Happy Days Ahead: Q&A With Gabrielle Bernstein
Gabrielle Bernstein discusses authentic happiness, the path to peace, and IFS therapy.
We’ve all felt the sting of being let down, frustrated, unfulfilled, or not quite good enough in our lives and relationships. I’ve been guilty of having unrealistic expectations of others and wanting them to shower me with compliments, approval, and validation. And I’ve sometimes been guilty of trying to control situations or outcomes in an attempt to get what I thought would make me feel good. It was a painful, exhausting way to live.
Remember: studies show that basing our self-worth on external factors is actually harmful to our mental health. One study at the University of Michigan found that college students who based their self-worth on external sources (including academic performance, appearance, and approval from others) reported more stress, anger, academic problems, and relationship conflicts. They also had higher levels of alcohol and drug use, as well as more symptoms of eating disorders. The same study found that students who based their self-worth on internal sources not only felt better but also received higher grades and were less likely to use drugs and alcohol or develop eating disorders.
Through the consistent practices of self-compassion and meditation, I’ve discovered a few perspective shifts that have transformed my sense of self-worth. I’ve found that when I base my self-worth on who I am and my inherent value as a human being, rather than what others think or how much I achieve, my confidence soars and my inner critic quiets.
Try these four sets of self-confidence step-ups to tone your core sense of self-worth and feel spiritually fit and healthy:
For the majority of my life, I got my self-worth from the outside world—someone else’s approval or validation dictated how I felt about myself. What a setup that is! As we’ve learned, when we base our self-worth on sources outside ourselves (such as career, money, material possessions, relationships, appearance, and so forth), we can never have enough or be enough.
Being independent from others’ thoughts of me (both positive and negative) and instead trusting in the God of my own understanding for my value, I have become more self-sufficient and, as a result, experience more peace, freedom, and material success.
Sure, compliments are very nice to hear, but my mood and mental and physical health are no longer dependent on another’s approval of me. As long as we are judging our worth on another’s opinion of us or how people choose to treat us, we will never be able to live up to our full potential and experience true joy.
Instead of looking to others for validation to make us feel worthy or “enough,” how about reframing our thinking around the notion that nobody owes us anything?
When we are truly anchored in our own self-love and get our self-worth from the unique qualities that make us one of a kind, we become self-sufficient. We don’t need to go to our partners, friends, work, food, alcohol, or social media for a quick ego boost. We can turn inward and look to a higher power for our value, knowing we are enough simply because we are alive.
I’ve looked to significant others, bosses, parents, or friends to tell me something to make me feel better or to treat me a certain way so I could feel valued, respected, and loved. To see why this is wrong, let’s take an analogy from the world of work: if a client simply doesn’t have any more money in their budget to pay you, they can’t give it to you, and perhaps the solution is to find an opportunity where the compensation matches the value, skills, and experience you bring to the table. Similarly, if a customer service representative is frustrating you because they can’t help with your request, maybe they lack proper training and thorough information. And in the same way, maybe your partner isn’t respecting you because they lack self-respect.
I’ve learned that the people who have cheated us, hurt us, or done us wrong cannot necessarily make amends—either they are unwilling or unable. Waiting for and expecting others to apologize, make it up to us, or even admit they were wrong implies a belief that their actions can make us feel whole again. But when we are dependent on others to make us happy, we will always be disappointed on some level.
The good news is that if we put our faith in ourselves and in the God of our own understanding, we will never be let down. The universe is self-organizing and self-correcting.
As long as we are doing our best, honoring ourselves and our purpose, we will feel less and less inclined to seek the approval of others. Instead of feeling offended when people fail to acknowledge us, what if we could see it as an opportunity to expand and grow? What if we embraced the fact that such experiences prepare us to take our lives to the next level and start fulfilling our mission?
The less I depend on people to validate me, the stronger my emotional muscles become and, in turn, the stronger my sense of self-worth. I have accomplished more both personally and professionally in less time—and need fewer compliments to keep me going strong—simply because of my faith in myself and in the universe. Focusing on the special characteristics that make me uniquely me is much easier and more rewarding than waiting for someone to say or do something that will make me feel good for a little while ... until I need my next “fix.”
Our lives truly become fuller when we turn our attention inward to the miracle that we are, release expectations, and stay detached from outcomes and other people’s opinions. Try it out for yourself, and let me know how it goes!
Excerpted from the book from The Full Spirit Workout. Copyright ©2021 by Kate Eckman. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.
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