Category Archives: Identity

The Insecurity Of Others Opinions

“What are they thinking about me?

The question goes through your mind again and again, sometimes in the forefront and sometime as a nagging whisper in the back of your thoughts.

“What are they saying about me?”
“Do they like me?” …

The insecurity of others opinions returns to rock our security again.

This is my second blog post on the subject of insecurity and how many of our insecurities come from both comparing ourselves to others and listening to and speculating about others opinions of us.

I know in my own life these are the two main issues that can leave me feeling like I want to hide under a rock, shut myself away from the world and never come out.

It’s these two issues that can end up consuming our thoughts, feed our anxieties and stop us in our tracks.

Even people who act like and say “I don’t care what other people think about me,” whilst holding on to their mastered, controlled and perhaps hardened exterior, cannot deny that it does reach, touch & affect them at times.

The wondering,
The thinking,
The questioning,
The avoiding,

“What’s going on in their thoughts?”

There are a few ways in which we are affected by what others think and say about us:
Firstly, when people openly talk about us, either to our faces, or indirectly on forums like social media.
Secondly the usual gossipy ‘behind our backs’ opinions. (which women are of course very prone to).
Then finally, although sometimes less discernible; through our own speculation about what others might be thinking and saying about us.

I think it’s the final one that is more damaging than it first appears, because our speculation means that we try and read people by the way they act towards us. This actually opens us up to potential misunderstandings because we read actions as related to us, even though they may just be related to someone having a bad day, their mind being on on other things or even due to that persons own insecurities.

How many friendships and relationships have broken down due to these type of misunderstandings?

This speculation is one of the greatest challenges I have to overcome in my own thought life.
It constantly nags at me trying to pull me in to an insecure way of thinking.
It attacks my confidence.
It attempts to stop me being myself and doing what I am built to do.
It feeds my fears.
It paralyses my purpose.
It tries to shipwreck my relationships with others.
It questions my identity and challenges the core of who I am.

It whispers in my ear….
“What are they thinking about you?”
“Do they really like you?”
“Maybe they find you annoying.”
“Maybe they pretend to like you but then talk about you behind your back”
“Maybe they don’t like what you say and do.”
“Maybe you offended them (even though you might not know why).”
“Maybe, Maybe, Maybe….”

Tell me that those thoughts are not enough to make you want to hide away under a rock, out of sight and not face anyone.

from darkness

People can be nasty and we know it!

We have all experienced it and have all done it. Especially if we are having a bad day or two, and if we have had a bad week – oh dear!

It’s all around us;
criticism,
gossip,
negativity,
hate,
trolling,
bullying.

It’s enough to make anyone cynical & even fearful of others.

It’s not surprising that we feel insecure.

So how do we battle through the insecurity and find more freedom in our thoughts?

As I have already said I still don’t find this easy myself. I daily take on the challenge to reign in my insecure thoughts. Some days it’s easier than others. But I have found some keys to freedom and they really help.

The best way I have learnt to overcome my own insecurities about what others are thinking about me is by choosing to relate to other people with GRACE. Now grace is one of those words we often either relate to girls names, meal time prayers or religion. But grace is actually an amazing concept. Grace basically means something described as ‘unmerited favour’. In the context of relationships I would put it like this: it’s not relating to others in response to what they think, say, act or what you get back.

It’s choosing to treat people well regardless.

In the context of faith; it’s loving people whether or not they deserve it.

And yes…. it’s a radical concept!

How is that even possible you might ask?

Well I only find it possible because I know that’s how I am treated. I know that God loves me regardless of what I do. He does not love me because of how good I am (that wouldn’t get me very far anyway because I miss the mark all the time). He loves me by grace and to understand that is so freeing. I no longer have to try and get everything right to get God to love me. He just does and nothing can change that unconditional love.

So from the security of knowing I am loved unconditionally by someone unchanging, I have found I can choose to offer it out to others.

