If there is one thing that most everyone struggles with, it is their self-concept. During my career as a psychotherapist, executive coach, and clinician, it is incontrovertible that most everyone spends his life suffering from any or all of the following:
- Poor self-image
- Chronic anxiety
- Feeling inadequate and/or defective
- Feeling unloved
- Feeling like an imposter
- Feeling weak and afraid
It is remarkable that so many people spend their lives perpetually taking inventory of what is wrong and defective about them rather than focusing on their good qualities, value, skills, and special contributions.
When you think about it, there was a period in our lives between pre-school and elementary school when we largely felt happy, excited, pleased, courageous, and generally pretty good about ourselves. We were happy, our family was largely reinforcing, loving, and excited about our growth. We liked to show-off, sing, play, and dance in public. We said things like:
- “I’m 5 ½ and I will be 6 in September.”
- “I can hardly wait.”
- “Wow, this is so fun!”
- “Watch me. Watch me.”
- “I want to do that.”
Something happened to most of us after the age of 11. We started becoming self-conscious, anxious, worried, concerned about being popular, and embarrassed. Our parents and our families started to ignore or criticize us. We began to take things personally and we started to rebel and feel inadequate. Somehow, we began to lose our smile and we replaced it with self-doubt and concern about what others thought.
We began to notice more what was wrong with us rather than what was right. We started life-long habits of catastrophizing, awfulizing, obsessing, and worrying. We actually morphed into thinking that if we felt good about ourselves then we might be accused of being egocentric, pompous, conceited, and proud. When we received compliments, we began discounting and invalidating them in an effort to be thought of as humble and modest.
What we failed to realize is that while we invalidated and discounted compliments with the hope of appearing humble and modest, the people complimenting us felt put down with their compliments. It’s as if you told them that they were wrong about you and that they ought to feel bad about complimenting you.
What happened? They quit giving you compliments! You then started feeling unloved, unappreciated, disrespected, and emotionally malnourished. You concluded that you were defective, inadequate, unlovable, undeserving, and substandard.
You used to feel good about yourself, then you discounted every compliment you received; people felt disallowed to feel good about you and they quit complimenting you.
So what do you do about this? Let’s return to the way you thought about yourself when you were little — age 4-11.
Create a cheese list!
Think about Swiss cheese. What do you notice about Swiss cheese?
- Swiss cheese is made of cheese and holes.
- When you eat Swiss cheese, do you eat the cheese or the holes? The cheese!
- When you buy Swiss cheese, do you buy the cheese or the holes? The cheese!
- If you could learn to make Swiss cheese without the holes, would you? Yes!
- So, could we say that to enjoy Swiss cheese you must put up with the holes? Yes!
- The cheese is what is there. The holes are the absence of cheese; it is what is missing!
Now, imagine that you are looking at a giant block of Swiss cheese. As you look at it, you will see a lot of cheese and a variety of holes; yes?
What has more volume, the cheese or the holes? The cheese!
There is more cheese than there are holes. This could be… embracing the obvious!
Now imagine yourself as a giant block of Swiss cheese. You have more cheese than you do holes. There is more there than what is missing. There is more about you that is there than what is missing.
When you think about yourself, what do you do most of the time? You focus on your holes rather than on the cheese. When you are feeling inadequate, defective, unlovable, and substandard, you are focusing on the holes.
When have you ever focused on your cheese? Have you ever taken inventory of your cheese? Most people would probably respond, “Never!”
You continue to take inventory of your holes (defects) rather than your cheese (good qualities).
Create a cheese list!
Get a pad of paper, put your name and date at the top. Title the paper “My Cheese List.”
Next, number 1, 2, and 3 on the paper.
Now think about Your Cheese. What are some examples of your cheese? What is good, valuable, effective, and worthy about you? Think about your skills, character, habits, assets, and value.
Now write down three of them — three items of your cheese on the list. These are three items of value about you that you like or others like and/or respect about you.
What happens as you start thinking about what your cheese is? Do you feel awkward, weird, or concerned about whether this cheese is actually valuable? Why does this exercise seem so difficult?
Use this cheese grading scale: at the bottom is your acceptable cheese; at the top is your outstanding cheese; everything else is in the middle.
You may ask yourself, “Am I sure this is cheese?” Are you now becoming conceited, arrogant, or egocentric as you think about your cheese? Does this exercise really compromise your need to appear modest and humble? Hardly! Does this initiative show that you rarely think about your cheese? Does this exercise feel weird? How much does this show that you are much more likely to take inventory of your holes?
Now write down 4, 5, and 6 on your paper. You may sigh and dread having to come up with more cheese on this list. Think about your looks, skills, values, habits, relationships, activities, and routines. What do people seem to like about you?
The more you think about it, the larger the amount of cheese is staring you in the face. Now that you have completed 4-6, write down 7, 8, 9, and 10. Be careful, you may have to deal with anaphylactic shock. You may want to lie down before you proceed. Oh my, you are dangerously close to having a bunch of cheese!
As you continue to write down your inventory of cheese, you may recognize that you actually have a lot of cheese. You will then notice how much time you focus on your holes rather than on your cheese.
Remember, you have a lot more cheese than you do holes.
Continue to expand your cheese list and keep it. Ask your friends and family what they think about you. You may feel bewildered and surprised about how much people appreciate and respect you.
You will begin to trust your judgment, capitalize on your cheese, and operate from strength.
You will receive more appreciation, compliments, and support from others. You will find your smile and keep it.
Remember to focus on the cheese!
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