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One of the great authorities on the development of self-confidence was Dale Carnegie. In his book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, he said, “The more I have studied the careers of men of achievement, the more deeply I have been convinced that a surprisingly large number of them succeeded because they started with handicaps that spurred them on to great endeavour and great rewards.”
Well, you may not necessarily expect to become capable of any great endeavour or be looking for great rewards. A life relatively free from anxiety symptoms will do just as well, I know. The point is that you can either allow a handicap to destroy any possibility of happiness you may have or you can achieve the freedom to use the skills you develop, in taking control of your problems, to go wherever you want to go. It all comes down to how you see yourself – what sort of self-image you have.
Your self-image has evolved from the myriad of beliefs about yourself that you have developed over your lifetime. You began to acquire these beliefs back in early childhood as you were consistently told that you were a ‘good girl’, a ‘bad boy’, a ‘stupid kid’ or ‘just like Daddy’, etc. The beliefs about yourself that you developed during your growing years are the ones which most deeply affect your self-image. If being ‘just like Daddy’ meant being an introvert or compulsively tidy to your extroverted or disorganised mother, she could, unintentionally, have put you on the road to social phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder. Self-image can be changed, however.
A secure self-image won’t magically turn you into a non-anxious person brimming with self-confidence; instead, it will release all those confidence-creating abilities that you didn’t know you had. Its development does not come from a miraculous transformation process either, but rather from realization of self; you are really far wiser, stronger, lovable and competent than you think you are. Building your self-image means also admitting to imperfection; accepting the fact that you can never be perfect. You must recognize your abilities and faults and accept yourself as you are. Then, work from there.
Respect yourself. Don’t confuse giving yourself due regard with conceit. When you don’t give yourself the respect you’ve truly earned, you are denying what is rightfully yours. You are, in fact, an incredibly brave person. You constantly survive fearful attacks of panic, don’t you? Perhaps you participate in exposure therapy which takes great courage. Giving yourself respect is the foundation of your more productive, more creative self-image, so don’t sell yourself short.
Put failure behind you. Everyone of us, at some point, experiences something that convinces him/her that he/she does not have the ability to succeed in some area. Usually this is a complete misconception. You can either accept this failure just as a part of yourself, one of many things that made you the way you are, or you can continually dwell on it and allow the feeling of failure to creep into every part of your life because the more you think you’re a failure, the more of a failure you’ll become. By the same token, the more successful you think you are, the more successful you’ll become. Remember the story of the little engine read to you as a child, maybe read by you to your children - “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” You can when you think you can!
Never mind the mistakes. Mistakes are only alternative ways of doing things. So long as you learn from them, they can become stepping stones along the way to building your self-image. Hide from them and you’ll never get your aspirations off the ground.
Hopefully, you are convinced by now that you can start improving your self-image and using it to face down your worry, anxiety and panic. Some fifty years ago a plastic surgeon named Dr. Maxwell Maltz discovered that many people seeking plastic surgery really didn’t need it. Their problem was not their outward appearance; it was their poor self-image. He created psycho-cybernetics and put them on the road to changing their perceptions about themselves by setting goals, and achieving fulfilment through realizing them.
An anxiety/panic disorder can be viewed in much the same way. Understand that the way you react to anxiety is entirely consistent with your self image and you can you can begin to take the steps towards having your self-image govern your reactions. Love yourself; cultivate the things that make you feel good about yourself. Saying hello to that neighbour, instead of pretending you didn’t see her, made you feel good, didn’t it? Or, going into the shopping mall, despite panicky symptoms and not being able to stay very long, was an achievement. Right? That’s it – developing a secure self-image means competing with yourself, not measuring yourself against other people. Understand this and your failures will no longer feel like failures because you will see the small improvement instead of the poise and confidence of what seems like everybody else around you although, of course, it isn’t – a whole 95% of the population feels inferior at some point. That’s a fact. Know yourself. Accept yourself. Dwell on your small successes and they’ll eventually grow into bigger ones.
Copyright Jean Jardine Miller.