THE WITNESS, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2006 KNOW YOURSELF Feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt often stem from inaccurate self- knowledge Sitting on my own in a coffee shop recently, I couldn‟t help but overhear the conversation between two attractive young women at the next table. The one, let‟s call her Jackie, was telling her friend about a young man she had met at a friend‟s twenty first birthday party. After she had described him, their interesting conversation and the fun they‟d had dancing together, her friend asked the inevitable question: “And how did it end?” “Well”, said Jackie, “ he wants to see me again, but I put him off”. “But I thought you liked him!” “I do”, she replied, “but I found out that he is in his final year of studying to be a doctor and I just know that when he finds out that I‟m just a florist, he‟ll be disappointed. He‟ll want someone intelligent and sophisticated, with a degree – not someone dull and ordinary like me. I just don‟t want to get hurt, that‟s all.” The tragedy of inaccurate self-knowledge, I thought. Here is this lovely young woman, who doesn‟t know her true worth. As a result she is unable to accept herself or recognise, accept and celebrate the wonderful intelligences, gifts, strengths and passions that she possesses. Because she has this inaccurate picture of herself, she is unable to take the risk of participating in new relationships. She feels sure that, when they get to know her, others will have the same picture so she withdraws to protect herself. And the reality is, she is not alone. She is one of millions of people, of all ages, from all walks of life and socio-economic groups who suffer to varying degrees from feelings of inadequacy, self doubt and a lack of self worth because, through no fault of their own, they have grown up with inaccurate knowledge about themselves. They practise unhealthy self-criticism and, like Jackie, sabotage their chances of happiness and success in all areas of their lives. Reflecting on it after they had left, I thought about Socrates‟ age-old admonition, “Know thyself” and couldn‟t help but grieve for a society, in which, thousands of years later, with technical knowledge so advanced, so many of us still don‟t know enough about ourselves but, instead, grow up with inaccurate knowledge about who we are; inaccurate knowledge that results in feelings of low self worth and poor self esteem. As Sydney Harris wrote „Ninety percent of the world‟s woes comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.” Why is it like this? Where does this inaccurate knowledge come from? Why do we not have correct knowledge about ourselves? Let‟s think about the self-knowledge we each possess right now, as having come from a large mirror – a „social‟ mirror which, as we grow up and journey through life, reflects what others say or think about us back onto ourselves. If, as we look into that mirror, the messages we get about ourselves reinforce the indisputable truth that we are worthy, that we are beautifully designed for a special purpose, and with the potential to succeed, despite the difficulties we will encounter in life, then we grow up believing in our capabilities. We are then able to accept our strengths and limitations, set, and work towards, realistic goals and have healthy relationships. Conversely, if that knowledge is negative and inaccurate then we are made to feel worthless and grow up with a negative, disapproving picture of ourselves and the inability to see beyond our limitations and problems. This weakens our motivation, causes us to lose sight of our goals and spoils our relationships. Probably, the greatest influence on how we see ourselves, is our family and extended family. Many parents and family members are unaware of what a lasting effect what they do or don‟t do, what they say and how they say it, and even their body language, has on the pictures people develop of themselves and, in turn, on their future happiness and success. Our self knowledge is also shaped by our friends. As in the case of families, caring relationships with them reflect to us the truth that we are worthy of love and respect while abusive, controlling and unhealthy relationships cause us to believe the lie that we are not. And then we had our teachers who also, from our earliest years, had an enormous influence on the building of either accurate or inaccurate self-knowledge. They either encouraged us and taught us about our strengths, challenged us in positive ways and lead us to a better understanding of ourselves or they embarrassed, humiliated, discouraged and made us feel as if we were no good. The electronic media, if watched too much, can also result in incorrect beliefs about ourselves as it causes the line between fiction and reality to blur. “I‟m no good because I‟m not physically beautiful and articulate like the people in the movies, advertisements or magazines.” “I‟m not as worthy as the people who drive the „right‟ cars, wear the „right‟ clothes, have the „right‟ careers and visit the „right‟ places.” What can we do if we have grown up with inaccurate knowledge about ourselves; if we are often, or even sometimes, plagued with feelings of inadequacy and self doubt that impede our effectiveness? Is it possible to change the negative behaviours that have resulted? With determination and ongoing hard work it is and I believe that Socrates‟ words offer us a good starting point. We need to get to know ourselves To start to do that, I believe that we have to look backwards, inwards, forwards and outwards. We need to look backwards, so that we can see the past more clearly, recognise where these inaccurate beliefs came from, and work through them. A really good counsellor can help us with this process as well as offer and support us with strategies for changing those beliefs and the negative habits that have resulted. We need to look inwards to find out as much as we can about how we are designed and what our intelligences, strengths, gifts and passions are, as it is knowing, accepting and applying these that enable us to change the wrong perceptions we have of our abilities. It is only when we start to believe in ourselves that we can start to better manage our lives and use them to the full. This then enables us to look forwards and outwards, past our limitations, to find our purpose and vision. „Body and soul, I am wonderfully made….What a creation!‟, wrote the Psalmist, and thousands of years later this is being verified by all the research on the human brain. Let‟s not allow inaccurate self-knowledge from our „social‟ mirrors to cloud who we really are and sabotage our present and our future. And let‟s always reflect accurate knowledge into the mirrors of others. Beryl Lourens is the founder and director of The Centre For Life-Long Learning which specializes in Learning and Productivity Styles and Emotional Intelligence. 033-3431017; info@C4lifelonglearning.co.za; www.C4lifelonglearning.co.za.