Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

It’s Not OK: Learning Self-Valuation

Knowing who we are

One of the subtle messages coming out of the Judeo-Christian ethic informing our culture is that we are somehow wrong or broken. Unlearning that perspective—and learning instead to value our own—can be one of our greatest challenges.

It is, when you get right down to it, all about perspective. More importantly, it’s all about our own unique perspective. That perspective is both formed and informed by our assumptions, expectations and ideas about the way the world works, or, more properly, our subjective experience. What’s interesting in this is that, as a culture, we tend to fall toward the negative, rather than the positive. Nowhere is that more evident than in the way we often express ourselves within the context of our personal narrative.

This expression can be gross, or it can be subtle. The subtle is more insidious because, more often than not, we are trapped by our own habits of mind and cannot gather evidence to contradict our perspective. That inability can keep us stuck in a pattern of self-de-valuation, supporting a negative self-belief system and informing a negative self-perspective. That pattern of behavior then gives others license to aid and abet us in maintaining our self-imposed negativity.

Cassidy has spent the better part of her life feeling like she is not being heard. She is frustrated with her husband’s tendency to be distracted by his smart phone, so she calls him on it. Cassidy is able to do this because, in the past few years, she has worked very hard to learn how to speak up for herself. Upon her admonishment, he apologizes, admits his error and makes a promise to be more mindful about it. When he’s done speaking, Cassidy nods and reflexively says, “It’s OK.”

And there it is. It’s not OK, and she has just said as much. “It’s OK” translates into “It’s not that important”, which implies “I’m not that important”. By falling back into her reflexive pattern of behavior and habit of mind, she negates all the work she has done with two little words. Cassidy has indeed changed her behavior, but she has not yet shifted her self-perspective—and that is exactly where most of us fall down. 

Shifting our self-perspective can be quite a challenge because it means breaking down our internalized belief systems, some of which have probably been in place and being reinforced for years. The way we approach making this shift is by assessing how reasonable our beliefs actually are, and gathering evidence to validate or invalidate them.

For Cassidy, as for most of us, the challenge is two-fold. First, it means an initial recognition that her self-perception is erroneous. Secondly, it means acknowledging how much effort it has taken to put her into a place where she not only demands to be heard, but also feels like she is heard. Then—and this is the shift in perspective part—it means internalizing the feeling that she deserves to be heard and is not wrong in asking for it. That second part is the shift away from the cultural imperative of our imbued “wrongness”.

On his deathbed, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi was surrounded by some of his students who were expressing concern about his imminent death. Some of his final words to them were, “Do not worry about me. I know who I am.”

That is our task; to come to an understanding of who we are. Not to maintain the self-perspective that has been scripted for us by others. Not to maintain the potentially misguided system of beliefs that keep us stuck in unproductive patterns of behavior. But, rather, to dig in to the essence of our spirit and define ourselves for ourselves by virtue of all the perfections and imperfections that make us unique.

© 2013 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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