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I was listening to an NPR program when the interviewee mentioned that, in order to change his life, her husband would need to see himself in a different way than his mother saw him. I thought how true it is that unless we’re viewed differently than how we see ourselves, we can carry around the same negative view our parents had of us for a lifetime. So, whose eyes do you see yourself through and what do you see?
In the case above, the husband was adopted by a woman whom he reported as “loving me, but she could be mean a lot.” If you’re brought up by people who were unkind to you, you unconsciously assume that you deserve meanness, are bad, and that there is a great deal wrong with you. This is how children think, coming to believe that falsehood is truth. The truth is that children mistakenly arrive at this conclusion because it doesn’t dawn on them to think that there’s something wrong with their parents’ view of them.
Unfortunately, once you’ve internalized a parent’s negative view of yourself, you register mostly comments and actions that reinforce it. If half the people you meet like you and the other half don’t, you totally negate those who are inclined to enjoy your company, value you, and want you as their friend. To paraphrase Woody Allen, “Why would I want to be friends with anyone who’d want to be friends with me?” You automatically discount folks who think well of you rather than view yourself positively through their eyes.
Yet seeing yourself positively through someone else’s eyes is exactly what you must do to obviate your original, tarnished, internalized (wrong, wrong, wrong!) image of yourself and replace it with a shiny, sparkling new one. Those eyes could be of a neighbor who loves your manners or your jokes; a teacher who can’t believe how bright, clever or creative you are; a friend who is cool and wants to hang out with you because he or she thinks you’re cool too. Often that someone has a romantic interest in you and their eyes shine when looking at you and they can’t believe their good fortune in finding you.
If none of these people have happened into your life—or if they have and you’ve shooed them away because their positive view of you made you feel uncomfortable—one of the most influential people who can transform your self image is a therapist. I hadn’t thought of it this way, but the reason that therapy works so well, is that often a therapist views you in such a radically different way than anyone else ever has, seeing more of the “good” in you than the “bad.” And, over time, you can’t help but begin to see yourself as your therapist sees you. Whose eyes would you like to see yourself through?
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