Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Lately Maria Shriver has been on talk shows, promoting her latest book, Just Who Will You Be? She discussed a perspective that’s been mine for years—focusing on WHO, not WHAT you are—and raised my consciousness about how the way we identify ourselves affects self-esteem.

The most literal definition of self-esteem is how you value yourself. My favorite definition is being comfortable in your own skin: being happy in your less than perfect body; accepting yourself beyond thinning hair or a small bank account; loving yourself despite failures and limitations. It’s okay if you don’t like everything.

Good self-esteem is liking and accepting yourself for WHO you are, not for what you’ve accomplished or how good you can look. Yet that’s how so many of us identify ourselves. Are you your job? Your physique? The people you attract? Your bank account? Your car? Choices others make? Give yourself a break! That’s not who you are as a person. Outside factors don’t make you WHO you are!

So, WHO are you?

* A doctor, mechanic, writer, manager, musician, clerk, executive, etc.?
* A wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, son, daughter, mother father?
* A good neighbor, friend, DoorMat?

Except for the last one, all of those are fine to be. But they’re WHAT, not who you are!

The “what are you?” kind of thinking is taught. It’s not something you just think of. Growing up, parents, teachers, friends, etc. as questions about, “WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?” And we begin to ponder that question. The younger we hear it, the sooner we begin to define ourselves as a WHAT.

When I was a DoorMat, I saw myself as a loyal wife, devoted mother, dutiful daughter, selfless friend, and dedicated teacher. That was it! My identity stopped at the WHAT, not WHO I was to others. As my self-esteem got stronger and I thought about leaving DoorMatville, I knew I had to begin focusing on WHO I was. It was time to find my own identity.

I worked on myself on the inside, with strong doses of loving acts, consciously nurturing self-appreciation, and a deep focus on developing strong spiritual faith.

I used to be a fat girl who defined herself as a People Pleaser. Slowly, I developed into WHO I am today—an independent, strong, caring, spiritually guided, HAPPY chick who’s following her passions. That sure beats WHAT I was.

Think about WHO you are. Inside. Appearance and possessions embellish how you come across but they’re not who you are, unless you give them that power. It’s hard to feel truly content if you feel people like you because you’re pretty, or know all the answers or for your money or favors.

Look inside and appreciate your uniqueness! Appearance and possessions embellish your image but aren’t WHO you are.

If your sense of self is based on external achievements, it doesn’t last! Do you like seesaws? You lose 5 pounds and feel great./You regain it and hate yourself. Your partner praises you and you feel wonderful./She puts you down and your self-esteem is in the toilet. If you like seesaws, go play in the park! Good self-esteem is an inside job. You can’t get the real deal from anywhere but inside you.

So WHO are you? Think about it. Then get out a pad and pen, or a blank page in your computer, and write:

* Describe WHO you are to others. How do you think they see you? Is this how you want to be thought of by them? Write down all the things about you that you think define who or what you are to friends, family, a romantic partner, colleague, etc.

* Describe WHO you are to YOU. How do you see yourself? Write down all the things about you that create your self-definition. Are you happy with that self-image?

* What do you like most about WHO you are on the inside? List all of the internal qualities that you like about yourself. Hang that list where you can see it easily, and read it aloud when you can. Change your focus to the qualities about you that really get to the core of WHO you are.

* WHO would you like to be as a person? Ideally, how would you like to be known to others? Forget for a minute who you are to other people. Being a good Mom or Dad is great. Doing a bang up job at work is admirable. But how much integrity do you have? And how often do you take loving care of you?

Once you have a little of this consciousness raising, be more vigilant about how you view yourself. And, how loving you are, or aren’t to YOU. Add a little more self-kindness to each day, consciously. Read your list of good qualities about you as a person to motivate adding them to your conscious identity. Separate WHO you are from WHAT you are. It can truly bring more contentment and happiness that sustains no matter WHAT else changes.

I’m a lot of things to a lot of people but I embrace all the good inside me as my identity. Try it. It feels fabulous!

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