Why Do We Tear Ourselves Down?

vanity2You know what I detest? Having my picture taken. There, I said it.

But it’s really only partially true. Because if the photo of me is flattering, I am all about it.

Egomaniacal control freak? Narcissist? Diva?

Oh Lord, I hope not. Of course there’s some ego involved. It’s nice to look good, to see some prettified version of ourselves staring back at us. The truth is I like what I see when I look in the mirror, but struggle with my image in photos. It’s embarrassing to admit and the truth is I decided to write about it to help me understand.

Why can’t we get past the external sometimes? Why can’t we see our own beauty? Not in that gross narcissistic way, but in a way where we feel we deserve … I don’t know … whatever. A great job, relationship, situation, life.

I was at a social gathering recently and I expressed shock to a woman I was conversing with when she said she was in her 60s. I never would have guessed. Her response to my compliment was to lightly touch her hands to her face and say, “I need a face lift. I really do.”

At the same affair, while standing in a buffet line behind a woman carrying a terrific Tory Burch bag, I told her I loved the details in the handle. She smiled, was gracious, and then said, “It’s the only decent bag I own.”

Why do we tear ourselves down? Or is there something, a kernel, in there that is heartening because it’s our truth? Is that our connector – self-deprecation? I know I’ve done this a zillion times.

Imagine for a moment you’re the one giving the compliment and this is what you hear – negativity. Here you are, setting out to say something that should make a person have a feel-good moment, and you want to eat your words instead. Now put yourself back in the position of receiver. Might that momentary reversal help you begin to be more conscious of receiving better, more graciously?

I say yes. Do it.

In the last week I’ve had a few compliments sent my way. I’m going back over them in my mind now, wondering if I was gracious. One scenario was me talking to a guy at the gym about our respective workouts and telling him I was working on upper body that day in the weight room. “And a fine upper body it is,” he said with a smirk.

OK, I admit it. This lit me right up. I smiled and thanked him. But yeah, there was also that little nagging voice going, “Are you really going to get all soft over external validation?”

Ugh. Talk about over thinking and putting myself in a no-win situation. Why do we do this? My God, it’s maddening.

A few days later I am in a café I frequent and the manager looks at me, does a double take and says, “Nance, wow, you’ve lost weight.” I didn’t even give myself a chance to get out the freakin’ mental calculator to determine if it was true. I smiled at her and said, “Thank you. I guess that’s what comes from spending the summer not eating delicious salty things.” We had a laugh, as she was aware of my hypertension-imposed dietary adjustments because I’d already (somewhat petulantly) scrutinized their entire menu for sodium content.

The point is we both left the exchange laughing and feeling good.

Those of us who live awake and aware and enjoy life through a spiritual lens like to talk about coming from a place of love in all things. This really needs to be directed to self more frequently. Actually, it’s a two-way street — the love should come from within us and radiate out.

I want to flip a switch and make this so. I really do.

I am not a parent, but my two cents is that the greatest gift you can give your children is self-esteem. That leads to a feeling of deserving. Not entitlement, but deserving. They believe they deserve to do what they love, be loved by a wonderful partner, and have enduring and enriching friendships. They appreciate a compliment, whether on the giving or receiving end.

At least that’s how my fantasy goes.

So maybe that’s making a case for mindful re-parenting in our adulthood. Our parents have done their best, but in some cases we’re the products of generations of insecure, emotionally crippled people. A magic wand won’t wipe it all out. But mindfulness around it can go a long way.

I am doing my best to be mindful, then, that it’s OK to perk up from some external validation but it shouldn’t dictate how I feel about myself on a regular basis.

And I’m going to try really hard to despise it less when someone takes my picture. In the grand scheme of things, really? I have softened my heart and expanded my soul exponentially the last decade or so. And I’m expending energy dwelling on new lines on my face or an unflattering hair day?

You know what’s beautiful? Acceptance.

Might this be my new mantra? Say cheese and get on with living.

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