“When we know we are loved we find it easy to love other people”. – John Sentamu

I can build relationships with others from a secure place. I do not need the other person to like, love or think highly of me to feel secure in myself, because I know that my security ultimately comes from God.

When you have to try and work out whether or not someone deserves your love or friendship you start down a confusing and rocky path. The outlook is changeable because one day they do and the next they don’t, which is why so many people have turbulent relationships.

It’s a stressful process!

If you no longer have to go through that process and you choose to approach all your relationships and those around you with grace; you decide to love others regardless.

And it is so freeing!

The challenge is that it takes a lot of humility. Which is why we have the battle in our minds & thoughts. We get angry, hurt and offended and our anger can often be rooted in our pride. We shut people out because we fear them getting close and hurting us. We get offended because the other person said or did something that we didn’t like. So we retaliate with criticism and even hate.

Humility on the other hand says:
I am going to choose to love this person regardless of what I get back.
It puts the other person first.
It chooses to try and understand rather than misunderstand.
I gives people the benefit of the doubt.
It realises everyone makes mistakes
It knows that everyone is fighting their own battles.
It does not stereotype, but sees everyone as worthy of love.

It forgives.
It reaches out.
It is constant.
It is never fake.

“Behind all strife you find ego. Humility always promotes peace”. – Jarrod Cooper

This doesn’t mean I want to spend and invest my time with people who have taken a dislike to me or want to hurt me.

That wouldn’t be healthy.

But it does mean that I can reach out a hand of kindness and friendship to others, regardless of how they respond. And if they choose not to like me that is up to them – you can only build a relationship when two people both want to invest in it.

So if this is the case, I have to let it go, I do not need to hate them or get them back for their dislike of me. It does not need to eat away at me until bitterness takes hold of my heart and I end up taking my anger out on everyone else, including those who love me.

Instead, I can rest in the security that I am loved. With a perfect love from the author of love. A love that is consistent, unfailing, stable and unconditional.

That security always overrides the insecurity that come from others opinions.

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Yes I still may have to face and overcome the hurt, the pain and embrace my vulnerability and fragility.

But when those insecure thoughts knock at the door to my mind and attempt pull me in, I can retreat to that secure place:

A place that is constant.
Where I know who I am.
A place of safety.
A place of love.
Where I am again built up.
Where encouragement gives me the courage to get back up.
To face the world around me.
Not to be rocked back and forth by the opinions of others.

A place where I realise that others opinions are just that – opinions; that often say more about them than me. Where I can stop being tossed about by the waves of speculation and instead be secure and anchored in the fact that other peoples opinions should never define me or stop me from being the person I really am.

The person that is truly me.

“Lead the life that will make you kind & friendly to everyone about you and you will be surprised what a happy life you will live”. – Charles Schwab

The Insecurity Of Comparison

Comparison is the thief of Joy ~ Theodore Roosevelt

I don’t know about you but when I compare myself to others I often end up feeling miserable. As the above quote says, it steals away my contentment, happiness and peace and yet it’s so easy to do. Sometimes we don’t even realise that we are doing it.

I mentioned the quote in my last blog post about perspective and the importance of thankfulness. At the time I decided that I wanted to expand on this point about comparison and jealousy because I know from personal experience that it’s one of the biggest challenges that I and many people I know face.

If we are honest we all struggle with comparing ourselves to others in so many different ways.

We see photos of others and instead of just thinking – “wow they look great!” We can often think – “they look great …. how annoying”!! (Because it automatically reminds me that I’m feeling pretty ugly/ fat/ rubbish/ insecure today).

Or maybe we see someone else’s achievements at work, school or within our friendship or family groups. But rather than being able to authentically celebrate it with them – instead it reminds us of our own weaknesses and failures (which can even cause us to lash out at others instead – both directly or indirectly).

Parents do this all the time. Someone else seems to be the perfect parent with perfect children (not that there really is such a thing) and we just end up feeling rubbish about our parenting skills rather than seeing what we do well.

Leaders do it. We look at a similar company, organisation, community group or church and rather than seeing & celebrating their strengths we instead find that their strengths reveal our own weaknesses & feelings of inadequacy. (Although we can hide that by instead looking for all their weaknesses to justify our own!).

Why is it that others’ successes often remind us of our failures?

Most of us have an inward default that compares our weaknesses with another’s strengths.

For instance, I can remember in my early teens one of the boys in my class at school made a comment about my nose. His words were something like, “Ha ha, your nose looks like a beak” and kept calling me Pingu (his observational skills sound quite amusing as I write that down & I think I laughed along at the time – as you do.) But before that day I had never really thought much about my nose. It all changed that day. For a long while after that I was so conscious of my nose. I examined it’s shape in the mirror constantly, wondering how much better I would look with a nicer, smaller, better proportioned nose. Most significantly, from that point on I noticed everyone else’s noses. I compared my ‘beak’ with the girls with the perfectly shaped little noses.

I developed nose envy!

The initial comment from that boy about my ‘beak’ drew my attention to my nose. But it was then my comparison with others’ noses which solidified my insecurity.

We do this all the time and it causes so many problems in families, relationships, communities, schools and workplaces.

from darkness

Comparison is an epidemic which has markedly worsened by the rise of social media. I appreciate so many of the positives of social media, which is why I use it. But I don’t think anyone can deny it has made comparison and jealousy worse.

When I was at school, as many others can relate to, I would constantly compare myself to all the popular, pretty and super clever girls. I’d wonder which of my friends really were my friends, who did or didn’t like me (and who said what behind your back), which (if any) boys did, or more usually didn’t, fancy me and of course face all the daily challenges of school life…… but at least then I could get some sort of respite from that at home.

Now comparison comes right into the home. It is carried around in your pocket & draws you in when you scroll through your social media, websites and the abundant pictures and information on your smart phone about others.

Selfies,
beautiful people,
their families,
friends,
holidays,
parties,
homes,
possessions,
jobs,
talents,
wonderful lives,
outstanding people and organisations.

The smiles,
the hugs,
the happiness of others….

And of course…

The bullying,
The nastiness,
The hate,
The complaining,
And the negativity.

Taken directly from the playground, workplace, community and moved into peoples homes and lives through the internet.

No wonder depression, self harm, eating disorders & even suicide seem to be on the rise. Especially in young people.

We are bombarded with the successes, celebrations and good parts of people’s lives. (Who chooses to put that horrible picture of themselves on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram? We obviously choose the best… and then add a few favourable filters…)

And we can come away feeling rubbish.
And subsequently we can end up despising those people.
Attempting to find cracks in their perceived ‘perfection’.
To fight back.
Competing in our minds and actions.
Whilst slipping further into insecurity.

Jealousy raises it’s ugly head but we don’t always see or perceive it for what it is.

from darkness

Jealousy and comparison are often so apparent with siblings. I see it all the time with my two girls (and remember it from growing up with my two sisters). It causes so many of the fights between them. A lot of their battles stem from competitiveness, comparison or jealousy.

But they often can’t see it themselves.

All they know is that they feel angry with the other person. They will find all sorts of ways to justify this anger…
She did this
She did that
She said this
She said that
It’s not fair
She had more
Why does she get to have or do that.
And it’s always the other ones fault!

They cannot see that often the problem is often not the other person.
It’s their jealousy,
It’s their comparison.
It’s those feelings that make them feel angry.
It’s those feelings that make them lash out.
That they themselves are a big part of their own problem.
That it takes two to have an argument.

You can’t change how people treat you or what they say about you. All you can do is change how you react to it. -Nicky Gumbel

The problem is often not really about the other person; it’s often really about us and how we feel. We blame other people for our own feelings and insecurities, often without justification.

Yes, other people can hurt us, attack us, be nasty, be difficult, treat us unfairly. But we can rarely change them by fighting back. Actually, fighting back often destroys us more than it does them. We cannot control others’ feelings but we can manage our own feelings and emotions and learn to not let what others do or think dictate how we feel.

I truly believe we can begin to get free from many of the negative effects of comparison and jealousy if we choose to.

But how?

We need to become more aware of ourselves and what drives our insecurities.

To begin to recognise that what we really feel is jealousy when comparison draws out our insecurities.

To realise that we cannot make other people change but that we can only change ourselves and our own attitudes.

It’s only as I become more self aware and recognise comparison and jealousy as the source of many of my insecurities that I can begin to get free from its entanglement. It’s only as I realise that when I feel insecure it’s not the other person that made me feel like that – but instead my own reactions to them – that I can move beyond my feelings.

The first step to personal freedom is always self awareness.

Rather than getting frustrated and lashing out at people that make us feel insecure, we must see that most of the problem lies within us. It lies within our own perception of who we really are.

It’s not easy to stop feelings & thoughts of comparison and jealousy. But it is one of the keys to true freedom. It’s a battle worth fighting.

So how do we fight this never ending battle?

By becoming secure in our own uniqueness.
By knowing that we are created as:
One of a kind,
With a unique mix of:
personality,
body,
looks,
talents,
gifts,
purpose.
Not to be constantly compared to others but to be discovered & developed as unique and valuable.

from darkness

There is only one me.
Only I can be me.
To try & be anyone else is far too exhausting.

It’s not an easy path to tread. I have chosen to walk this path but still find I have to daily overcome the temptation to compare who I am and what I do with others. But it’s a path worth taking because it’s the only way to true freedom, contentment and inner peace.

So in this moment I choose to remind myself that I am who I am, a one off, unique, not to be compared with others. Pressing on to become the best version of ME I can be, whilst allowing YOU to be the best version of you that you can be. That way we allow ourselves and one another to discover more freedom.

….. Because I don’t know about you but comparison and jealousy are just not worth it! They just always make me feel miserable!

Comparison is the thief of Joy ~ Theodore Roosevelt


I press on to become the best version of ME I can be, whilst allowing YOU to be the best version of you that you can be. That way we allow ourselves and one another to discover more freedom.


This is the first of two posts on Insecurity. The second post, which I published a week later is The Insecurity of Other Opinions.

We Are Not Meant To Be Alone: Individualism vs Community

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
― Mother Teresa

In my last blog post: Surviving the Storm I shared some of the story of the last 3 months of my life. During the post I wrote about the journey I had been on following a fall off a ladder which, for a while, left me with a debilitating brain & spinal fluid injury which stopped me in my tracks for a number of weeks. (And included a two and a half week stay in a local hospital).

It was an immensely challenging time for us as a family. Suddenly I found myself lying in bed pretty much all day, for 10 weeks, and if I did get up, for a minimal amount of time (usually 10-30mins) I was so lightheaded, dizzy, uncomfortable & in pain that I couldn’t function normally and quickly had to return to bed. Even lying in bed I battled various unpleasant symptoms.

My husband Matt, whose job can take him all over the country, as well as being one of the leaders at our local church, suddenly lost the day to day support of his wife (and our girls (age 8 & 10) mum) and had to take on many of my roles whilst coping with his own. Anyone who knows what a ‘full’ life we normally lead knows what a challenge that was for him. One to which he stepped up to and executed so well and calmly amidst a very challenging time.

However, in this season one thing we knew early on is that we could not face this alone – without our daily life falling apart.

We needed help.
We needed support.
We needed others.
We could not cope on our own.

It’s a humbling process when you can no longer manage day to day life on your own. Having to ask for and accept help from others so that life can somehow keep moving forward each day.

For this season we could no longer be the ones to offer help. Instead we had to accept others help daily. And that brings a new level of humility as well as a new level of gratefulness for family, friendship and community.

from darkness

It was the:
love,
kindness,
service,
sacrifice
and generosity
of so many people around us that made our storm bearable. This combined with the inner strength and peace that came from our deep relationship with God allowed us to push through our weaknesses and somehow weather the storm.

We are not meant to be alone.
We are created and built to be together in family and community.
We are built to show and share love even beyond our natural families.

It is so sad that our western societies often place individualism over community. I believe that individualism is often a fruit of selfishness and self preservation and it robs us of the joys of true community. Our societies have lost so much community spirit and although various people attempt to revive it, it can be a challenging battle to fight. People are so busy with their own lives & families that we can easily loose a sense of community on a wider level.

Although myself and my husband are big advocates of community; sharing our lives and journeying together through life with others through local church and in our general lives, the last three months revealed that even after years of advocating community we too could still be too self-sufficient, individualistic and prideful in our own thinking.

How did we recognise this?

Simply that we soon discovered that early on during my illness we didn’t find it easy that suddenly the roles reversed and so many people had to help us in so many ways. That we were the ones struggling, the ones in need of help and support.

I realised that I was so used to being self-sufficient, getting on with life, facing challenges, keeping going and often the one helping others that it was a challenge when we became the ones that people rallied around to help and support.

You can feel weak and helpless, a bit of a burden to people who are already so busy with their own lives and commitments. That you are letting others down by them having to find the extra time and energy to cover your roles. 

Matt and I are great advocates of grace and generosity. We believe in giving without expecting a return, loving whether or not someone is deserving and serving others without expecting anything back. We constantly do our best to teach and model all this within our church community.

Why then can it be such a challenge for us to receive others help and generosity ourselves?

Please don’t misunderstand me: we were utterly blessed by it. It touched us deeply to have so many people look after our children, get them to and from school, prepare us beautiful meals, shower us with flowers, cards and gifts, clean our house, step into our roles at work, church and school and offer up prayers and words of support.

We were and are so very grateful and thankful for the support of so many wonderful friends and family. It was a lifeline at a very difficult time.

However, I realised that sometimes we may not naturally allow others the joy of giving and helping us because of our own pride and self sufficiency that says we are OK and can manage, even when in reality we are struggling. This is often because we do not want to trouble other people and so we think we are helping them by not letting them share in our struggles.

from darkness

Thankfully in our case we have friends and family who know us well enough to know we needed help regardless. We hardly needed to ask because the offers came pouring in which was truly a God send and a wonderful blessing. However, we still learnt that people will not always have room to be the blessing they desire to be if we do not allow them into our weaknesses and struggles. One of the reasons we don’t always let people in is because it is not easy to be vulnerable.

It is not easy for self sufficient people to be the ones in need. 

Perhaps many of us are too used to being individualistic and self sufficient.
Maybe we are more a product of our western society than we first thought.

I have realised that my own self sufficiency can actually get in the way of us building the community that I believe God created us to live in. And that community is not healthy until we begin to lay down our own self sufficiency and learn to both GIVE and to RECEIVE with grace and humility.

When you are used to giving, it is not always easy to receive. On the reverse, some people are so used to being in need and receiving that they do not find it easy to give. Which is a challenge, because we need to be doing both for community to work.

Our own individualism and pride can stop community working as it should, if we do not allow others to share in our STRUGGLES as well as our VICTORIES.

As I wrote in a recent blog post about the anniversary of my Mums death I believe that:

Sometimes our hearts need to be exposed.
Our weaknesses need to be seen.

I believe it is important because it’s often our vulnerabilities that bring us the greatest connection to other people. It’s in our weaknesses that we realise:

That we all need others.
That we are not built to live life alone.
That pride & self-sufficiency are the enemies of true community.
That if we want to be part of a community that we need to let people into our lives – warts and all.

The challenge of community is to become people who are open about our lives and will choose to both GIVE and RECEIVE graciously.

