“When you’re not used to being confident, confidence feels like arrogance.
When you’re used to being passive, assertiveness feels like aggression.
When you’re not used to getting your needs met, prioritising yourself feels selfish.
Your comfort zone is not a good benchmark.”
Babies are born with their self-esteem completely intact,; they are confident and assertive about what they need, they are ego-centric and prioritise their needs and their needs alone. If their primal needs of nourishment, care, love and secure attachment are met, then they will thrive and grow- their brain cells will multiply and shoot messages all over their nervous system that they are safe and healthy and ready to learn.
But then life happens!
And sometimes, life just doesn’t play fair!
When life-events, tragedy, the daily grind, abuse, poor choices, circumstance, or just boring old bad luck get in the way it can become very easy to get stuck in a loop of negative self-thinking. This can often happen because as we grow older we unlearn all of the instincts we were born with that were so reliable when we were babies. We don’t get to cry or stamp our feet when our nervous system gets triggered by fear or doubt- and then get immediately soothed by milk or love or safe boundaries. That confidence, that assertiveness that we were born with- that assurance that our needs will definitely be met by someone else is stripped down and away by time, experience and maturity. This is all very well and good so long as we are also encouraged at the same time to soothe ourselves, to love ourselves, to provide our own safe boundaries. But what if we weren’t encouraged to do that? What if we learned that prioritising ourselves was a bad thing, or something to feel ashamed of, or something to feel guilty about?
When life teaches us to dumb down how we feel then our brains recalibrate this information into a new status quo. Sometimes shocking events or experiences challenge the beliefs we have about ourselves, and sometimes, sadly all too often, old messages that we hear, see and feel about ourselves dig deep into how we believe we should be and settle themselves in, make themselves comfortable. We hear messages all the time through relationships, society, TV, social media not only about how we should behave, but also how we should look, think, feel and be. These messages are often so locked into our subconscious that we don’t even need to compute them logically to feel or experience their impact- and when we do compute them, break them down, they are so settled there that it doesn’t occur to us to challenge them. When I was 10 years old I overheard a teacher telling another member of staff how ‘terrible’ my painting was. I can remember feeling instantly flooded with the most agonising shame. I hid in the school toilets and cried but couldn’t explain to anyone what I was crying about, because if I did then I might risk further ridicule. A subconscious message then played out where I told myself that I was ‘terrible at painting’- later this turned into ‘I am not creative’, along with ‘if I allow myself to be seen I will be judged’. I denied myself opportunity after opportunity to develop my creativity to avoid inviting others to confirm this belief. I sat inside an old message and allowed it to dictate what I believed to be true about myself. I didn’t challenge it- and it limited me. The shame made me invisible.
When we sit inside external messages which feed our self-belief system, and rely on these messages to confirm whether we are good or bad, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly, successful or a failure, then we are only allowing ourselves to be seen as a reflection of someone else’s subjective perception. Just like I based my ability to be/think/act creatively on a teachers opinion of a painting I did when I was 10, then it is also possible to assume we are all vulnerable to develop negative self beliefs through many different sources; “If no-one tells me I look beautiful then that must mean I am ugly”, “if I cry then I am weak”, “if I wear that skirt then I am asking for it”, “if I don’t get promoted then I am a failure”, “if I speak out against a bully then I am a snitch”.
The thing about shame is that it keeps you hidden. It keeps you hidden from the world, and it keeps you hidden from yourself by feeding you information that is either so out of date that it is no longer relevant, or completely untrue. For some people this might feel like you are looking at life through an opaque veneer- everything looks blurry and distant and you aren’t ‘quite in it’. For others shame might feel like you are living your life in a perpetual state of ‘red alert’- when anyone and anything needs to be approached with suspicion because of how dangerous it feels just to be alive. Shame stops you trying new things, it stops you asking for help, it stops you trusting your instincts. Shame is numbing and exhausting. Shame makes you feel unsafe in your own skin. Shame has decided that you are only loveable if…, you are only successful if…, you are only valued if… Shame keeps you hidden because it is too risky to be seen. Shame is crippling!
But what if there was something that could be done?
What if there was a way for you to truly see yourself, and for others to see you how you want to be seen?
Therapy isn’t a magic wand- but it is a way forward.
Contact me to find out how therapy can help you.
Copyright Luisa Giordano Counselling