By Punch Purpose Correspondent Lena Aburdene
Everyone in life has faced a rejection at some point in their lifetime. Many people throughout the course of their lives are given messages that they aren’t good enough or can’t accomplish the things they set out to do. In fact, so many of us receive these messages in our lifetime that we can start to believe these messages to be true. I thought this was an important topic to write about because a lot of people who have come to see me for anxiety in their therapy sessions arrive broken down and carrying these messages like a heavy weight on their backs. A New York Times article on Saturday titled, “For Women, Parity is Still a Subtly Steep Climb” highlighted that women held 14 percent of senior executive positions at Fortune 500 companies and the number has “barely budged since 2005.” The article discussed how this could be due to social norms regarding gender that are still in place, even if we think as a society we have grown past them. Barriers for both men and women are something we have to fight against every day and those barriers and social constructs include negative messages in them. Carrying the negative messages we receive from others (consciously or sub consciously) are things we often internalize and effect our performance and attitude in life. Sometimes people just give up when the negative self-talk in their head becomes too much to overcome. It’s not just the social norms or the negative messages we receive that hold us back, it’s the belief (no matter how big or small) in these negative messages delivered by others.
Why are we so quick to believe negative comments and messages from other people? Often harsh or unsolicited criticism comes from someone’s own issues that they are projecting on to someone else. A comment such as, “you could have done that better” can also be merely an opinion based on someone’s own personal criteria and standards which varies from person to person. Constructive criticism and being able to hear what we don’t want to hear are very important but how does one distinguish between when something is a healthy and constructive criticism vs. something that is destructive and spiteful? One way to distinguish this is to ask yourself who the message is coming from. Is it someone you trust who has your best interest at heart? These are usually the best people to ask for feedback and also the people you can really learn from when it comes to self-improvement. If the criticism is coming from someone who feels negative to you or does not seem to be coming from a positive place then take a step back and ask yourself if their criticism is truly valid. If it doesn’t seem like it is, ask yourself why you may internalize it and feel bad about yourself after hearing it. Just because someone says it or thinks it doesn’t mean it’s true.
Another way people react to criticism is to react against it. As a little girl and sometimes still to this day, insults and setbacks effected me in a way that made me not want to retreat, but, rather go forward and prove those “wrong” who questioned or insulted me. It was the fuel to my fire and a huge motivation for me to excel and succeed. When someone told me I couldn’t do something, not only did I have to go out and do exactly what they told me I couldn’t do, I had to do it ten times better. I rationalized this to myself by appreciating the spark of anger that was ignited when I was told I couldn’t do what I set out to do. There was no better rush of feeling vindicated and accomplished any time I was able to prove a naysayer wrong. Perhaps feeling this way inspired me to want to work with people and empower them to believe in themselves and instill the belief in them that they could do whatever they put their minds to. Helping to empower someone to not put so much weight on what others think is one of the things I enjoy most about my work.
Not until recently did I take a step back from the urge to prove those who doubted me wrong. Why was it so important for me to do that? What purpose was this serving for me? The fact that I felt the need to prove something showed that negative words had a hold on me and a power over me. It was just in a more disguised way. Proving people wrong just to prove people wrong isn’t the right reason to go out and do something. Sure, it may feel good and we may feel vindicated but that good feeling is transient. The good feeling can’t stay because it isn’t something that comes from a genuine place in the heart. What I learned is doing something because it feels right and from the heart is the best reason to do something. More importantly, I learned that we can’t let the negative words and actions of others effect us to the point where we give up or change our behavior on someone else’s account. Empowerment is knowing that we are capable to do whatever we set our minds to but a healthy dose of constructive criticism from others once in a while won’t hurt us either.
Whenever you start to doubt yourself or your abilities simply based on the words or opinions of others, think about Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, “the only person who can make you feel inferior is yourself.” We have more power than we often realize and believing in ourselves and our inherent worth as a human being is claiming a power that people so often try take from us if we let them.
**Punch Purpose Correspondent Lena Aburdene contributes to enriching people’s lives with purpose.Â She is a psychotherapist at the Imago Center in Washington DC where she works with individuals, couples and groups on a variety of issues.Â Â She currently writes a column for the online Washington DC Examiner on Feminism and Relationshipsthat explores many of the issues that come up for her clients. Lena lives in Washington DC with her husband and her cat Lou.Â @LenaMarieAÂ Blog: http://lenamariems.wordpress.
**Punch Purpose Correspondent Lena Aburdene contributes to enriching people’s lives with purpose. She is a psychotherapist at the Imago Center in Washington DC where she works with individuals, couples and groups on a variety of issues. She currently writes a column for the online Washington DC Examiner on Feminism and Relationshipsthat explores many of the issues that come up for her clients. Lena lives in Washington DC with her husband and her cat Lou. @LenaMarieA Blog: http://imagocenterdc.com/blogs/lena-aburdene **