Chapter One: Realize Who You Are
"No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he has arrived at his present place."
- Maya Angelou, Poet, Educator, Historian
Why is having confidence in ourselves and our abilities so hard? Why do many of us have the tendency to overestimate other people's abilities and power and underestimate our own? Why are we so concerned with what other people will think about us?
If we are to understand these things, first we need to understand why we think, feel, and act the way we do. We need to understand why and how we have become who we are, as well as why we react or respond in certain ways. When we understand ourselves, we can either accept the way we are or make changes so we will be able to accept ourselves.
What we believe and accept about ourselves determines our behavior and performance. These, in turn, create our results and our results affect our confidence levels.
We behave in accordance with our beliefs about ourselves. If we have self-limiting beliefs, we will have self-limiting behaviors. If we have selfempowering beliefs, we will have self-empowering behaviors. In other words, if we think we can, we can and if we think we can't, we can't. If we think we can, we will find a way. We perform as well as we believe we are capable of performing.
Most of our beliefs about ourselves have come from outside sources: people, education, and experiences. Many of us have allowed the opinions of others to become our opinions of ourselves. We've listened to people tell us we are incompetent, inadequate, unworthy, bad, or stupid. We've internalized, processed, and often believed what others have told us.
There is a direct correlation between the quality of our relationships and our levels of self-esteem and self-confidence. If we are like most people, how we feel about ourselves, good or bad, is largely dependent upon the degree of acceptance we have felt from the influential people in our lives.
In the beginning, we learned our beliefs and values from our parents. If our parents' self-esteem levels were low or they had poor self-concepts, values, and beliefs, then that's what we learned. If they felt inferior, inadequate, or unworthy, we probably adopted those qualities. When we are children, we go through an "imprint period" where we formulate our behavior patterns based on what is impressed upon our thought patterns by the adults who are instrumental in our development.
If we were told "you are a bad girl," it really meant our behavior was unacceptable, but most of us didn't hear it that way. We internalized it to mean that we were unacceptable. Most parents don't realize how important it is to separate the act from the individual. Instead of saying, "You're usually so graceful; I'm surprised you tripped and fell. Are you okay?" they will say, "You're so clumsy!" They don't understand the deep, negative impact this has on a child.
If we were compared negatively to other children, especially children outside of our immediate family, we might have believed those children had more abilities and were more popular than we were. That is when feelings of inferiority start to set in. If we didn't receive appreciation or recognition for our achievements then, we may believe others are smarter, stronger, or better than we are now.
If my grandmother told me once, she told me a hundred times that my cousin, Bobbie, was smarter, cuter, and more popular than I was. After the first ten times, she really didn't have to tell me anymore. I already believed it! So if Bobbie took dance classes, I didn't want to take dance classes, because I knew before I started I would never be as good as she was. If Bobbie tried out for a part in the school play, I wouldn't try out, because I could never be as good as Bobbie. If Bobbie ran for student council, I certainly wouldn't be able to achieve what she achieved, so why bother? There was no point in being homecoming queen, because Bobbie had already worn that crown.
If we had parents who tried to realize their unfulfilled dreams through us and our accomplishments, they may have pushed us beyond our abilities or our desires in particular areas, making us feel "less than" we could have been or should have been. Or maybe they even instilled such a drive in us to be what they wanted us to be, that we didn't learn how to be assertive and stand up for what we wanted.
My friend, Sue, didn't want to play softball, but her father was the girls' softball coach and a jock to boot, so he insisted Sue become a pitcher and a home-run hitter. He pushed and pushed until she was in tears after every game and she quit before the end of the season! When she was in Girl Scouts and they went on a hike, Sue somehow wandered away from the others and became lost. Once found, her father said to her, "Don't tell anyone you couldn't find your way out of the woods." When they would go fishing, he would say to her before they ever got to the dock, "I know you are going to be sick, so just deal with it!" Today Sue works at a job she doesn't really enjoy, because she still hopes to win her father's approval and when she faces challenges in life, she sometimes cries, has a tendency to get sick, often quits things before learning to do them well and most of all, tries to "just deal with it." In other instances, she takes on risky assignments in an attempt to get her father to see how brave and strong she has become! Occasionally, I hear her reference how well she has done for a girl who can't find her way out of the woods. Is it as obvious to you as it is to me where these coping mechanisms were learned? Isn't it sad that her father's early harsh criticisms have stayed with her all of her life?
