Do I look ugly to you?

You decide!

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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:

  • Stop projecting an image onto another person of who you think they are. Be still. Listen to what they say. Watch what they do. If what they say aligns with what they do you can trust that they are who they say they are. If not, then what they do gives you the more important clues. Narcissists will say one thing: ‘you’re the only one for me’ yet their abusive actions reveal the truth. While you’re projecting a rosy picture onto them, you’re ignoring the reality. The red flags and warning signs.
  • Stop projecting an image onto another person of who you think they might be in the future. This is why we change our behaviour, instead of allowing them to be accountable for their actions. ‘If I do X then they’ll be happy’, we fool ourselves into believing. ‘If I do Y, then they’ll change and everything will be okay’ we convince ourselves. Our image of who they ‘really are’ deep down inside excuses them for the bad behaviour of the actual person we are seeing. Whilst we absolve them of blame, we enable them to continue abusing us.
  • Listen to your inner dialogue. Your inner voice. What is she (or he) saying? Is it something you’d say to someone you care about? To a good friend? Is it helpful? Or is it negative? Does is tell you: ‘You are…’ this or that? Like: ‘You’re stupid’, ‘You’re ugly’. Instead of the healthier wording: ‘You’re a smart person. You just did a stupid thing’? Or: ‘You’re beautiful. You’re just having a bad hair day’?
  • Rewrite your script. Just because you do something stupid doesn’t mean you are stupid. Being blamed for abusive behaviour and told no-one else would have you doesn’t mean you deserve it or that you are unlovable. We don’t have to own what someone else is telling us either. It’s their opinion, that’s all. ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ we can say. It doesn’t mean we have to argue with them, defend ourselves or agree.
  • Call that inner voice out. The first step is to be aware of what your inner voice is telling you. Once you are you’ll be amazed how noisy it is inside your head. But when you hear it, listen to what it is saying. Call that voice out on anything negative and unhelpful. Replace it with a more positive affirmation. Be kind to yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself when you slip back into those feeling of inner shame. It takes time to change our story. But it can be done.

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.

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