When we identify as introspective or emotionally intelligent, it’s easy to believe we have all the answers when it comes to understanding ourselves, and keeping healthy relationships.
It doesn’t mean we’re immune to hiccups or missteps, or that we don’t sometimes need a minute to step away and figure out what went awry with that person we care about. But in general, we ‘sensitives’ tend to be really, really good at intuitively pinpointing nuances in our relationships, and understanding how they fit into the bigger picture. It comes with the territory.
But as it turns out, knowing the answers isn’t always the same as living them.
I recently cleaned out my desk at home, and about halfway through the project of going through all my notebooks and journals (#hoarder), I came across a familiar red spiral-bound old friend. I felt a wave of feelings, before even cracking it open. I knew the last time I’d written in it was a particularly challenging chapter of my life, when I was going through some real growing pains. I was in the throes of figuring out some key pieces of who I am, and what it meant to be that person unapologetically… and it was tough.
From where I stand now, I look back at that chapter and think, “I didn’t really understand my strength yet. I didn’t know my worth, or how to stand up for my own wants and needs. I’m so much wiser now.” I expected to find musings from a meeker, less confident young woman, who just hadn’t had those epiphanies yet.
So I opened it, and felt taken aback. Instead of scrawlings from a lost soul, I found pages of free-writes and journal entries full of wise words and clarity. I sounded so grounded and clear-headed, it was baffling to try and reconcile those pages with the person who wrote them, who I know was caught in this giant labyrinth of who-the-hell-am-I-and-how-do-I-be-that-person at the time.
I knew all the right things to say to myself about self-worth in those hard moments, and they sounded so wise and grounded. But looking back from where I am now, I see clearly there was this huge chasm between the words I wrote, and the life I was creating.
“I’m strong, and I deserve to have my voice heard,” I wrote decidedly. “My feelings are valid too, even if they don’t align with his.” “I am reasonable, loving, and willing to cooperate… and I am worthy of the same.” I didn’t need a hero to swoop in and say this stuff to me. I was already saying them to myself. And yet, my pattern of losing my grip on who I was as I continually prioritized someone else’s values ahead of my own told a different story. So where was the disconnect?
Knowing all the things we should believe about our self-worth is different than knowing how to breathe life into them. It takes serious self-honesty and courage to bridge that gap.
Through another lens, it’s not unlike math in school (stay with me): knowing the right formula is a great start. But there’s a difference between memorizing and reciting the right formulas, vs. understanding the concepts so thoroughly that we can apply them to actual, complex problems – and one will carry you a lot further than the other.
I think I used to say the “right” words to myself about my value and my worth and write them down with conviction because I figured that by saying them, I was living them. My brain understood so clearly why they were the right words to say and to believe, but they alone couldn’t erase the feelings of self-doubt and fear in my core about the life I was building for myself. I couldn’t deny that without more than just those words, my emotional-strength tank felt empty.
The truth is, saying the right words in a tough moment feels safer than confronting the possibility that maybe we need to ask something bigger of ourselves – like the courage to be honest and confront the disconnect, to ask for help, and to make changes. I desperately wanted The Right Words to be the solution, but I needed more.
Our self-talk must fuel the way we live, not just the way we talk to ourselves.
It starts with self-talk, but it has to extend further - into questioning, hard conversations, small steps forward, and sometimes even radical change. But radical change on your terms.
So here’s my challenge to you: pay attention to the scripts you follow when it comes to your self-talk about your worthiness and value. Listen to the things you tell yourself during a hard moment, and ask yourself: Does this feel true? And if it does, do my actions match my words?
Simply saying the “right” things about our value and self-worth lets us stay safe and clean on the sidelines. But letting those words inform the way we live means getting in the arena, getting our hands dirty, and getting a little banged up while we figure out how to live them.
See if you can foster the honesty and the courage, bit by bit, to breathe life into your beliefs about self-worth through meaningful, purposeful action. Because while believing in the words is an important starting point, real fulfillment comes when we’re willing to double down on those beliefs – even when there’s some emotional risk or fear of the unknown involved. Trust that you’re strong enough to endure the process.