Be Kind to the Person in the Mirror

If you met yourself as a child, what would you say?

Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 from Pexels

As a toddler, I was extremely friendly and exuberant. I was goofy and entertained anyone that crossed my path, willingly or not. But growing up, I started becoming shy and reserved. Nothing wrong with it — as I later found out, I was a budding introvert.

Other children, however, never seemed too into it. I would be mocked for preferring to spend my breaks alone with a book and for being too quiet. I was smart enough to just coast through school, and that made it worse for me.

In my school, it was never the “dumb” kids — and I put that in quotes because I don’t really believe there is such a thing, but you know what I mean — that got laughed at and bullied. No, where I was, it was the bright kids that experienced the most harassment, and it just so happened that I was one of them.

I was bullied relentlessly for years since starting primary school. Puberty hitting me in an unfortunate way — I only started recovering after hitting age 20 — did not help.

Is it surprising, then, when I say that I have self-deprecated for as long as I remember? And not in a humorous way — that’s what I do nowadays — but in the sad, heartbreaking way, the way you would never want to hear your children talk about themselves.

I looked at myself in the mirror and told myself how ugly and worthless I was. There was no need to express it out loud — the voice I heard in my head sufficed to create lasting damage. Each day I watered the seed of self-hate a little more until I couldn’t remember ever feeling good about myself.

I realize that with the advent of social media, we don’t even need to be explicitly bullied by peers who are trying to put us into our place. Considering the endless stream of people who are smarter, prettier, richer, and simply more successful, I think most of us would be hard-pressed to find someone who never has thought of themselves in unfavorable terms.

But regardless of whether the starting point of our insecurities is direct, like bullying, or indirect, like external influences at large — it’s important to remember that many of the put-downs that we constantly experience have nothing to do with us personally.

If we are made fun of and ostracized, it’s because someone wants to assert power over us and over others, and hasn’t found a better way to prove their worth. And that’s it. Even if someone callously reminds us of how ugly or dumb we are — they don’t go home and obsessively think about that, about how worthless we are and how much they detest us. They don’t actually care.

Their judgment stems from their own insecurities and their desire to reestablish a social order where their identity is not threatened.

No matter what any ill-meaning person tells us — the take-home message should never be that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. Deep down, everyone already knows this. And yet, the negativity more often than not ends up coming home with us and creeping into our brains like a tumor.

The ironic thing in all of this is that it’s so easy to notice this happening in our nearest and dearest, but almost impossible to objectively notice in ourselves.

If my friends start talking smack about themselves, whatever they end up saying sounds ridiculous to me. They talk about physical faults that they supposedly have and that I didn’t even know existed. They berate themselves for not being cool, clever, funny enough to get a date.

I can with absolute certainty tell them that what they’re saying about themselves is nonsense — none of that shit is true — so why would the same stuff be true when I tell it to myself?

Fast-forwarding to my life today, I’m doing pretty amazing. On top of that, I have partly reverted to my past exuberant personality. No, I didn’t change who I am just to fit in. I believe my newfound joie de vivre is simply a reflection of the painstaking work that I did to unlearn all these horrible things that I’d been hearing from myself every single day for years.

I wish I could tell you there’s a shortcut to get here. There isn’t, but trust me when I say that a little work every day goes a long, long way. You just have to put in the effort, day in and day out. You need to accept that you have worth and that it’s possible to eventually convince yourself. Treat self-worth like your own little project.

Doesn’t matter how you do it — you could check yourself out in the mirror. Smile as wide as you can. Pat yourself on the back for whatever victory, big or small, that you have experienced. Self-soothe and be kind to yourself if your plans aren’t panning out as hoped right now.

And most importantly — you can always take comfort in the fact that you are doing what you can, with the tools you’re given, in the situation you’re in. That’s the best anyone can ask of you.

So please — next time you look at yourself in the mirror, make a note of any negativity you feel towards yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s your looks you are berating, or your personality, or whatever else. Just look into your own two eyes.

If the you that you see in the mirror were you as a child, would you tell them what you think about yourself? Would you make that child cry? I wouldn’t. And neither should you. Recognize your worth, your merits, and the beauty you radiate by simply existing. The most important opinion about you is your own — make good use of that power.

Writer of sorts.

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