Healthy Sense of Self vs. Distorted Sense of Self?
Last week I shared how there are 7 types of mirrors that give us a reflection of who we are. They affect the way our sense of self develops. Today we’ll be digging in deeper to distinguish between a healthy sense of self vs. a distorted sense of self.
How does a healthy sense of self develop?
It starts very early as we notice how others respond to the little bits of ourselves we share.
As babies – how do others respond when I cry, am fussy, am lonely, etc?
As little kids – how do others respond when I share what I want? What happens when, as a little girl I say I want to wear pink all the time? What happens when I share that I would rather play basketball, or learn how to sew or cook?
Our feelings? How are my feelings responded to? Are they welcomed and listened to, or are they labeled bad, and pushed down or punished?
I could go on and on. These examples give you a sense that how our thoughts, feelings, preferences and desires are responded to directly affects our sense of self. If who we are is responded to positively, we will continue to share ourselves and pursue our interests.
If the little bit we share is met with negativity, we may:
~ Give up sharing who we are with others
~ Start to shut down on the inside, losing parts of ourselves
~ Continue to pursue things that are important to us, but not share them with others, or certain people
~ Continue to hold onto our dreams and pursue them no matter what anyone else thinks
~ Develop parts of ourselves that are seen and welcomed by others, while not developing other aspects of ourselves
The reality is that as we develop we need someone on the outside to give us value, to say, “Hey I see you. Who are you in there? How can I help you develop into who you are?”
Now…no parent, teacher, coach, friend or grandparent ever does this 100% right — no one can. Having someone see you and be interested in you most of the time is good enough. And if that didn’t happen, we can still heal and grow.
Remember…this isn’t just about how others treat you, but also how you treat yourself. Super Important. Read what I shared above, and see how you can improve seeing yourself, being interested in yourself and caring for yourself more completely.
How does a distorted sense of self develop?
If you need a refresher, check out last week’s blog post to learn about the different mirrors that reflect back to us who we are. Besides these mirrors, we come to form an opinion about who we are based on how effective our needs were met, boundaries were established, and whether or not abuse occurred to you growing up.
When basic needs are not met you may feel that no one sees the real you, that you aren’t important or feel loved, and that your needs are bad. The conclusions you make contribute to a distorted sense of self.
If boundaries growing up in your home were too weak, you may feel confused about what is ok and what isn’t. You may struggle delaying gratification, and feel like you’ve had to figure out things for yourself, with lots of bumps along the way.
If boundaries growing up in your home were too strong, you may feel it’s not ok to be who you are. You may not have been able to make age-appropriate choices when others made decisions for you. This may distort your sense of self, resulting in a lack of confidence in yourself and lack of experience making choices and dealing with consequences.
Abuse – physical, emotional, sexual and/or spiritual
If part of your growing up included abuse, you may not know your own thoughts, feelings and desires. Who you are is not seen, instead you may feel like an object. You may conclude there is something wrong with you, rather than the truth that something very wrong was done to you.
All these experience are part of how your sense of self develops. I know this may have been hard to read, but it is important you understand all this. You may feel sadness, anger and regret about the experiences you had, and didn’t have that has made it hard for a healthy sense of self to develop.
I also hope this blog post bring you understanding and compassion for yourself.
How about telling yourself,
“No wonder I’ve struggled for so long to feel good about myself in a certain area or in general. I realize now I have really valid reasons why I’ve struggled in these ways. I think I’ll be kind to myself as I metabolize all this information.”
This information may also help you understand why you may have struggled with co-dependency.
When our sense of self is negatively distorted, we may do things or be connected to people who aren’t good for us, because we so deeply need to be seen and accepted. It is common to focus on meeting the needs of others in an attempt to feel loved and accepted. When we don’t have a solid sense of ourselves as having worth and value, we need to keep establishing our worth by pleasing others, or proving we are important.
How about telling yourself,
“I am starting to understand why I have trouble feeling like a worthwhile person on the inside. I’ve beat myself up for years for not knowing who I am, and for getting myself in situations that aren’t good for me. It’s such a relief to realize that I have good reasons why I’ve struggled. There is hope, and it feels good to know I’m not on my own to figure this out.”
Next week I’ll be sharing some practical applications to help you establish a healthier sense of self, and a positive, loving relationship yourself and others.
What are your thoughts and feeling reactions to this blog post?
I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below and/or share this post on social media or e-mail so others can benefit.
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