As we grow up, we get conditioned, through parental and cultural beliefs, societal expectations, and gender stereotypes, which all contribute to creating our sense of self. We learn to behave in a certain way, to ensure we receive love, acceptance, and approval.
A ‘gap’, between self-image (who we believe ourselves to be) and ideal-self (who we want to be) can begin to grow.
People’s Locus of evaluation and control becomes more and more external, the result is disconnection with ‘self’, and an increasing dependency on the opinion of others.
This is the core of what I am increasingly seeing in my private practice, day in, day out.
We are witnessing a crisis. A crisis of ‘SELF’.
In a world that tries to get people, to be something other than who they really are, and live according to imposed values, rather than personal values, people are asking:
Who am I?
What is my purpose?
What do I value?
What drives me?
Our self-worth is increasingly being based on our net worth, the focus being on what you ‘have’ rather than who you ‘are’, on what you ‘DO’, rather than who you are ‘Being’. Success has become something you SEE rather than something you BE, with an unhealthy focus on the ‘external’ self i.e. image and visible qualities.
The ability to compare selves to others, through social media, allows us a fast track to self-doubt and sense of inadequacy. ‘Perfect’ people posting edited, staged, and airbrushed lives on Facebook, we witness ‘everyone’ we know , having a better time, making more money, driving a better car, going to exotic places, than us. Marketing exploits our fragile and vulnerable sense of self, and capitalises on our low self-worth, by pushing the latest products that promise instant self-esteem.
To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. ~Thich Nhat Hanh
We compromise who we are and conform, in order to ‘fit in’, becoming part of the homogeneous masses, unable to think for ourselves, looking externally for guidance from gurus and experts, and self-styled coaches. Everywhere you look, you will find people, authorities, and institutions telling you how you should be living your life; how to behave; what to wear, what to purchase, what to eat, and what to look like; what feelings and emotions are acceptable or not—which ones you are allowed to express, and share, and which ones you should deny or suppress. We seek validation from everyone except the most important person, our self.
Why is it so difficult for people to accept who they really are?
In a word, pressure. There’s so much pressure, especially in today’s hyper-competitive and hyper-informed society, for people to be something they’re not. You get it from parents, from friends, from spouses, from television, from the Internet, from magazines, from advertisements you pass in the street, from nearly everything you see and do in any given day.
There’s also FEAR
Fear of failing, fear of succeeding, fear of not fitting in, fear of standing out, fear of rejection. FEAR of the pain, of perceived judgement from others, and of not being accepted, ensures compliance, when ironically the greatest pain from judgement comes from ourselves.
The obsession with fame, escaping from our own hum drum mediocre lives, by vicariously living through the lives of celebrities, showing us what the ‘good life’ looks like, the sport of spending and consuming, of wanting and having, is adding to a feeling of lack of meaning and purpose in our lives.
It is in trying to live up to these unrealistic expectations, and seeking external validation that estranges us from our ‘selves’, and creates a widening ‘gap’.
The ‘gap’ is created when the self that you demonstrate, does not match the imagined self, it creates incongruence. Who you want to be and your actual experience have to been consistent, or very similar, for a state of congruence to exist. A person must be in a state of congruence to fully function and be in alignment.
The pressure and discomfort that results can lead to in mental health issues and unhealthy behaviours e.g. Anxiety, Depression, Stress, Addictions
- The World Health Organisation states depression will be the 2nd biggest killer in next 10 years. Depression can develop when the fantasy you visualise does not match your current reality.
- The Harvard School of Public Health predicts that by 2020 depression will be responsible for more lost workdays in the developed world than heart disease.
- The mental health statistics for financial year 2016 speak volumes- New Zealand’s suicide rate for the past year has been described by the Chief Coroner as “unacceptably high”. NZ has posted its worst suicide toll on record, 579 Kiwis taking their own lives last year. While the report holds alarming figures, it’s nothing new. New Zealand continuously ranks among the worst in the world for our levels of teen suicide.
Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
How can we close the Gap?
The closer our self-image and ideal self are, i.e. the more consistent or congruent we are, the higher our sense of self-worth, and the more we are able to thrive.
- Develop an Internal Locus of Evaluation and Control- set intrinsic goals
- Walk your talk- DO what you SAY
- Accept all of you, especially the parts you hide
- Live your values -create a life by design not default
- Pay attention to, and invest in the things that sustain you- walking in nature, painting, music, friends
- Let go of the need for control, certainty, and security by embracing uncertainty, and dwelling in possibility.
- Face unpleasant feelings and emotions-don’t react but respond -sit in discomfort-be curious and patient. Unpleasant feelings have important information-seek the learning.
- Stretch your comfort zone till it cries for mercy!
‘If you deliberately plan to be less than you’re capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be deeply unhappy for the rest of your life.’ Abraham Maslow