“The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.”
–Bob, in Lost in Translation
Having a Strong Sense of Self
It’s hard to have a strong sense of self when you have a nagging inner voice saying you aren’t good enough. Many of the people I work with in therapy are upset because no matter how hard they try, they still feel like nothing they do is good enough. As a former people-pleaser, I can relate to the experience of always trying to be good enough for other people so I could finally feel good enough for myself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way—especially when you have a lot of demanding family members who never seem satisfied.
If you keep looking for other people to give you worth, relying on their opinions to give you a sense of your value, you’ll never feel like enough. On the contrary, you’ll end up feeling worthless and resentful. That’s because other people can’t make you feel like enough; that’s an inside job. You can’t get from other people the unconditional love and acceptance you needed but probably never got growing up.
The experience of wanting approval from others and never feeling like enough usually stems from a deep desire to receive what you never got from your parents or primary caretakers. It can end up in a lifetime of disappointment.
The feeling of consistently lacking approval and acceptance shows up in different ways. Some people need others to take responsibility for them; other people take on the responsibilities of others. Both things tend to happen to people who don’t have the confidence to solve their own issues or only feel good about themselves when they’re taking care of others. These actions can be seen as either total selfishness or full-on selflessness. The people who fall into both categories lack a sense of self. They look outward to fill an internal void.
If you identify with either of the scenarios I just described, you’ll never feel like enough. That’s because anyone who’s looking for you to be responsible for them is likely leaning on others to give them what they should be giving themselves. They’re probably in the same position you are, so the cycle will never end.
That’s why I’m offering another way to be—an alternative to the endless cycle of giving or taking with no fulfillment. And that is to be self-full. It means having sense of self while being neither selfish nor selfless. To have a strong sense of self, fully knowing who you are and what you want, is invaluable. Once you have that down, you’ll be enough for yourself. And, in time, being enough for others will no longer matter to you.
So how do you get there?
Mindset – Our mindset contains our ideas and views about life, which come from our previous experiences and perceptions of the world. How we look at the world influences our experience in it. Our perception becomes our reality. So the most instrumental ingredient in creating a life worth living is a self-full mindset. The more we perceive it, the more real it becomes. Therefore, the first step in feeling like you are enough is changing your mindset and your old beliefs about yourself that derive from past experiences. The rest is a process of changing the idea that you need to work harder for approval and using that energy to just be enough for yourself.
Self-Reliance – You are not born with self-reliance, you gain it through trials and errors while you go through life making your own decisions. I started to develop confidence when I decided to think for myself and move forward with my decisions. People who act with self-reliance feel more in control of their environment. Feeling this way is an important part of gaining a sense of wellbeing. When what you do is in line with what you believe, your self-esteem and happiness grow. Even though it often means taking more risks, it tends to be a far less fear-inducing and anxiety-provoking way of life. That’s because being self-reliant means doing things for yourself. The more you do for yourself, the better you feel; the better you feel, the more confident you’ll become.
Letting Go – Some people have trouble letting go of their pain, their past, and their emotions. Without realizing it, they think these things are integral to their identity. In some ways, they may not know who they are without their pain. And, of course, it’s nearly impossible to let go of something that you think is part of who you are. Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” There’s a lesson in that for all of us. Try to let go of whatever it is that’s holding you back. You’ll probably realize that you are not what other people say you are. You are not your pain, your past, or your emotions. It’s usually negative ideas about ourselves and hurtful self-talk that get in the way of who we really want to be.
Being Yourself . . . Even If You’re Not Perfect – Being self-full starts with recognizing who we are, what we’ve got to work with, and what works best for us. Sooner or later, we are bound to discover some things about ourselves that we don’t like. But once we identify those things, we can decide what we want to do with them. Do we want to get rid of them completely, change them into other things, or use them in beneficial ways? The last two approaches are often especially useful, since they don’t involve a struggle. Rather than work against ourselves, all we need to do in many cases is point our weaknesses or unpleasant tendencies in a different direction. Turning our challenges into strengths is far more useful than trying to get rid of the challenges altogether. Besides, the characteristics we try to eliminate often end up coming back anyway.
Make Your Own Decisions – You need to start making your own decisions. It’s not necessary to share every problem you encounter with everyone in your life. People do this to get advice, be told what they need to do, and pass their anxiety on to others. As you become more self-full, you’ll start knowing the next step to take in your life, and you’ll recognize that nobody else has the answers. In self-full living, it’s important to think logically about situations instead of emotionally.
Knowing How To Say No – Start getting comfortable with saying no. This comes when you respect yourself and know you’re vulnerable. You must logically look at what someone is asking you, make your own decision about it, and say no if it doesn’t work for you. When you value your time and decisions, other people have no choice but to respect your boundaries. They won’t see you as valuable if you don’t value your own time.
Without a self you are probably looking to your environment to figure out who you are and what it wants you to do next. Here I offered you a new way of thinking to guide you in a different direction of being able to feel like you are enough. Feeling like you are enough requires a strong sense of self, which gives you the ability to govern your need for approval from others.
Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier