In my work as a career success coach, I work with women of all ages, sizes and styles, and one theme has become very apparent: women are incredibly tough on themselves, full of self-rejection, shame, humiliation and doubt, particularly about their looks, their weight, intelligence and their worthiness.
I can count on one hand the number of women I've spoken with who feel "just great" about themselves. The vast majority of women I interact with are indeed brilliant, accomplished, talented and creative -- in short, amazing -- but feel somehow that they are not good or worthy enough. I call these women "perfectionistic overfunctioners" -- doing everything for everyone around them and striving so hard to get an "A" in every single endeavor and aspect of their lives. I should know -- I'm a recovering one.
Since "getting an A" is not possible in every activity or area, women then fall short of their unrealistic expectations and feel even worse, seeing their "failure" as validation that they have to work harder and be better.
Know that I'm not judging here. I feel deep love and compassion in my heart for all these women, because I can empathize fully. I've done a lot of internal work around this, and I'm proud to say that I now know how liberating it is to free oneself from needing to get an "A," and how fabulous it feels to jump off of the never-ending hamster wheel of doing more than is healthy, more than is appropriate, more than is necessary.
I've seen first-hand that once you power up, build appropriate boundaries and start speaking up and honoring what you want and who you are, you begin to operate very differently in the world and grow happier and more accepting of yourself and everyone around you. You begin to embrace your "imperfect, just-right" functioning rather than striving for an impossible goal of perfection. But I'm not always there -- I fall down and forget to love and accept myself.
I experienced a wake-up call on this several weeks ago, when I spent a day at a photo shoot in Connecticut for my new website. The day's experiences took me from self-rejecting, shameful and worried (once again) about my looks, my weight, etc., to loving it all -- embracing myself, my foibles and flaws, my talents and who I am at my core. I saw how the right kind of experience (with the right kind of people who align closely with your values, your heart and your worldview), can help you move from self-rejection to self-acceptance in a few short hours (or in an instant).
I realized there are five key stages of transformation from self-rejection to self-love, and if we gain awareness of these stages, and have the courage to move through them, we can accelerate our own growth.
The five stages of transformation from self-hate to self-acceptance are:
Stage 1: "I don't rate -- I'm just not good enough."
I started the day of my photo shoot afraid -- afraid to share my wardrobe choices, reluctant to express what I really liked in terms of style, color, makeup, hair, jewelry and inhibited in my movements and physical presence. I compared myself in my mind to the thousands of other women my wonderful photographer Jacklyn Greenberg had shot before -- young and old men and women I thought were beautiful and charismatic (so it seemed to me). Along with head shots, weddings and national events, Jacklyn does "risqué" photography as well, all of it stunning. Some clients are naked or are only partially dressed and from Jacklyn's website, all of them seemed gorgeous, vibrant and unabashedly free.
I thought, Oh, no -- this is going to be a very long day.
Stage 2: "Wait, maybe I'm not so bad."
As the first hour progressed, with the help of the fabulous Jacklyn and wonderful makeup artist D.D. Nickel, things changed and I changed. I moved from fearing everything about me was wrong and inferior to remembering that what I am -- inside and out -- is not terrible. Far from it. I started to see how my fears about my looks, weight, age, clothes, wrinkles, skin, tummy, etc. are universal and the only thing keeping me stuck in my insecurity was me.
Stage 3: "Hmmm... I guess I do have some unique, valuable qualities."
Then, midway through, something interesting happened. I saw through their eyes that -- as I let out who I really am -- sharing my authentic personality, what I care about, my quirks, how I'm different -- the shoot went much better, and the day became raucously fun. I forgot I was being photographed. We talked, shared, probed, guffawed and as I connected more deeply with Jacklyn and D.D., I saw how my qualities could be seen as unique and valuable -- to the experience at hand, but also in relationship with these great new folks I was partnering with, and even in helping spread the word about their work and the stunning property, Winvian, we were lucky enough to be shooting on.
Stage 4: "It's ridiculous (and a sheer waste of time) to hide -- I'm going let it all out."
Towards the end, the idea of hiding was long gone. I wasn't afraid, shy or reluctant -- I was excited, energized and inspired to be even more of myself. I saw clearly how stepping up and powering up to share myself in the most authentic, vulnerable way possible was the ONLY way this whole thing would work (in a photo shoot and in life).
Stage 5: "Ok, I can honestly say -- I love and accept myself."
Finally, at the end of the day as I was driving home, tired but exhilarated, I felt a flush of self-acceptance (dare I say self-love). I had done something that was scary and challenging for me. I had stepped up to a very high vision for where I want to go -- in my life, in my career, in my professional pursuits -- I held out high hopes for I wanted for and the outcomes I'd dreamed of, and I pushed myself to be real and courageous enough to make this happen. Not just because I went to a cool photo shoot, but because I believed in myself and the idea that I'm worthy of putting myself out there in the world in a bigger way.
At the end of the day, I was able to utter to myself exactly what my spiritual therapist years ago implored me to state as an affirmation every day: "I thoroughly love and accept myself." In the past, I coughed up a hair ball every time I said that. Now, with each day, it's much easier.
Some women will read this and think, Wow, what a narcissist Kathy is! because we're culturally trained to think that if we love ourselves, we'll be self-involved, selfish and self-absorbed. I challenge that idea. Self-love is desperately, vitally important and needed in the world today. You simply can't have a wonderful, rewarding and happy life and career -- and you can't be of service to others fully -- if you don't love and accept yourself, flaws, gaps, foibles and all.
We're imperfect as humans, that's undeniable. But can't we love our imperfections, embrace our uniqueness and our authentic selves, instead of exhausting ourselves spending so much time, money and energy hiding our true selves from the world?
Do you have the courage to walk through the five stages of self-hate to self-love today? Are you ready?