On the Corner

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by Robert Docter – 

Much of our emotional well being and personal adjustment depends a great deal on the feelings and thoughts we have about our personal adequacy.

Sometimes, we devour ourselves and those around us only because of a negative self image. We let go barrages of negative judgmentalism because of what we don’t like about ourselves. Most of this is unconscious. Usually, we don’t plan it. Often, it’s not purposeful. This negative self image germinates in pools of neurotic pride or unrealistic fears or imaginary guilt or irrational demands of conscience. Giant fish swim in these pools. They have names like “learned helplessness,” ” inferiority,” ” insecurity,” “worthlessness.” When we fish in these pools and eat of our catch we erode and weaken the very foundations of our self-structure.

In the daily demands of life we struggle to cope with and confront threats, frustrations and conflicts. Often, we generate these events through negative messages we send to those around us–negative messages rooted in our own negative self-appraisal. We can reduce the power of these events with a little preventive maintenance. We can develop a healthy self image.

I think there must be many who believe that they are stuck just where they are. They believe they can’t change. This is it. I’m “this way” and I can’t do anything about it.

Disabuse that thought.

That kind of thinking might be safe for you. It might free you from responsible behavior with others. It might help you deal with your guilt when you damage others, but it’s not true. You can change. You can develop a healthy self-image. You can feel a greater sense of adequacy in relationships. You can feel able, worthwhile, confident. We’re not talking about something unattainable.

Developing a healthy self-image is simply unlearning some old, counter-productive attitudes and substituting them with a new cluster of attitudes designed to lead to physical and psychological health.

More often than not, we go about this task backwards.

Goethe wrote: “If you want to know yourself, observe what your neighbors are doing. If you want to understand others, probe within yourself.” We tend to do just the opposite. We observe others as we try to understand them. We look within ourselves in order to better understand ourselves. This doesn’t work well because we look at the other person objectively and at ourselves subjectively. With very objective criteria, we see everything about the other person, rights and wrong, flaws and inadequacies, mistakes and insecurities.

When we look at ourselves, the subjective assessment is screened through our good intentions, our hopes and dreams, our secret fears and deepest needs, our unrelenting drive for love and recognition. When we see ourselves through this kind of glass we distort our perception of ourselves and inhibit our ability to change.

When Goethe said that we can best understand ourselves by looking at our neighbor he was talking about empathy — building a social feeling–a feeling with others. This takes the “objective” you and combines it with the “subjective” me and bridges the chasm between you and me. As we feel that truly empathic link between ourselves and those around us, we feel more positive about ourselves.

In many ways, Christ’s response to the lawyer’s question: “And who is my neighbor?” was a lesson in empathy. He told a story of one who empathized with another and gave. The gift was not obligatory. It was not mechanical. It was given freely. One felt with the other.

So clearly, then, a beginning in the process of developing a more healthy self image is through nurturing genuine, empathic responses within you for neighbors everywhere.

More later, but that’s enough for now.

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