Why do we perceive ourselves the way we do?

Every individual is different. Each one of us has different experiences throughout life including different personality traits, ways in which we perceive things, how we react to situations and different goals and needs. Most of us wonder why we are more sensitive than other people, why we feel more deeply than others or why we just don’t feel enough, why we react to situations in our lives, no matter how big or small so emotionally and sensitively or on the other hand, remain numb to everything positive or negative that happens in our lives.

Usually, when we try to come up with an answer, we tend to somehow blame ourselves and the way we are in the world. We tend to divert our attention and blame our personality, and eventually develop the need to change ourselves in order to not succumb to certain aspects and situations in our lives. We struggle with building and maintaining relationships because of our own ability to negatively look at ourselves. This constant self-criticism leads to a disruption in our self-esteem

However, taking it from a psychological perspective, there is an answer to why we perceive ourselves and our surroundings the way we do. What most of us don’t focus on is the reason behind all of this. Since we were young, we’ve had multiple experiences, whether they were positive or negative and just being present in this experience becomes an integral part of our lives. Multiple small experiences are combined to make the person we are today. The struggles we’ve faced, our achievements, relationships, trauma, etc. all matter when it comes to developing into the individual we are. Our childhood shapes the adults we will turn into.

For instance, someone who had a secure childhood where they were given love and approval regardless of their abilities are more likely to form secure relationships as they grow up, whether it is friendly or romantic, and also have a positive self-image of themselves. They do experience moments of low self-esteem but it is easier for them to come out of it. On the other hand, a child who feels more distant and less loved will develop into an insecure and avoidant individual who will fear getting close to people. Such an individual will struggle with the constant fear of abandonment or having to experience people leaving his/her life after giving them too much of themselves. 

Now, what we will focus on here is the concept of self-esteem. 

Throughout life, our surrounding interpersonal environment such as friends, family, teachers have an enormous influence on the kind of individual we will become. Our self-image is formulated to a large degree upon the reflected appraisals we perceive in the eyes of the important figures in our lives. If we were constantly told to change things about ourselves, criticized for the traits we did not possess, compared constantly to other individuals, if nothing we did seemed ideal to the people we considered important in our lives, or if we were simply told or made to feel like “we are not enough” since the very beginning, then we will eventually perceive ourselves in a negative manner. Our struggle with low self-esteem will become an aspect of our lives which we will try to fight every single day until it disappears. 

To understand how our self-esteem is largely influenced by our childhood experiences with our primary caregivers, a well-known psychologist named Carl Rogers introduced a concept known as “conditions of worth.” This is a concept which helps us to understand where our standards of being “good enough” come from.

Conditions of worth refers to the conditions or standards which we believe we must achieve or meet in order to gain acceptance, approval, or positive regard from the important figures in our lives, that is, people whose opinion matters to us the most.

As children, we learn what behaviours, qualities, lessons, point of views please our parents, teachers, friends or even society in general and we automatically internalize the conditions which are accepted by them. Now, if we don’t meet or conform to these standards in any way, we become extremely under-confident and begin to look down upon ourselves. If we do conform to them, they become our strengths making us feel more worthy and confident.

Now the question is, do we need the approval of others to the extent where we base our self-worth and self-esteem on their opinion?

Of course, we all want the people who we consider as important in our lives to perceive us with acceptance and love, but it should not be at the cost of the person we really are. Our self-esteem plays a role in different aspects of our lives, such as our ability to form and maintain relationships, our dreams and goals as well as the amount of hope and belief we have in our own capabilities. Someone else’s opinion of us or what someone else wants us to be should not influence us or change who we really are. Instead of fighting our flaws, we need to learn to embrace them and be more accepting of ourselves. We all tend to blame ourselves and jump into self-criticism due to the opinions and views of other people of us and we eventually lose ourselves being a part of this negative perpetuating cycle. This is the cycle we need to break, and it is possible. 

As soon as we become aware of this idea, the idea of, “okay, this is one of the core reasons why I perceive myself the way I do but I don’t have to” is when we will step into a place of self-awareness and be able to differentiate between how OTHER people want US to be and how WE want to be. It is important to not blame ourselves or anyone else. We should endeavor to accept ourselves and everything around us the way it is sans anger and resentment and with willingness. This will lead us to the ideal place from where we can finally move forward. 

With this perspective in mind, we need to throw light on the idea that growth and healing are on-going processes, it is never ending but it is one of the most integral parts of our lives.  Stepping onto the path of self-awareness and acceptance will automatically create a change in the way we perceive ourselves and develop into the individual we always hoped to become as we go along. 

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