What’s so bad about saying that we like and love ourselves? Or, what’s so bad about saying that we would like to get to know ourselves and evolve our relationship to one that comes from a place of healthier self-esteem and personal security? Doesn’t this benefit everyone all round? Isn’t this better than looking for romantic partners and other people in our lives, to fill voids or even parent us? Isn’t this better than rocking up to relationships expecting this person to tell us who we are and validate us?

What’s so bad about saying “I’m OK” or “I like and accept myself”?

When did things get so bad that being self-aware, having some self-worth and self-compassion, along with internalising our accomplishments, achievements and deeds, became a source of embarrassment and shame?

Some people teach shame.

They teach us to feel wrong, bad, and humiliated. When we were little, we may have been told that “good girls” or “good boys” don’t take pride in who they are because it’s “showing off”. Or maybe they said it will make people uncomfortable, envious or jealous. We may have gotten into the habit of dimming our light to fit in with or boost others. We may associate even the teensiest kind thought or action of self-appreciation as “selfish”, “uppity” or “self-involved”. It may be embedded in us as a default reaction to fear thinking decently of ourselves or thinking independently in case we cause embarrassment and problems.

Even though we’re grown-ups and know that the teachings are wrong, we remain loyal to the pattern out of fear of betraying and upsetting the proverbial applecart. This habit keeps us small.

Sometimes this happens because the person is trying to squash us because they then get to feel big or certainly less inadequate.

Often, though, they think they’re teaching us protective life lessons designed to spare us from a bigger pain that they imagine for us.

Reading stories from readers and students who are people pleasers or who just quite simply don’t like themselves, there was this recurring theme:

Often, when a person projects their fears and perspective onto us through criticism or distorted talk and ‘lessons’, it’s their way of not only protecting us from, for example, failing or being ridiculed, but also about controlling us. That person can feel in control and fit in with whoever they’re trying to please. They may have wanted us to toe the line so that they looked good to the community, parish, family, etc. This person was/is in their own pattern.

In being taught shame whether it was directly or inferred, when we continue with the same habits of thinking and behaviour rather than getting conscious, aware, and present and choosing what to continue with from the past, we reteach and reinforce that shame. A shame, I might add, that isn’t our burden to carry.

When we say, “I like and accept myself” or similar, we’re not saying that we’re narcissists or aspiring to be. For that to be the case, we’d have to be in very shallow relationships that rely on collecting “supply” and crushing others to big ourselves up. It would mean doing things with brute force and trickery. It would mean having an overinflated sense of our own importance that’s reliant on having very little self-awareness never mind empathy.

We’re also not saying that we don’t want to evolve. We can accept ourselves and know where we want to grow. Instead of doing it from a place of being self-critical and even cruel, we do it with respect and awareness.

If more of us expanded our awareness, it would deepen our relationships and impact on how we felt within our experiences.

This is especially because our viewpoint changes when we stop wearing a low self-esteem lens.

We can often be afraid to have an honest conversation with ourselves and to listen and respond kindly. We avoid journaling practices like keeping a Feelings Diary or writing Unsent Letters. The very activities we avoid in our self-care are the ones that help us release ourselves from the bind of anger, pain, and resentment and allow us to be the driver of changing our narrative on experiences from the past that inform our self-image.

There can be a fear of taking ownership because when we’re so used to feeling a certain way, continuing as is feels safer. We can avoid our personal responsibility. The past is known whereas the future isn’t. We lose our mojo with the self-work if it doesn’t generate instant or fast results. And so we go back to repeating what we already know doesn’t work while secretly accepting failure.

There is another way. It is OK to be OK.

We are allowed to evolve our internal dialogue and relationship to a more positive one. Really, the only people who would truly object to us doing this are those who feel threatened by the change. They see our growth as questioning their world view or resent that we will no longer play our role.

Having a healthier relationship with ourselves means our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health will reap the benefit. We will also come at our relationships from a place of love, care, trust and respect.

We cannot truly know that we are liking, loving, respecting, trusting, and caring for others until we are familiar with this within ourselves.

  • People who like others while hating themselves, like from a place of loathing. They like for the wrong reasons because they feel inferior. That’s not a mutual relationship, and in order to feel inferior, we have to judge. Whether we feel superior or inferior, what we can be sure of is that we’re acting as if our beliefs and perceptions are accurate.

Who is to say that our comparison and judgement measuring tape is accurate?

  • People who love others while having very little love for themselves, cross into codependency. They may also unwittingly look for these people to fill voids or to help in some sort of reenactment of the past so that they can try to right the wrongs of it. They look for salvation.
  • People who claim to respect others while at the same time disrespecting themselves are often unaware of where they’re crossing boundaries—their own and others people’s.
  • People who trust others while lacking self-trust invariably bust their own boundaries due to lack of self-reliance and overriding vital inner information. They trust others to pass the buck. They also trust on the basis of not believing in the value of their own word and judgement.
  • People who care about others while neglecting themselves, don’t close the compassion loop. For instance, they do lots of ‘good deeds’ but also tend to throw themselves under a bus in the process. They care in the hopes that they can pay off the resentment and pain. Or, they’re waiting for the tipping point of caring where they finally feel decent about themselves. It gives them a purpose and a distraction. They might mistake pity for compassion, empathy, and love.

We can’t keep relying on others to tell us we’re ‘okay’. It’s exhausting and disempowering.

We also cannot expect to make good decisions, or feel good or be in good relationships when we’re repeating thinking and behaviour that lead to the opposite.

It’s time for us to stop reinforcing shame.

We must forgive ourselves. This means opening our minds up to recognising where we are treating our beliefs or the mutterings of others as factual or even “the law”, when they’re not. Parents and other people we have viewed as authorities are not infallible.

We have to do the adult thing and stop obeying shame and start obeying the call from within to take better care of us.

We cannot keep ourselves small just so that we can give the impression that another person is never wrong or beyond question. What’s the point in repeatedly shaming ourselves just so that we keep the legacy of their shame intact? Truth and compassion take down shame.

Learning to like, love, care about, trust and respect ourselves is a process and a journey of which only we can be the driver. We can begin at any time. It starts with a decision, and that decision is to choose and keep re-choosing to love instead of choosing to shame.

Your thoughts?

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
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