Let yourself go and celebrate the New Year. Others annoy us less when we are forgiving to ourselves

Tenderness and freedom

The New Year encourages us to make resolutions and earnest pledges to ourselves. That we will like ourselves, respect ourselves, begin to set boundaries and finally learn to be assertive. After January 1, most people grab their phones and make an appointment for psychotherapy. We eagerly say that we want to do ‘something’ with our lives, to change ‘something’, to finally LIKE OURSELVES. And so on and so forth, every 365 days.

Self-esteem gives us peace of mind

When we look at ourselves with understanding, the faults of others irritate us less, and their virtues do not make us squirm with envy. A stable self-esteem provides us with peace of mind, it protects us from a multitude of ruminative thoughts: about what someone else thought of us, whether we did everything right, and from sad beliefs that we are good for nothing because we made a mistake, because someone gave up on us, or because someone chose another person. Failure is as much a part of life as rejection and even ridicule. By persistently trying to escape the experience of failure or shame, we fall into a trap. We stop being ourselves, we stop being authentic, we start playing the role of yes men, people without their own clear opinions. We begin to believe quite automatically that our truth is not our personal opinion, but the opinion of authority figures – people we generally admire and want them to think well of us.

The media and social media are only seemingly conducive to building self-esteem. Everything is fine as long as we read slogans encouraging us to like and accept ourselves. But as soon as someone says something ill-considered in public, or has an opinion we don’t like, we are apt to throw stones of hate. When we read internet trash, we often begin to experience anxiety and inner panic ourselves. We imagine ourselves in the situation of the person being attacked. And we think: oh no, I have to do everything perfectly so I don’t end up like that Ms. X that everyone makes fun of. This is how we operate when we have a self-esteem that is dependent on the opinions of others.

Confidence sometimes disappears

When we think about self-confidence and self-respect, all sorts of doors open up for us. It is a good idea to sketch them out for yourself. It is the door behind which our social roles reside: me at work, me as a mother, lover, cooking or programming expert, me in relationships with neighbours or family, etc. In life, we step into different roles and situations every day. Sometimes we feel quite confident in some of them and completely uncomfortable in others – we feel ashamed, withdrawn, and unable to assert ourselves. For example, a confident advocate in her relationship with her in-laws may take on the role of a humble student in the principal’s office. If a client saw her in that role, they would rub their eyes in amazement, but that’s how we operate: in different life situations, we are and feel more or less confident. Most of us have areas of our lives where we like ourselves and respect our skills, accomplishments, and appreciate our strengths. Few people – unless they are suffering from depression at the time – hate every area of their lives.

As a rule, self-esteem is fairly normalised in adults, but there are isolated areas where something is not going as planned. And these areas disturb us, make us judge ourselves as insecure, thus making it hard for us to think well of ourselves. I remember a very feisty, resourceful and entrepreneurial doctor who denied it when I asked her if she felt confident. This was shortly after her husband left her for a 20 years younger intern. This woman, full of incredible charisma, felt ugly and unnecessary at that time. She looked in the mirror and instead of her feminine strength she saw eyes swollen from tears, a red nose and hair in disarray. And she based her conviction that she doesn’t mean much and is a completely unattractive person on this picture.

Like yourself for nothing

In order to like ourselves, it is good to ask ourselves which part of ME we don’t like. Which area of life do we have the greatest reservations about? And then don’t settle for generic answers such as ‘I don’t like the way I look’. After all, appearance is the sum of various elements – shape, colour, smell, dozens of component parts. We should take a deeper look into what we really don’t like about ourselves. Once we know it, it’s time for the next question: can we do something about it? If not, why not turn it into an asset? Impossible? Then maybe it’s time to leave that body part alone? And let yourself live? And forget about idealising?

In my practice, I sometimes meet people who get ‘hung up’ on their trait and don’t let themselves live because they reject it so strongly. And this feature resurfaces whenever black clouds appear over them. For example, they say this litany: ‘I didn’t get a job because I have diastema, my boyfriend left me because I have diastema, and the saleswoman was amused because she saw my diastema and she probably laughed at me in the back room. I’m mean to my female employees because I have this damn diastema and I don’t feel like smiling at perfect girls, I can’t stand them!’. Watching from the sidelines, it’s hard not to cringe: gee, what would this person do if they didn’t have that gap between their teeth? On what would she then shift all the blame for various difficult social situations?

According to a study conducted late last year by Nutridrom, while half of those surveyed reported confidence, only 4% would not change anything about themselves. Self-esteem is definitely lowered by reservations about our appearance. Only 8% of respondents were confident about their physicality, with the majority being male. As many as 40% of people would sometimes think that they don’t deserve anything in life because of their appearance.

Life constantly tests our confidence and tries to take it away from us almost every day. Every day there are situations where someone challenges our decisions, choices, behaviour or our taste. Every day we see pictures of people who seem better than us, smarter, more resourceful. Every day the world proves to us that we could do better, that there are people who are much more intelligent, ambitious, and attractive and also better paid than us. Therefore, building one’s self-worth based on compliments, on the fact that someone has praised us after all, or that we have something that others don’t, is very precarious, fickle and fleeting. Often when we’re teenagers, that’s how we build our self-esteem – based on the opinion of others. What matters then is the acceptance of the group, without which it is difficult to have high self-esteem.

As you get older, however, it’s a good idea to change the source of your confidence to your personal one. That is, to like yourself not for something, but for nothing. For being alive. For being. Without comparing that others are better off. This is a cliché, you will say it’s ‘pop psychology’. Perhaps it is. But for decades we have been prisoners of this cliché. We can’t appreciate ourselves for nothing, for the mere fact of existence. There must be a reason, some outstanding achievement and merit.

Accept yourself or act

Professor Osiatyński used to say to ‘part your hair in the morning and let yourself go’. However, if we can do the parting but have a ton of reservations about things we can change about ourselves, that’s a whole other issue. It is one thing to learn to accept traits beyond our control, and another to work on things that can be changed (it’s just hard to do it). In the latter case, we have a whole range of response options. From accepting and loving our shortcomings to taking active steps to improve ourselves. If we are unable to like ourselves because of being overweight, for example, then we need to make a decision about it. You can take many positions on being overweight. You can start eating healthy food with peace of mind, as if you were tenderly caring for your baby. You can ask professionals for support to take care of this excess weight together with you. You can also consider it part of your identity and allow it to be with you, while remembering to control your health. In other words, in the face of being overweight (or any other feature we don’t like), it’s worth making a decision and sticking to it. Just complaining, making New Year’s resolutions, criticising, and even crying into your pillow is not a decision. As Tony Robbins puts it: ‘A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided’.

I feel that liking yourself is exactly the kind of decision you need to make and actively work to implement it. Not just at the level of declarations, but concrete actions.


Author: Katarzyna Kucewicz, psychologist

Illustration: pexels.com

The text was published on wysokie obcasy.pl on 1 January 2022