Women, especially, often have a tough time with this. The psychology of why is complicated, but goes back to a girl’s need to be “chosen” while growing up. And to understand and let go of that can be a bear.
I’m tweaked by Martin Seligman’s studies that showed girls are actually more optimist than boys—until puberty. But let hormones hit, and everything changes. The social pressures on female adolescents are of course enormous. Looks and social stature become primary, and girls are flooded with “model” figures and faces to aspire to.
And nobody quite looks like Barbie.
So girls try and “fit in.” They starve themselves to be thinner (anorexia affects females at a far greater percentage than males—only about 10% of people with anorexia and bulimia are male). They take on different personas to be popular. They do a litany of things to become the prettiest, the most liked.
And what happens quite often is that girls become female imposters.
That magical girl they were in childhood goes AWOL, and it can take a lifetime to find her again.
And if that authentic self doesn’t get found, a lifetime of neurosis spreads yawning and deep before you.
So what’s a girl to do?
The real self—the authentic self—still resides within. Our job is to dig away all the societal and familial dirt, to unearth her so that once again she can see her true song.
3 Key Elements comprise doing so.
You know, it’s tough to have self-respect if you’re living a lie. Funny thing about that. And when you’re not being you, with all your faults and foibles, that lie becomes pervasive. Sometimes it’s difficult to know who you truly are, as all those “should” and “musts” and “got-tos” rule your world.
So first and foremost, ferret through those.
What do you really believe? Not what you were “raised” to believe, but what is in your own heart and soul?
What do you aspire to? Not what someone put in your head you should “be,” but what do you want to do with this one beautiful life?
What are you good at? Where are your strengths? List those. List them, own them.
You are uniquely you. And the world is a much better place when you give of your gifts to it.
As mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” That’s what this life is about.
Once you get clear on your hopes and dreams, your strengths and virtues, your fears and Achilles’ Heel, accept you for you.
Easier said than done. Sometimes accepting either the positive or the negative is tough. Males tend not to have the problem with positives. They own those quite readily. But I can’t begin to count the number of females I’ve encountered who have the toughest time saying, “Thank you,” when praised for a talent, strength, accomplishment.
We were taught to be modest, no? At least our age bracket was! Growing up, any compliment was to be met with a demurred response of some sort, or even outright denial. Many, many, many of us have had to learn to own our strengths.
I’ll never forget when I first realized this. When someone paid me a compliment, I immediately looked down and said something to the effect of, “You’re too sweet.” It took many teachers to convince me that response would send me sprawling! But once I saw it for what it truly was, I vowed to own my strengths. A long process, and those old tapes still play, but I’m getting better at it every day 🙂
Once you realize that you—yes, even you!—have strengths and talents, once you accept those, once you start acting upon them, you blossom. The strengths become mightier, the faults wane if never completely go away. As you learn to deal with the real you, accept yourself as you are while pursuing what you want to be, confidence grows by bounds and leaps.
It becomes a cycle of the best kind—as confidence grows, you achieve more, you are more, you can do more. Which makes you more confident.
There is nothing quite like living an authentic life. Dancing to your own drummer. Shooting for that far-off star. Takes confidence to do that. And you gain it by acting on your strengths, focusing on those, while working on your weaknesses.
None of us on our death beds want to realize the tragedy that befell Ivan Ilych in Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, when he uttered, “What if my whole life has really been wrong?”
There is only one of you on this planet. What a shame it would be not to have the very best you to add your talents and gifts to this world.
Accept yourself. And go bloom!
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.