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Why Acting Strong Is Really Weak

The key to authentic self-esteem lies in being true to yourself.

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A troubling theme that I come across in my work as a therapist—and in observation of people in generalis the belief that we should always act strong and hide our insecurities and fears. The harm that this "common wisdom" perpetrates is incalculable. It decimates true self-esteem and damages our relationships.

Acting strong is still acting.

When we act or pretend to be different than who we truly are, we abandon our real self by putting on a mask. We do this in an attempt to control what we hope others will think of us. So we manipulate and camouflage our self as we seek the approval of others, or at the least try to avoid their disapproval. This sets up the primary betrayal of our genuine self.

We derive authentic self-esteem from our relationship with our own self.

If we contort our personality to seek recognition or approval from others, we're pursuing what I call other-esteem, because it doesn't come from within, but is sought from outside of us. We're trying to feel better about ourselves by being disingenuous.

How do you think that's going to work out? The more we do this, the further we move from genuine self-esteem. This is the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be embracing our vulnerability.

What do I mean by vulnerable?

For me, the word vulnerable doesn't elicit weakness, but openness. Don't construe it to mean fragile. As humans, we all experience vulnerable feelings, like insecurity, doubt, and fear. In moderation, these are common emotions. But due to our misinformed cultural meta-narrative that demands the appearance of strength, we decide to hide these feelings from one another.

So we live out our lives falsely thinking that our shortcomings or self-doubts are unique to us. The sad irony is that those same individuals whose opinions we are so worried about are very likely doing the same thing. So the vast majority of people are disempowering themselves, thinking that others are more confident and secure. This tragic myth terribly limits our lives.

Hiding our true self from others is what makes us fragile.

Being yourself makes you strong. When I encourage this transition, people may ask, "But what will they think of me? How will they see me?" This is a common concern for people who grapple with revealing their genuine self. I'd offer that I want to be seen as I truly am—as my authentic self. This is the path to powerful self-esteem.

When we accept our vulnerability, we have nothing to hide from others, and this, in turn, makes us genuinely powerful. You can find the key to resilient self-esteem by embracing your vulnerability, your fears, and your insecurities. In doing so, you liberate yourself from setting up others as your judge, as you have nothing to hide.

You must embrace your vulnerability to attain inner strength. Releasing your concerns by bringing them into the light allows them to dissipate; masking them cements them into your being.

Who is my judge?

Why is it more important to us what someone else thinks of us than what we think of ourselves? When we subordinate our self-worth by setting up another person as our judge, we perpetuate emotional abuse on ourselves. Other people aren't your judge; why appoint them that power?

Everyone has opinions, for sure, but to elevate someone's opinions to the power of judgment is irrational and without merit. What you're doing is judging yourself and then projecting that power of judgment onto someone else. I'm fond of saying that the only person who has the right to literally judge me wears a long black robe and presides in a courthouse.

For relationships to thrive, we must experience emotional intimacy.

What I mean by this is a transparent and safe sharing of our feelings. When we obscure feelings that we think others will criticize or scrutinize, we block emotional intimacy.

We all just want to be loved, but to be loved you need to be lovable.

Most of us struggle with actually being lovable. When you need to act strong, you erect a defensive wall that doesn't allow others in. You become impenetrable and, therefore, unlovable. Others most often see vulnerability—openness—as lovable. In my work with couples and families, when someone expresses their softer vulnerable feelings, others not only listen—they care.

Isn't it insane that we hide the very qualities that could make us feel validated, affirmed, and loved? Embracing rather than hiding from our vulnerability makes us authentic and powerful. It suggests that we accept and value ourselves as we are, without fear of what we think others may think of us.

We've clearly been playing from the wrong game plan.

This post was excerpted from my book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love (Fall 2017, Sounds True).

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