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A hand reaching to the left can be seen from the other side, as a hand reaching to the right. It all depends on your point of reference. Perception is everything.
It explains why a poor person can be happy, while a rich person contemplates suicide. The poor person revels in finding a $20 bill, despite owning nothing but the clothes on his back. The rich person is distraught after losing his entire fortune, despite owning several lavish estates.
How Is that Relevant?
It also explains why most self-help article and books come across as get-rich-quick schemes to anyone who has low self-esteem. Their unilateral and singular focus on the end goal—something that is far out of reach to us (yes, that’s includes me) low “self-esteemers,” (LSEers), distort these publications into trite platitudes that ring hollow in sincerity and meaning. We see the confident as people who have it easy; who have never really suffered in life; that their confidence is a characteristic with which they were born.
On the other hand, the confident see the LSEers as their past selves who have yet to fully realize their capacity to adapt, which is why the books and articles they author are so focused on becoming confident. Because the confident have already reached that summit or zenith of vision, the idea of unaffected self-assurance is no longer an abstract dream. It is a tangible, breathing creature that they have embodied. Unfortunately, in their haste to help the LSEers see this point of view, they do not dwell on and therefore, trivialize the only concepts that we LSEers actually understand: misery and hopeless stagnation. And that’s only alienates us further.
It’s no one side’s fault. The ingrained differences in perception are too great.
Can I Alter Perception to My Advantage?
When a blind man reaches for something, his hand will go back and forth attempting to hone in on the desired object. Similarly, your mind has to reach back and forth; to reach the boundaries on both sides of the unknown, meaning that you must experience both the bad and the good in order to finally discover and grasp that which you so desperately desire.
The bad: No matter how low your self-esteem is, if you look closely enough, there will always be another less fortunate in whatever attribute that you find yourself lacking. But it’s not just about telling yourself, “Oh, I should appreciate what I have because of…” Trying to force your established perception to shift based purely on observation is futile. You have to experience the adversity. So whatever attribute you find yourself lacking, enhance that disparity.
For example, if you think you have the face of Shrek; consider making yourself a “mask” that’s even worse, and then assuming that identity as you go to public venues to which you’ve rarely ventured in the past, whether it’s a bar or a museum. Give yourself a unibrow, a patchy beard, and don’t whiten your teeth or put on deodorant. Then, absorb all that negative energy and feedback that you’ll no doubt receive. Remember and embrace that humiliation, because at the end of however long a period you choose to endure, you’ll be transformed back into your normal and yes, beautiful visage. By forcing yourself to live through that gauntlet of insult, you’ll be more likely to truly feel good about what you are, of who you are. If you genuinely throw yourself into these types of scenarios, your perception will change.
And this technique is something to which I can personally attest. There was a time when I had to go days without eating. The feelings of aching and yearning were overwhelming. I had to sleep 18+ hours a day, just to escape the incessant gnawing. I drank a lot of tap water those days. Intense as those reactions were, the worst sensation was the crushing abyss of hopelessness and abandonment from which I could not escape, for the whole world was crashing down on me, and no one even noticed. But as it turns out, I needed to fester in that quagmire, for my life since has never been easy. The worst experiences like this one however, eulogize the least-worst; the best. I needed unadulterated torment to appreciate life.
It would seem that you could benefit from something similar as well.
The good: Unfortunately, it’s easier to experience pain rather than joy. You can take things away, but you can’t just give yourself a new face. So what do you do? The only thing you can do: “fake it until you make it,” because like anything, being confident takes practice.
Going back to the ogre example, go ahead and put on your “mask” whether it’s a real one (makeup) or a psychology one. But the most important thing is to not think of when you get to take the mask off; of when you can relax and “be yourself.” Remember, it’s all about perception. Instead, treat the masked version of yourself as an experiment; see that person as an actor; see the time you put on a mask as if you were shooting your first full-length feature film. Act as if you were already overflowing with confidence. Take note of how confident people act. From my experience, they tend to be well-mannered, carefree, and joke good-naturedly and many times self-deprecatingly. They also smile as if every day were Christmas, and do things without rush, but with purpose. And above all, confident people see the best in others.
So when you put on your mask, try and talk more slowly. Deepen your voice. Smile more. Walk as if you were strolling on the beach. And don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself! I know that putting yourself in these new situations can be stressful. But by not taking things too seriously, recognizing that being confident takes a LOT of practice, and cackling in mirth at how ridiculous you sound while trying talk like James Earl Jones, will go a long way to ease feelings of discomfort.
And after doing this for a long time, you may one day find yourself acting confident, but then realizing that you have no mask on; that the “tangible, breathing creature” has become you!
Where Do I Go from Here?
When the blind man finally found that which he so strongly desired—a miracle, he discovered that it really wasn’t so hard to find. All he needed to do was to unwaveringly move left and right, backwards and forwards; to never stop touching and experiencing everything around him. You too, must never stop searching for the gift of vision; for the chance to irrevocably perceive a world that cherishes you.
***Please keep in mind that, despite taking courses in various subcategories of psychology, this post represents nothing but my own personal observations, ruminations, and interpretations of the lore surrounding the topic of self-esteem. In no way, am I basing the viewpoints addressed in this article on any particular scientific study or school of thought, nor am I guaranteeing that the techniques discussed will elicit measurable change.
Oh, and it would really help me and my self-esteem, okay not really the latter, if you’d take the time to tell me your experience with water-based products versus oil-based ones. Which ones did you find more effective?