A petite, light-skinned Jamaican woman sits with her husband in a crowded beachside ice cream shop in Miami. Although she doesn’t speak loudly or occupy much space in the room, people notice her.
Her hair is long, flowing and black like a windy night. Her lips are soft and red like rose petals. Her curves are subtle, yet they dip and bend in all the right places. Her skin is smooth, brown, maple cream. And her clothes are modest, accentuating everything, while exposing nothing at all.
She knows why they’re looking at her. “It’s because I’m not white,” she says. “It’s because we’re an interracial couple and they don’t understand why you’re with me.”
Her husband groans and closes his eyes. There’s nothing he can say. They’ve already had this conversation a hundred times before. He threads his fingers through his hair in frustration and watches as his chocolate ice cream begins to melt.
Three tables over, two Latino college kids eat their ice cream cones and check out “the scene.” As usual, they’re not impressed. The women around here are too old, too young, too overweight, or…, “Wow, look at her,” the pimple-faced one says as he nods his head towards the Jamaican woman.
The prematurely balding one turns around to look. “Oh yeah, she must be a model,” he replies. “She’s way out of our league, bud…”
“I don’t think I should have to explain why this is so painful for me,” the Jamaican woman continues. “The media portrays white, blonde females as the essence of beauty and perfection. My color is simply a genetic defect.”
A chubby Asian girl, about 12-years-old, naively stares at the Jamaican woman while sipping a root beer float. Small tears stream down her face. “Daddy, why can’t I be as pretty as her?” she asks her father.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re physically faithful to me,” the Jamaican woman says to her husband. “Because with all these influences surrounding you, you’re probably internalizing your deep desires for a genetically endowed female companion. And it kills me! Don’t you understand?”
“Please honey… Are you ready to go home?” her husband replies softly. She hasn’t taken a single bite of her brownie sundae and all of the ice cream has already melted. She sighs and stands up, weakly.
Three well-dressed white women in their early 30’s talk cheerfully and sip diet cokes at a table near the door. They were all childhood friends at a local orphanage. When they were eventually placed in different foster homes, they lost contact with each other. This special reunion is their first time together in almost twenty years.
“Did you see those three women by the door?” the Jamaican woman asks her husband as they walk to their car. “Wealthy white women like that don’t even appreciate how easy their life has been.”
Widespread Feelings of Inadequacy
It might seem a bit ironic, or perhaps even downright bold, that a white man would write a story about a beautiful Jamaican woman who is heartbroken and tormented inside by her self-image. But it’s really not that ironic or bold at all. That Jamaican woman is a dear friend of mine, and she asked me to share a piece of her story with you today. Last night she called me in tears and opened up about how she desperately struggles with her inner demons.
She told me she was unfairly judged and disrespected in the distant past, and that she’s now allowing those past experiences to haunt her daily. “I’ve lost my inner compass,” she said. “I hold on tightly to the shallow opinions of timeworn characters in my past that don’t deserve any piece of me. And I’ve let their judgments become my own. More often than not, I am the one judging myself these days. This is how I think. This is how I live—in a constant mental state of inadequacy. I am now my own worst enemy! And it’s driving me, and my husband, crazy!” And then, over the course of nearly two hours, through intermittent moments of silence and sobbing, she described that heartbreaking scene in the ice cream shop.
Now, there are admittedly many ways to dissect my friend’s story, but I want you to think for a moment about how her feelings of inadequacy relate to you and your life.
Truth be told, all of us, to a greater or lesser extent, suffer in precisely the way my friend does. There isn’t a person among us who doesn’t have insecurities—some of us are just better at coping with them, or perhaps hiding them.
We worry about what other people think of us. We worry about our appearance. We worry if she’ll like us. We worry if he likes that other woman. We worry that we’re not accomplishing all that we should be. We worry that we’ll fall flat on our faces. We worry that we’re not enough just the way we are. And of course, we worry about all those foolish, thoughtless things someone once said about us.
And social media—with its culture of getting us to seek constant approval with virtual likes and hearts—with its endless highlight reel of perfect bodies and epic travels—it only intensifies the problem.
Think about it. How often has a lack of self-confidence, or a feeling of inadequacy, stopped you or someone you love?
I would guess that, for many of us, feelings of inadequacy have stopped us from:
- Stepping into new social situations where we might make new friends, new professional connections, or perhaps even meet the love of our lives
- Being confident when we’re communicating with people
- Changing jobs, starting a business, writing a book, practicing our art, or putting our good ideas out into the world
- Sticking to healthy daily rituals, like eating well and exercising, because we failed in the past (proof that it can’t be done, right?)
- Learning something new and amazing, like a new hobby or skill, because there’s a learning curve and we might humiliate ourselves
I’ve experienced all of that and then some. In fact, at an early age, when I was just a freshman in high school and struggling to find my way, someone anonymously slipped a note into my locker one afternoon. It said, “Don’t let them get inside your head. You’re not boring, nerdy or weird. You’re complex, creative and far too sharp for their small words. And for the record, you are also infinitely more attractive than you give yourself credit for.” Although I never discovered who wrote the note, I still have it sitting in my desk drawer to this day, and I read it sometimes when I need a reminder.
Last night I did my best to covey a similar reminder to my friend. But she wanted to know more…
“How do I actually overcome my insecurities?” she asked. “How do I finally become OK with myself again?”
