold of those around you, you will never truly understand yourself, and will remain in an emotional quagmire of confusion, disappointment, and dissatisfaction with life. The old adage is true, that if you cannot love and respect yourself then you cannot expect others to genuinely love and respect you, either. Sure, someone will love you for who you are, and that is a person to truly treasure. This type of person will stay with you no matter your failures, weaknesses, or errant worldview. Such a person does not require you to be a different character than who you actually are in reality. But there are others whom you must avoid at all cost.
You must avoid people who are constantly trying to mold you into their manner of thinking. What this truly conveys is that they do not particularly like you as you are in reality. They want you to think and feel and behave in a different manner -- one that suits their liking. You must understand that such people are themselves insecure. They feel validated when they can morph you into their image. But you must refuse to see yourself through their eyes. How can you accomplish that? By stop trying to please others, to fit in their mold, so that you can get to know yourself. Once you know who you are, and once you embrace, love, and respect who you are, then you will have accomplished seeing yourself not through their eyes but as you really are -- a unique human being created in the image of God who is loved and cherished by the Creator of the universe.
Think about this: there are over seven billion people alive on this planet and there is not one person who is exactly like you -- not one. As a matter of fact, from the beginning of human beings on earth, no one has ever nor will ever be exactly like you. You have your own DNA, your own way of thinking, your own gifts to share with the world, your own unique personality, and your own identity. How, then, can you continue to try to be something that you are not? Why betray reality? Why deny yourself? No other human being is permitted to require you to be anyone or anything other than who you are in reality. So, if you are exhausted with seeing yourself through the eyes of others, then make a change today. You are the only one who can be you.
1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom (New York: Image Books, 1998), 5.
This post was written by William Birch. You can find his blog here: http://www.williambirch.net