My son commented recently: ‘you think quite highly of yourself‘. A few weeks later a much respected mentor wondered if it wasn’t hard for me to always have to supply the answers to (my) life’s questions. Both comments were made in the spirit of love, friendship, and in my son’s case, a small provocation.
I try to find it a gift when people hold up a mirror and show me something about myself that I wasn’t aware of. And yes, that can be uncomfortable too. So what surprised me was how their words continued to echo in my head as if they had said something really negative; as if ‘thinking highly’ of oneself, and finding the answers to life’s conundrums was somehow not okay.
Therapy builds self confidence.. right?
Self doubt can be a positive process and a healthy attribute when it leads to answers that truly come from within. Be they accepting or rejecting of the comments that started the process in the first place. So yes, self doubt leads to self confidence.Think of the waste of all those therapy sessions, my own, and those of millions of others, if feeling good about yourself, even thinking ‘highly’ of yourself is not a goal. But ask a client to really express their increasing self love in response to positive external life events and most will be shocked.
Did that incident make you feel good about yourself… respect yourself?
And usually the answer will be..
… eehhhh.. better yes.. but to say I love myself…….?
Hubris, Calvinism, good old RC guilt… the fall-out of the self help industry, as well as the build them up and tear them down media…… it has a lot to answer for.
So this is the paradox. We spend money on trying to feel better about ourselves and yet feel embarrassed to admit it when we do. In a recent episode of BBC4’s Start the week programme the humourist and author David Sedaris reflected that his father’s negative comments have been a positive, motivating influence. Listening to the clip broke my heart. He seems to have told himself his father’s cruelty has saved him from becoming too full of himself. Did no one else notice his voice was dead and void of any sparkle. Indeed the whole show is a testament to the confusion we now feel around self-love.
We live in a society that is constantly telling us how we can be better, more confident, more successful, and yet, BEING confident and successful is frowned upon. The media build up stars and politicians to be superstars, and when they are, or are thought to be, they pull them down again. The adjective ‘narcissistic’ has become part of our daily language, though the condition is often described for its symptoms, rather than its underlying psychological split*.
Are we collectively going too far the other way? Is society as deeply split as the most deeply wounded Narcissist? Veering between a collective experience of being weak and victimised to being grandiose and magnificent. No room for anything, or anyone, in-between.
Healthy Narcissism is the product of being confidently insecure and insecurely confident. The knowledge that one doesn’t exist without the other. No longer in the throws of grandiose behaviour one moment, and deep insecurity the next. Including the insecurities that are part and parcel of who we are, and embracing what makes us shine.
Given the above, yes, I have to admit that, for now, I am feeling quite good about myself. And look, see how that little word ‘quite’ sneaked in there, as if writing that I AM feeling good, or even REALLY good about myself is just a bridge too far. And no, I don’t feel I need to have all the answers, I prefer exploring the questions.
Surely true courage lies in taking the risk to be proud of who you are while remaining vigilant you don’t lose yourself in it?
* Narcissism – in brief – is the dysfunctional behaviour that occurs when the two poles of our experience of being perfect, and our experience of being useless, have drifted too far apart. Sadly, when you google Narcissism you only find the omnipotent, un-empathetic, ramp light hogging version that sucks all the oxygen out of the relationship. The polar opposite, the Narcissistic wound that leads to a collapsed ego, full of self hatred and doubt is more often mis-diagnosed as depression or even a masochistic personality disorder. Healthy Narcissism is the ability to hold perfection and imperfection as equally true about yourself. Neither splitting off in one direction or the other.
(For a deeper exploration go to the article about failure)