If our parents or peers were obsessed with physical appearance, they may have pushed us into a life that devalued us. Jeanette was a beautiful teenager. Her parents pushed her into every beauty contest they could find. They were determined, because she was so beautiful, she should have only the best of everything. They moved to the most exclusive neighborhood in the city, so she could go to the right school with a "higher class" of students. They joined the country club at great expense, so she could mingle with the "right" people; then they worked around the clock to pay for it. When she had the opportunity to meet young men, her mother would say, "Stand up and meet the boy." So Jeanette would stand up, stick out her breasts, suck in her stomach and put on her most seductive smile, so the boy could look her over and see what a good catch she would be. She married the man they chose for her who didn't appreciate her "standing up" to meet all his friends and business associates. She lived a miserable life and finally got divorced. Then she found herself back in the limelight standing up for the "right" men to meet her again. Unfortunately, as she grew older, her looks faded and she was no longer the beauty she had been. Because she relied completely on her beauty, she never developed any of the other interests, virtues, or qualities one might seek in a mate. She died bitter and alone - surrounded by her beauty pageant trophies.
Children of parents who are obsessed with physical appearance usually develop a major case of low self-esteem. In addition, the media puts so much emphasis on beauty and being thin that many girls, and even supposedly intelligent grown women, develop eating disorders and poor health in an effort to keep up their appearances.
If our parents placed a very high value on possessions and having money in the bank, whether they had it or not, the emphasis on materialism we learned could lead us to a life of overachievement and striving for wealth and material goods. We may even marry someone for his possessions, wealth, or stature.
Mary's occupation is marrying wealthy men. I say "men," because she has married four men of considerable means and found out after each wedding ceremony that she didn't even like them. Eventually each "wonderful" marriage ended up in a bitter, nasty divorce. How many of these do you think she'll go through before she realizes what she is doing? My father used to say, "If you marry someone, be sure you like the person and you can love him even if he loses everything he has, because that's the person you'll be stuck with." Times have changed since my father's day, and in today's world where two out of three marriages end in divorce, you no longer need to stay stuck in a bad relationship. You can get a divorce without the stigma it carried in my father's time, but why would you want to put yourself through all that turmoil and emotional drama? It's certainly hard on one's self-esteem. We shouldn't use up even one moment of our lives dealing with negative emotional feelings that we can avoid by making better choices in the first place.
If parents are unable to cope with tragedy, their child may feel as if whatever happened was her fault. A young woman of a family I was counseling revealed to me she had been raped several years before, but had not had any previous therapy. Upon inquiry, her father said, "Well, it was her own fault. She runs around with the wrong people and was in the wrong place at the wrong time." Rape is not the victim's fault! It is a crime of violence and it is a horrible experience. The victim must get counseling. She must be helped to understand that she is a person with great personal worth and given as much support as possible to help regain her self-esteem and self-confidence.
Parents very often cripple their children emotionally and cause their children to feel inadequate, not because they mean to, but because they are overly permissive or overly possessive. In many cases, these children never learn self-discipline, self-reliance or responsibility. These are the very characteristics that help us achieve. Achievement builds self-esteem.
When I was modeling, there was another model I worked with whose daughter was an absolute terror. Whenever this model would bring her daughter into the agency or backstage at a fashion show, the child would create havoc. The kid was into everything. She ran through the building screaming and would often hang on the racks which were full of clothing for the shows. Occasionally, this child would even pull designer gowns off the rack and onto the floor. Her mother would tell her to stop, sit down and behave, but of course, she never did and it was never reinforced. As a teenager, her mother let her run wild. She went where she wanted with whomever she wanted. She had no curfew and was seldom disciplined. She became pregnant, quit school, and moved in with her boyfriend. A year later she was arrested, along with the boyfriend, for drug dealing and sentenced to two years in prison. Her mother accepted no responsibility. She told everyone she could never do anything with the girl, because her daughter had inherited her father's genes.
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