The answer I gave was somewhat simple, but far from easy…
Practice Thinking Better About Yourself
It’s perhaps the hardest thing we all need to do for ourselves.
We need to NOT be our own worst enemies when it comes to self-image.
But that takes practice. Lots of it…
When it comes to feeling better about ourselves, and our place in the world, the biggest and most complex obstacle we have to overcome is our mind. If we can overcome that, we can overcome almost anything life throws at us.
The key is in accepting the fact that while we can’t control exactly what happens in life, we CAN control how we respond to it all. And in our response is our power to grow and move forward.
One of our first Getting Back to Happy students, who graduated with a PhD last year from one of the most prestigious universities in our country, is now an executive for one of the world’s fastest growing tech companies. Throughout grade school and high school she desperately wrestled with a form of dyslexia that made reading and writing a monumental challenge. She spent kindergarten through 12th grade in language-based ESE classes. And during a parent-teacher conference when she was in 9th grade, one of her ESE teachers informed her parents that it was extremely unlikely she would ever receive a high school diploma.
So how did she do it? How did she push herself to rise up and overcome the odds? “A mindset shift,” she confirmed with me when I interviewed her recently for a side project Angel and I are working on. “The mindset tools you and Angel set me up with, and held me accountable to, changed everything! I literally learned to tell myself that the naysayers were wrong about me. And I learned to stop naysaying myself too. I changed my mental story—my mental movie—and I started telling myself exactly what I needed to hear, every single day, to move my life forward.”
Ready to move your life forward too?
While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way of changing your “mental movie”—because, to an extent, we all have unique stories and past experiences—there are some foundational steps Angel and I often guide our course students and coaching clients through:
- Bring awareness to the story you’re telling yourself, about yourself. — You have a story about yourself (or perhaps a series of them) that you recite to yourself daily. This is your mental movie, and it’s a feature film that plays on repeat in your mind. Your movie is about who you are: you have a chubby tummy, your skin is too dark, you aren’t smart, you aren’t lovable… you aren’t good enough. Start to pay attention when your movie plays—when you feel anxiety about being who you are—because it affects everything you do. Realize that this movie isn’t real, it isn’t true, and it isn’t you. It’s just a train of thought that can be stopped—a script that can be rewritten.
- Rewrite the script (edit the storyline of your mental movie). — Your new script will replace that played-out one that keeps running in your cerebral theater. And this time you will consciously craft it. Start with the fact that you are a good person who is learning and working on getting better. Then ask people who love you to tell you why you’re lovable. And ask people who respect you to tell you why they do. Use their stories as scenes in your new movie script. Then fill in the blanks with recent moments and outcomes in your life that you are grateful for. Try to focus on the things you don’t celebrate enough, and the things you don’t give yourself enough credit for.
- Practice your new lines. — Learn to recognize the worn-out flicker of your old movie starting up, and then stop it. Seriously! Whenever you catch yourself reciting lines from your old script (“My arms are flabby…”), flip the script and replace those lines with lines from your new movie script. This takes lots of practice, but it’s worth it. Just keep practicing, and forgiving yourself for making mistakes along the way.
- Deflect external negativity by taking it less personally. — Various kinds of external negativity will attempt to distract you from your new script—comments from family, social media posts… lots of things people say and do. When you sense negativity coming at you, learn to deflect it. Give it a small push back with a thought like, “That remark is not really about me, it’s about you.” Remember that all people have emotional issues they’re dealing with (just like you), and it makes them defiant, rude, and thoughtless sometimes. They are doing the best they can, or they’re not even aware of their issues. In any case, you can learn not to interpret their behaviors as personal attacks, and instead see them as non-personal encounters (like a dog barking in the distance, or a bumblebee buzzing by) that you can either respond to gracefully, or not respond to at all.
And if you need a little extra assistance with re-scripting your mental movie in the heat of the moment, you can use the simple phrase “The story I’m telling myself…” as a prefix to any self-deprecating thought. Here’s how it works…
Perhaps someone you just met didn’t call you when they said they would, and now you’re thinking, “They forgot about me because I’m not good enough for them.” When you catch yourself feeling this way, use the phrase:
“The story I’m telling myself is that they didn’t call me simply because I’m not good enough for them.”
Then ask yourself:
- Can I be ABSOLUTELY certain this story is true?
- How do I feel and behave when I tell myself this story?
- What’s one other (more positive) possibility that might also be true?
Give yourself the space to think it through carefully. Mull it over, mindfully.
On the average day, I bet your answer to question #1 is “no,” and your answer to question #2 is “not very good.” And I hope question #3 gives you the perspective you need to write a better script.
Closing Thoughts… On Creating Your Reality
In closing, let me lighten the mood and leave you with this…
A puppy thinks: “Hey, these people I live with feed me, love me, provide me with a warm, dry home, pet me and take good care of me…
… THEY MUST BE GODS!”
A kitten thinks: “Hey, these people I live with feed me, love me, provide me with a warm, dry home, pet me and take good care of me…
… I MUST BE A GOD!”
Same situation, different thinking.
To a great extent, we make our life stories by our thoughts.
The reality we ultimately live is a process of our daily thinking.
And when we think better about ourselves, we live better in spite of ourselves.
We would love to hear from YOU.
What’s a story (or mental movie) you often recite to yourself that hurts you more than it helps?
Any other thoughts or stories to share?
Please leave a reply below.
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