To my heartwarming surprise, an eighth-grade student struggling with her racial identity reached out seeking advice after finding me on the Internet. While she hasn’t experienced discrimination, she is becoming anxious that she will eventually become a victim of racism. How could she not be anxious? We live in a climate that has conditioned us to become hypervigilant about racism. I believe that she, like many others, is at a crossroads: Will she allow the influence of others to define her worldview and sense of self or will she take ownership of her own identity?
Attaining a secure sense of self is a universal challenge that transcends race, gender, background, sexual orientation, age, or culture. It’s almost impossible to remove ourselves from external stimuli – especially in this social climate where people are being defined and judged on narrow physical dimensions, primarily race, gender, and ethnicity.
Your sense of self is defined by the voice in your head. That voice is the author of your mindset, behavior, and actions. It can be positive or negative, loving or fearful, empowered or victimized. You get to choose which story you want to embody and believe in: your own or someone else’s.
Embrace Your Insecurities
Being insecure is being human. Think about the negative effects to our well-being of self-defeating expressions, such as: I am stupid, I am less than, I feel different, I’m awkward, I don’t belong, People don’t like me, and so on. These kinds of thoughts keep us small and contracted.
Through my journey of wanting to feel comfortable in my own skin, I learned that I am the only person who can help me. Thanks to years of self-development work, I no longer think of myself as a Korean, an American, an Asian, an immigrant, or a minority – I identify myself as Soo, an individual. The more I started to feel comfortable with myself, the more I felt connected to myself and to others.
The process I’ve been practicing to bring out my expanded self has been to embrace, acknowledge, and own my damaging downward spirals without making excuses or placing blame. It takes courage to admit one’s self-defeating patterns. It is not an easy thing to pull yourself up when you are down; however, we can’t give up if we want to change.
Reframe Your Narrative
Once we become aware of the voice in our head and the narrative we tell ourselves, we can then change the story. This effort requires constant commitment to tug ourselves upward, until our new beliefs and narratives about who we are become a part of our embodied core.
One of my biggest insecurities has been the way I felt about my English. I began learning English at fourteen and to this day still have an accent, which I’ve always felt self-conscious about. I used to place so much importance on how I believed others thought about the way I spoke. The voice in my head used to judge and shame me for not speaking English flawlessly.
When I would pull myself down with negative self-talk, such as Soo, your English is not good. It’s embarrassing! – that negativity would manifest in physical behavior. My body would contract, my voice would lower, and I would feel knots in my stomach. Amazingly, something as simple as changing that voice in my head to say, My English is fabulous! completely shifted my entire being. My mood, my voice, and my expression all changed in an instant. Positive self-talk can be so liberating and expansive. Try this yourself right now. Pick something that you usually beat yourself up over and flip the script. Now, imagine how you would feel if you could keep that voice with you every day, because you can.
Live From a Place of Not Knowing
Humans are assumption-making machines. Our perceptions of others are actually a reflection of ourselves. The moment you make an assumption about someone else is the moment you eliminate the possibilities of learning about that person. This is the foundation of our diversity challenges.
We live in an atmosphere where people are readily willing to judge others who don’t share their beliefs. People are being labeled as “racists” or “socialists” for simply not aligning with the other’s political views. It’s one thing to disagree, it’s another thing to be righteous.
Embracing diversity means accepting all differences of others, including differences of opinions, beliefs, and political views. We need to be willing to learn from others with whom we may disagree. Acknowledging that you don’t know everything and having a willingness to listen requires empathy, which can only come from a place of inner strength and feeling comfortable in your own skin. This is true empowerment.