by Dale Wolery
What is my view of me, your view of you? Is the internal consensus I maintain about me accurate, or is it distorted? Is your view of you the element propelling your recovery forward? Or does the way you think and feel about yourself make it more difficult for you to move forward in recovery?
Every pilgrimage into self-discovery and growth is an excursion into the known and the unknown, the certain and the uncertain, the charted and the uncharted. But everyone who intentionally and seriously embraces this journey enjoys its reward. My experience is that grappling with our view of ourselves can be immeasurably rewarding. And yet it is often very challenging and sometimes frightening.
It is like mining for gold; you sometimes have to dig through many layers of subterranean stone and dirt before you find the treasures capable of impacting the balance sheet of your life. And sometimes it feels like all those layers you have worked so hard to dig through might come tumbling back down on top of you.
I’ve met some disconcerting snares on my own self-discovery journey. Are they familiar to you?
The Knowledge Trap
One snare is the knowledge trap. Certainly there is a body of knowledge that it is important for us to acquire about the self. Truths like each “self” is uniquely designed by its Creator, each of us is always warmly accepted by our loving Acceptor, and none of us can out-sin Grace. These facts are essential to an empowering view of the self. But we all learn sooner or later that insight has its limits. Recovering a healthy view of ourselves will require more than just increasing our knowledge about what is true. In addition to learning the truth about ourselves we will need to learn ways to feel and experience these truths. Consistently feeling and experiencing these powerful truths personally in one’s soul requires process, struggle, and time. Knowing is important. But by itself it is not powerful enough to make possible the changes that need to be made.
The Performance Trap
Performance isn’t enough either. It also is a trap. We can’t do anything well enough, fast enough, better-than-everyone-else enough to achieve a healthy view of self. Even if we are very successful at achieving, we—or someone to whom we have granted Higher Power status—can raise the standard. Suddenly, more is expected before we can finally feel okay about ourselves. In most cases even perfection is not really enough. Like a puzzle missing some of the pieces, performance always leaves gaping holes in the picture of the self. There is no way to perform well enough to feel good about ourselves.
A related trap is an overemphasis on appearance. We critique and measure the visible self, the external self, from hair to feet. We endlessly appraise and compare. Are they too little? Too big? Is it too loose? Does it stick out too far? Does it sag too much? Can I cut it, pad it, dress it, accessorize it or accent it so that I feel better about me? The answer, of course, is yes and no. Our bodies surely do impact our view of ourselves. But they are only one patch in the self-image quilt. No amount of external effort fills unattended internal voids. There is no way to look good enough to feel good about ourselves. It’s just another version of the perfectionist’s nightmare.
Recovering a Healthy Self
So what is essential for the journey toward a healthy view of ourselves? This issue of STEPS looks at this question from several perspectives. Allow me to emphasize three factors that seem particularly important to me.]
First, we must be willing to throw away any theology or teaching that causes us to feel like trash. It may be a cliché, but God does not make junk.
Second, it is important for us to connect with empowering, nurturing people. If, early in childhood, we were deprived of a sense of self that can be acquired only in the arms of nurturing and adoring parents, then we will not regain it without nurturing arms and warm hearts encircling us. Recovery groups and caring counselors are priceless in this process.
Third, recovering a healthy view of ourselves is and may always be a struggle. Like white-water rapids on a river journey, the essential experience that you and I need for sound views of the self are necessarily chaotic and turbulent. Knowing, really knowing, that we are uniquely created, specially suited and deeply loved won’t just happen. It requires struggle.
I was recently reminded of the way that rough waters contribute to a landscape. While viewing a rushing stream from a high mountain pass I was struck by the beauty added by the struggle. I can’t say that I enjoy the fear and the uncertainty that rapids can cause. But I am deeply grateful to God for the beauty that they can contribute to life.
May you come to share the beautiful view of you that your Creator enjoys from above.