Author: Ann Schiebert
So many of my patients come to me reporting that they don’t know who they are. By that they usually mean, they don’t know what they like, they feel like they are never good enough, they have no idea what their value or talents are and /or they think they can’t do anything right. They ask, “Who am I?”
To get to some of the bottom of who we are, I’m going to share with you an exercise I devised that has actually assisted many of my patients in recognizing and becoming their authentic selves. To illustrate, I am going to provide you with examples as we go along.
First, I want you to picture yourself as a baby. There you are, innocent, sometimes hungry, sometimes in need of a diaper change, and much of the time wanting nurturing and approval. Yes, we are all born with a genetic load, but for the most part, infants have the same needs and they are a sponge for learning.
Sit there with that image of you as a baby for a moment. Picture yourself as a white board that is clean and new and unwritten on. You have an abundance of talents that are waiting to blossom. That’s YOU.
The moment you open your eyes, learning begins. Outside of your biological survival needs and your innate talents, almost everything from birth on is learned. What you learn over your formative years may or may not validate or match what you need in order to grow into your authentic self.
Example: A five-year-old boy may gravitate toward painting and drawing, but his avid sports fan father tells him that painting is for girls and sports is for guys. “It’s what guys do.” (Deprecation of that five-year-old boy’s authentic self.) Then comes what I call “denigration confusion.” The child might tell himself (more in feelings than words), “Gee, I love painting but there is something wrong with me liking art. I better learn to love sports. My dad will like me if I like sports. I have to earn my dad’s love. Who I am as a person isn’t OK.” There begins the confusion between who the authentic self is and who that boy surmises he “should” be according to his dad.
If approval from others is our palette, we lose ourselves and we do so at an early age so that someone else’s “truth” becomes a part of our belief system even though it does not resonate with us at some deep level.
Second, write down the first negative thing that you chronically say to yourself. Negative self-talk is often based on the cruelest things that people have said to us.
Example: Whenever the little boy above was drawing or wanting to go to an art class at his community center, his father would invite him to do something else that usually involved sports. The little boy’s father often told him that “art is for sissies.” The little boy, let’s call him Peter, began to tell himself he was a sissy because he liked art. Soon, Peter began to lose his interest in art. He began to pretend he liked sports. As he grew, he began to tell himself he was a sissy and he had to do everything he could to hide this “fact” from others. In doing this exercise he wrote, “I am a sissy.”
Third, next to your negative self-talk sentence, write down the name of the person who told you the disparaging remark. In our example above, “my dad” was written next to the “I am a sissy” sentence.
Fourth, repeatedly read the negative self-talk to yourself but rephrase it so it is accurate and in a context.
Example: When I was five years old, my dad, who really liked sports, told me his opinion: “art is for sissies.” By putting your negative self-talk in an accurate context with the name of the person who said such a thing to you next to it, you will externalize it and detach it from being personal.
Fifth, ask yourself if this part of your negative self-talk is currently accurate. Either it is or it isn’t.
Example: Peter determined that he had been living his life because of his dad’s opinion about those who like art or who are artists. As he examined his negative self-talk sentence, he was unable to find any evidence that those who like art are sissies. He was able to allow himself to disagree with his father. After all, it was his father’s issue, not Peter’s. He started taking art classes and felt “thrilled” by all of his artistic endeavors.
Don’t allow someone else’s opinions or rude remarks drive your bus. By doing these five steps, you will free yourself from your negative self-talk, one sentence at a time. You will allow yourself to be your REAL self, your AUTHENTIC self. That is the person you were born to be, not how others wanted to mold you.
Thanks for writing this Ann! What a beautiful & direct, easy to use method to help patients correct their inaccurate (and quite damaging) thinking about themselves!