The beauty of humanity is majestically displayed when we are loving & serving one another. For it is love that creates real community. At the heart of love is humility & generosity. And it is humility & generosity that breaks down pride, individualism and self sufficiency.

Which, in turn, opens the way for true community.

We may impress people by our strengths; but we connect with them through our vulnerabilities. – Nicky Gumbel

How can we allow others to share in our lives in a way that builds true community? Do you find it easier to give or to receive? How can we embrace the humility needed to model healthy community to others?


Community is not healthy until we begin to lay down our own self sufficiency and learn to both GIVE and to RECEIVE with grace and humility.


 

Who am I…. Really? Embracing our uniqueness in a world full of labels.

Who am I? Why am I here? What is all this about? What’s the point of life? What difference can I make? What defines me?

Whoever you are. Whatever you do. I am sure you have faced those questions. Sometimes they knock at our minds when we face those rare moments when there is no noise around us. Sometimes they mould and define us as we carve out our place in this world. Some of us never truly discover the answers.

Many of us are defined by the titles and boxes of what we do: I am a parent, I am a nurse, I am a teacher, an IT consultant, a cleaner, a banker, a student, an employee, a manager, a boss, a leader. Often that is all the world around us wants to know ‘What do you do?’ As if by knowing what you do it can quickly sum up ‘Who you are’ and more importantly ‘how significant or important’ you are.

But that is only part of the story.

As John Maxwell says: “In our culture, people ask, “what do you do?” not, “who are you?” or “How are you making a difference?”. Most people place too much emphasis on titles and position instead of on impact.”

from darkness

So some of us look to personality types: I am an introvert, an extrovert, a thinker, a doer, an explorer, realist, creative, pioneer….

All these things help us to explain who we are and help other people to understand us more. But these things can also place us in boxes that we can’t escape from. Boxes that are only half the story. (I always find myself in the middle of a few, struggling to pin point labels that actually make sense of who I really am.)

What if we were less caught up by trying to be ‘defined’ by positions, titles and labels and more caught up in discovering and embracing our own uniqueness. Instead of allowing ourselves to be dictated by the boxes we are placed in, and place ourselves into, what if we gave ourselves and others the space to find out who we really are and who we are meant to be.

Losing stereotypes.
Looking beyond titles.
Seeing the real person rather than just their position.
Speaking about people as individuals, rather than grouping them together under headings that supposedly define them.
Allowing people to break free from their past and the labels that have been attached to them.


What if we were less caught up by trying to be ‘defined’ by position, titles and labels and more caught up in discovering and embracing our own uniqueness.


These questions have defined a lot of my life. My life’s journey has often battled the quest for labels and titles that ‘define me’. Names that I can hold up as badges to explain who I am and gain credibility & others approval, in a world where people love to feel ‘important’. And while I have, at times, desired those badges, they often seem to have eluded me. (Which has, at times, been a challenging journey and a personal battle I have had to face.)

But I have learnt that until I stop trying to be defined by ‘titles’ or ‘positions’, I will not push through to discover who I am really meant to be. Until I give up the need to explain to others who I really am and instead just BE who I am, I will not allow others room to be who they really are, regardless of their labels, titles or positions.

So I choose to believe that it is not ‘how important’ we sound that defines us. It is not the boxes of labels, titles and positions, whether self-imposed or imposed on us by others, that dictate who we really are.

We are who we are.
An individual.
A one-off.
With a unique past, present and future.
Not to be tied down by one definition.
Not to be defined by someone else’s words or phrases.


Until I give up the need to explain to others who I really am and instead just BE who I am, I will not allow others room to be who they really are


I wonder what life would be like if we all stepped back from the badges, titles, positions and labels that have defined us all for too long. And instead sought to be real and honest with ourselves.

Seeking to discover the:
Gifts,
Talents,
Idiosyncrasies,
Uniqueness
That we all have.

And just get comfortable in our own skin.

from darkness