Do I look ugly or beautiful to you? Do you feel ugly or beautiful within yourself?
The reason I ask is because I came across this photo recently and I honestly was amazed. I stared at it surprised. ‘Wow’, I thought, ‘I look quite beautiful’ there. The reason I was so shocked was that I had felt so ugly that day. I really did. I was at an event and surrounded by gorgeous, young women. I was convinced my hair was frizzy. I felt so frumpy and middle-aged.
One of them even randomly said to me in the lift as we left: ‘You’re really beautiful’. I didn’t believe her. But I thanked her: ‘I really needed to hear that today’, I said.
Do I look ugly in this photo? No. Did I feel ugly when it was taken, yes! Perspective is such a weird thing, isn’t it?
It’s a bit like that dress that went viral on the internet. To some it was blue and grey, whilst others insisted it was white and gold. (For the record people, it was white and gold, okay!?). What on earth? How does that work?
Or as we all grow older when we look back at photos of our younger self. We were never as fat, ugly or whatever we believed we were at the time. As they say, beauty is wasted on the young!
My photo captured something I couldn’t see that day. When I looked at photos of me when I was young, it is the same. I see a pretty, skinny girl now. One who had loads of wonderful friends and a fortunate life. She should have been confident in herself. I was nothing of the sort though, then.
I had this internal narrative I wasn’t good enough. I was desperate to please and always convinced someone would find me out to be the idiot I believed myself to be. I’d whip myself internally over every perceived stupid thing I said or did. My inner voice kept beating me over the head and would never let up. ‘You’re embarrassing! Unattractive! Unlovable!’ it said. I know I’m not alone in this.
Many of us have a story we tell ourselves. One that is far from reality. But it can impact our lives in so many ways.
Mine resulted in me staying in an abusive relationship. My belief I wasn’t good enough meant I was unable to say ‘no, I don’t deserve this’. I couldn’t set healthy boundaries. It convinced me I was to blame for the violence. That I had to change my behaviour instead, to prove I was worthy of his love. Even after he’d almost killed me.
I hear many other victims of domestic violence with the same internal story. It doesn’t help that the manipulative tactics abusive people or narcissists use are designed to play into those insecurities. To keep us on shaky ground, all the easier to control us. But it’s a story that is untrue.
Our perception has failed us too when we see only what we want to see in these partners. When we first meet them, we are swept away by their charisma. Then we continue to project that image onto them, the one they first presented to us, long after the reality tells us otherwise. We choose to believe the nice side is the real them, not the nasty side they are now revealing. And in that need to keep up the pretence that this perception we have of them is the correct one, we even do everything to excuse their abuse. We’ll change our behaviour and accept the blame. Anything but face the truth. Which is: that our perception is wrong.
Our constant search for the image of them we have in our heads is a futile one. Nothing we can do can change this or them. But, that doesn’t mean we’re trapped or powerless. That our life is hopeless.
We just have to change how we see things. This is the key to changing our lives and walking towards living the life we love. This is how to do it:
That is all it is. A story. A perception of ourselves that is wrong. One that is getting in our own way. A perception of someone else that is false. We’re not seeing them for who they really are.
When I saw that recent photo and was pleasantly surprised, it was a good reminder to me I still have to keep myself in check. Even though I’ve spent years recovering from abuse. Even though I have found a strong sense of self-worth and self-esteem, my perception of who I am can still hinder me. Instead, I need it to nurture me.
So, now I wonder how it will be when I am 90 and look back at the younger self I am today. What a waste it would be if I kick myself for not seeing how lovely I look now. Compared to my more wrinkled, elderly self then.
Beauty may be wasted on the young. I’m not going to let it be wasted now, in my middle age.
Originally published at www.beingunbeatable.com