Forget Halfway; Meet Yourself All the Way
Our month-long conversation about what it means to “Love Thy Selfie” has both piqued my interest and made me tired. I sat at the keyboard too long before admitting that I was tangled up in definitions of self-esteem, self-image, self-compassion, self-knowledge…all of this. I was confusing know thyself with treat yo self, and I was tired of writing a blanket list of pick-me-ups to cover the hurt when I feel bad about who I think I am.
The fix that we deserve, but not the one we need right now
Don’t get me wrong: we shouldn’t throw those little pick-me-ups out with the bathwater. Acts of self-care help to maintain healthy physical and mental processes. They just can’t do it all. Self-care can twist into soft addictions, or it can simply distract from understanding yourself and how you evaluate your worth or your purpose. Attempts to simply feel better may crowd out greater objectives to 1. know ourselves better and 2. accept ourselves patiently. Steps 1 & 2 are prerequisites before we attempt to 3. better ourselves.
How not to know myself
In order to “meet ourselves” and establish a healthy relationship, we’ve got to cut out the practices that just don’t get the job done. Here are a few:
Ignoring self-awareness altogether. Seems obvious, but it deserves mention. There are myriad ways and reasons we sidestep this task, and not all are wrong. At times, rootedness, safety, and stability may be more necessary than forward progress and growth in unfamiliar territory. Like a broken arm not yet ready for heavy lifting, taking on a task (mental, physical, emotional, or otherwise) that greatly exceeds our current capacity can be detrimental to healing or growth. Patience in this process shows maturity and awareness in ways we might not expect. When we are internally restored or externally supported enough to push forward, then we move.
Comparison and competition. Ron Siegel, Psy.D posits that we generally tie our identity and worth to competitive success. We compare ourselves with others, feel better when we move ahead in our rankings, and eventually need higher levels of achievement to feel the same good vibes. It’s a fool’s errand: comparing our work with someone else’s will never tell us who we are or how we are.
Nothing more than feelings. Emotions don’t provide an accurate measure or a good mirror. Dialectical Behavior Therapy offers skills and imagery that help to tolerate and regulate intense feelings: we can “ride the wave,” experiencing an emotion as something to observe but not suppress or amplify.
Getting to know you
I know. Gaining a realistic and patient perception of self sounds like a snipe hunt. It is possible, and like most worthy endeavors, it takes time. We aren’t born with this knowledge, and will always have more to learn.
Think about the way you think about yourself. Certain mindfulness practices can help us to think about our thoughts (and give us reason to casually mention “metacognition” at cocktail parties). What tone do you use in conversations with yourself? What five words would you first use to describe yourself? To literally “come to terms” with ourselves, we need to recognize the words we use, even if they are uncertain or unsavory.
Get curious, not critical. Note when you feel excited, disappointed, confident, afraid, disgusted, energized, refreshed, and exhausted throughout the day. Treat it all as data, but don’t grade yourself on your performance.
Ask “Is it so?” Don’t be afraid to question your thoughts. Would those closest to you agree with your five descriptors? Are your beliefs factual or realistic? After Thanksgiving dinner, I vowed that I would “never eat again.” Then I had breakfast the next morning. After having a baby, I asserted that I would “never feel like myself again.” That one has held true – but in more positive ways than I could ever predict.
Where are you in this process? What helps you to see clearly so that you may do as Whitman did and “celebrate myself, and sing myself”?