Why the real you is good enough

‘Why would any woman look at me, HopefulGirl?’ my pal asked, miserably. ‘I’m short, I’m balding, I’m carrying a few extra pounds, and I don’t earn much. I’ll never find love.’

I sighed, wishing my friend could see how effectively he was sabotaging his own chances. It was clear to all his pals that the reason he wasn’t having much success with women was nothing to do with his height, hair, figure or salary (my last boyfriend was short, balding, carrying a few extra pounds and didn’t earn much – and I was crazy about him!). No, the problem was that he couldn’t believe he was good enough – and it showed. His low opinion of himself was broadcast loud and clear in how he spoke about himself, his body language and his pessimistic outlook.

Last month, I shared the story of a colleague who went on a date with a man who, online, claimed to be 5in taller than he really was, then spent all evening trying to disguise his deceit (you can read the full story here). The lying was a big turn-off, but so was the insecurity. My colleague didn’t care that he was 5ft 5in, but he obviously cared – a lot! Ironically it was that, not his height, that put her off.

In contrast, I once met a chap at a singles party who was 5ft 3in tall, but he was so unconcerned by it, and so bursting with confidence, that he totally charmed me. I didn’t end up going on a date with him, but it wasn’t because of his height – it was because he turned out to have a secret girlfriend! (You can read the full story in my book, Would Like To Meet).

Oscar Wilde famously said: ‘Be yourself – everyone else is already taken.’ So true! But sadly, many of us struggle to believe that our real selves are good enough. We’re not slim enough… or tall enough. Not good-looking enough… or rich enough. Not clever enough… or funny enough. So we communicate to others that we’re not worth much – and they believe us.

But the truth is: none of us is perfect. None of us ticks all the boxes… and it really doesn’t matter. Because what’s most attractive is someone who is happy with themselves, can accept their own shortcomings, and carries themselves with confidence, humour and a dash of ‘take me or leave me’. I’ve been wildly attracted to some positively plain men in my time, because of their self-assurance and sense of fun.

Maybe you’re feeling cynical at this point. ‘Yes, HopefulGirl, that’s all very well – but you don’t know ME.’ True. But look around at the people you know and you’ll have to admit that being comfortable in your own skin, and being a happy, friendly person, is more attractive than good looks or high achievements. And fortunately, self-esteem is something we can all improve upon.

Bad self-image is often rooted in early experiences – parents who didn’t affirm us (or worse, neglected or abused us); siblings who were cleverer or more popular; bullies who made us feel small and worthless; rejection by someone we loved… So how can you learn to like yourself – and to communicate that to others? Here are some tips that might help…

1. Fake it to make it

Okay, this might seem to contradict my assurances that the real you is good enough! But just as confidence can be broken, it can also be developed. Research shows that feelings follow actions, not the other way around. So if you ‘act’ more confidently, the feelings will develop – setting up a positive spiral of growing self-assurance.

2. Forget perfection

So you’re not perfect? Welcome to the club. We all have things we don’t like about ourselves (I’d love a smaller bottom and thinner thighs!). While it’s fine to work on becoming better versions of ourselves, freedom comes when we can accept our shortcomings. In fact, ‘perfection’ can be rather dull – it’s our quirks that make us interesting and unique.

3. Focus on the positives

Write down five things you like about yourself. Some people find this really challenging, because they’ve become so focussed on the things they don’t like. Then ask a couple of friends or family members to name your best characteristics. As you become more aware of your strong points, you’ll start to see yourself differently. Repeat the exercise periodically, adding more to the list, and ask God to help you see yourself as he sees you.

4. Do something different

Research shows that trying new experiences, taking (healthy) risks and learning new skills boosts confidence and self-image. Set yourself the task of trying something new each week. This may be something small, like taking a new route to work, or something more challenging, such as volunteering for a different task at church or signing up for an evening class.

5. Ask for help

When self-esteem has taken a severe battering, recovery can be a deep process that needs the guidance of a professional. If you’ve never worked through experiences that have scarred you, or learned how they affect you today, consider getting professional counselling, and prayer through your church. Trauma recovery can be a lengthy process, but it’s worth it for the freedom at the other end. (Learn To Love Yourself Enough by Andrew G Marshall is worth a read).

Remember, we ALL have things we could improve upon, but if you carry yourself with confidence, have a sense of humour about yourself and are pleasant company, no one will care if you’re on the short side, losing your hair, have a little extra padding or can’t flash the cash. Cross my heart: they really, really won’t.

Are you held back by low self-esteem? Do you have any tips for others to help build confidence? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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