No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

~Eleanor Roosevelt

To this, I would also add, without your participation.  To illustrate, a brief story.

On Boxing Day (December 26th), Mom and I went to a few stores;  nothing crazy, nowhere that would be super-busy.  In the aisle at Zellers, I saw a woman who was in my class at high school.  Back then, she was always dressed in the latest fashion, always wore the “right” brands.  (I, on the other hand, did not.)

So, I see her, and she looks just perfect.  Fashionable boots, well-cut dress pants, top of the line jacket.  She’s beautifully made-up, and her hair is styled just so, with expensive highlights and lowlights.

I felt like an absolute schlump in comparison.  Hiking boots that have been around a season or two too long, jeans, a sloppy t-shirt, and my ug-ly blue winter jacket.  Dirty hair, pulled back into a ponytail, no makeup.  Schlumpy.

For about 48 hours after I saw her, I felt like the drab wallflower that I often felt that I was while growing up.  She looked so put-together, and I was a disaster and an eye-sore.  I was left with a not-unfamiliar feeling of wishing that I could look good in clothes, that I had coloured my hair sometime in the past months and not let my mousy brown and silver roots get so out of control.  That I was someone that others would look at and think, wow!

I got home and made an immediate resolution that I would never again leave the house unless I was wearing something dressy, with my hair and makeup done.  That I couldn’t risk being seen as the schlump I am, and I would have to work hard to conceal my real self.

Now, how does this connect to the words of Eleanor Roosevelt?  Let me tell you.  This woman and I weren’t friends in high school, and we didn’t speak on Boxing Day.  She didn’t even look at me, that I could see.  I don’t think she even saw me.

Yet, I spent the next two days beating up on myself about my appearance, comparing myself to her.  Feeling as inferior as could be.  And I did it all on my own.

There was nothing in the “event” of seeing this woman that even hinted that she noticed or recognized me, let alone that she judged me to be inferior.  It was all me;  I was the one who came up with the whole idea, and I was the one that ruminated on it until I was crazy.  I made myself inferior;  not only did I consent to it, I created the whole thing.

In my many years of trying to develop a healthier mind, I have learned a lot.  One of the most profound things that I have discovered is that we don’t develop feelings out of nowhere.  There is always a thought that precedes our feelings;  we might not be aware of that thought, but it is there.  And it is not others who “make” us feel a feeling;  we make ourselves feel whatever emotion it is.

I saw this woman, and I had an instant, automatic, subconscious thought that I was not as good as she was.  That thought was what made me feel awful about myself.  And I kept reinforcing that thought, and adding other negative thoughts to it.

It is empowering to know that I am in control of what I feel, because I can control what I think.  (It takes a lot of work to get there:  identifying those thoughts, learning how to counter them, and replacing them with more positive thoughts.  But I have done it with a few of my automatic thoughts, so I know it is possible.)

It is also freaking scary.

I didn’t stop this trainwreck of thought.  But I could have.  And even if I didn’t stop it right when it started, I could have done so at any point, just by challenging my underlying thoughts.  My dump-fest on myself didn’t have to last for two days.  I didn’t have to lie in bed at night, vowing to never “feel” so ugly again.  I could have stopped that thought, that I am ugly, and then I wouldn’t have had the resulting feelings of unworthiness.

I could have challenged the thought that I am ugly, by remembering times when people have told me that I’m pretty, by thinking of pictures that show even to me that I can look cute.  I could have rebutted the original thought with the fact that there are people who find me attractive and let me know it.  I could also have redirected my thoughts;  just because this woman looks put together, doesn’t mean that she is.  Expensive hair treatments and clothing do not mean that she doesn’t beat up on herself every day for dozens of reasons.  I could have reminded myself of how far I’ve come on my journey toward mental health;  reminded myself that good mental health is the ultimate example of being put-together (in my opinion).

I don’t mean to trivialize the amount of work and self-awareness this requires.  It is a huge undertaking;  even for me to realize, in retrospect, what was going on in my head is huge progress.  It is a mark of how far I’ve come that I can recognize that it was my own thoughts that led to my feelings of unworthiness, and not something external.

(I think I’m wandering a bit from my original purpose, but to heck with it.  At least I’m typing something, after avoiding this blog for so long.)

I’m feeling better now, not so down on myself.  It is okay to notice that I’ve let myself go a bit in the last six months;  I have had more important things on my mind (like getting out of bed in the morning, keeping myself safe, leaving the house once in a while, going to my therapy and doctor’s appointments, etc.) than the roots of my hair.  But it’s also fine to decide that it’s time to care more about myself and how I look.  I’m not saying that I’m going to go all appearance-crazy, just that I can start taking care of myself in other ways.  The appearance-related things weren’t as urgent as the others, but maybe I’m well enough that I don’t have to concentrate so hard on keeping myself going.  Maybe I’m well enough that I don’t have to focus on just getting through the day.  It’s pleasant to wear nice, well-fitting clothes.  If I don’t have to concentrate on the basics of existence anymore, perhaps I can look at ways to make that existence more enjoyable.

Thanks for following me through this episode of negative self-esteem;  I am working on this with the Counsellor, so it will probably come up fairly often.  Feel free to skip my explorations, they will all be tagged with “self-esteem”.