What kind of stories do you tell yourself about yourself? I used to tell myself stories like… I think I must be an introvert because I sometimes feel anxious at parties… Or, I’ve always been the black sheep of the family, I’m the ‘lone wolf’ type, best I go my own way… The reality is that I’m not any of those things any more, and I recognise the pain of getting caught up in an outdated way of seeing oneself.
This leads me to ask a question. Do you know who you are today, or are you still wrapped up in ideas that are based in the past? In a conversation recently, a friend used the phrase ‘redundant self-image’ to describe some of her battles with her perceptions that were essentially formulated in her teens and twenties, and don’t serve her nearly-40-year-old self. The phrase really struck me – redundant self-image. You know when you have a little light-bulb moment, and suddenly something that you’ve been feeling has a name, a name that fits for you.
I think there is a spectrum for self-image. On one end are people whose self-image is manufactured from external influences and comparisons. A little like an adapted-self. On the other end, there are those who simply feel and reflect what they are today. They are internally secure and developed.
We all sit somewhere on that spectrum, and we can all move along the spectrum, in both directions.
When we’re young, most of us are moulded by what we think we should be. We compare ourselves to family, friends, and even worse, media personalities and superstars, and we generally feel deficient and pretty ordinary. I think young people now have it much harder than my generation, bombarded with social media telling them how amazing and gorgeous everyone else is… it would be pretty tough not to draw comparisons. So I wonder what happens to people when they don’t have an alternate point of view and just see life through a constructed worldview?
As we mature, we start to realise that a lot of that external stuff is just that, a bit external and a bit outside of an embodied experience. The school-yard A-listers are just as insecure as everyone else, and it takes courage to put your worst selfie up on Insta! The glossy ‘selfie’ facade starts to get a bit thin, and most of us begin to see through it as we recognise that our internal world is just as rich, just as complex as everyone else’s. And then we grow some more.
From that internal space, we begin to manifest our true selves – we develop our thoughts and feelings, start exercising the bits we like, start embracing and accepting the things we don’t. We work out what kinds of people we like to hang out with, what our taste in literature, music, art, and food is, what we muse on when we get caught in a moment of beauty, how we cope when things go to shit. We start to befriend our selves.
But as the friend I mentioned at the start has realised, it’s easy to get stuck on the spectrum. Lots of us are stuck, and part of the problem is that we continue to see ourselves in comparison to others, seeking external validation rather than developing and trusting our internal being. You’ve read all the memes – ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ etc. – but it’s spot-on. Liking yourself NOW, trusting yourself NOW, and learning to be with what you are NOW is the work. For some people that is the path. To use another expression, ‘the bumps in the road are not on the path, they are the path’.
Letting go of those elements of redundant self-image that cloud your present truth is hard, but so worthwhile.
I’m a 48-year-old man living in the Blue Mountains. I’m a partner, a son, a brother, an uncle, a gardener, a therapist, a gentle soul, a bit softer ’round the middle than I’d like – and I work every day on liking myself a bit more. My self-image isn’t perfect – far from it – but I’m so relieved that it’s current, and dynamic, and growing, and those sensitive and insecure bits of me that developed when I was a much younger person have started to shift and fall away. As they dissolve, they make space for me.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if this article resonates with you in light of your own situation.