You get a letter that begins “we are pleased to inform you…..” Doesn’t it feel wonderful when you have a proposal accepted, or you are invited to give a presentation, or you receive an award, or you see your work published, or you get enthusiastic feedback for your work? You enjoy feeling appreciated by others who seek out your expertise. Colleagues’ and friends’ compliments can make your day special – or sometimes advance your career! Many people post their kudos on Face Book, Twitter, and other social media and watch the “likes” and “hearts” accumulate.
On another day, you read a notice on Faceook or in your e mail about a colleague (who is not shy about self-promotion) write about his accomplishments. It sounds glamorous as this person describes the great – the “best ever” – things that are happening. You feel envious (if you admit it), but mostly curious how this person has networked and found resources that appear so prestigious (at least on paper.) How do some people get the breaks and the bravos? You start to feel annoyed. This unkind feeling can make you uncomfortable as it merges into feeling angry which, in turn, may make you feel guilty. These are not happy or generous feelings.
At other times, have you received notices that begin with the following words, “ we regret to inform you………”(you know the rest!). You swallow this undesired (often undeserved) news and feel a lump in your throat , a surge of adrenaline in your gut, and you utter a few (maybe more than a few) colorful expletives. You need time to digest that you are disappointed and feel left out. You remind yourself that your realistic belief in yourself and your work is not demolished ( – or created) by the reactions and actions of others who make decisions about you. This does not mean you do not care or do not appreciate external approval. When you feel overlooked you are understandably disappointed and angry – it is normal. But your personal and professional identity is not defined primarily (or exclusively) by external praise and public adoration. Feeling rejected or overlooked is an ideal time to remember the sage advice to “believe in yourself.” Easier said than done.
I have treated many people who have been disillusioned by feeling underappreciated, overlooked, misunderstood, and mistreated. I have heard tearful stories about feeling intimidated and unable to seek out opportunities when talented, smart, and worthy people feel psychologically wounded. I have worked with some people who avidly pursue public endorsement as the primary confirmation for their self-approval and self-worth. Having worked with people in my private practice for many years as a psychologist and psychoanalyst – and having deeply analyzed my own feelings in my personal psychotherapy – enables me to empathize with others who experience all kinds of uncomfortable affects.
Seeking external approval to confirm self-esteem is backwards. You must learn to first “know thyself” and, as important, to “believe in thyself”. These are internal beliefs and satisfactions. Feeling rejection, disappointment, unfairness, anger, and envy are appropriate, although painful, human emotions. These emotions also are clues into understanding your inner life inside your mind. Uncomfortable feeling can be effectively used as tools of growth to strengthen yourself.
There IS something you can do when it seems like the world – or people in it – let you down and disappoint you. Instead of bemoaning what you did not get or blaming others for your distress, look inward, recall other times when you felt similarly forgotten or overlooked in your life, remind yourself of your strengths (including your ability to recognize and own your feelings and appreciate your strong attributes). In doing so you rekindle your inner confidence.
For example, did you experience a loss or illness in childhood? Have a parent leave you or let you down through death or divorce? Been bullied as a child by jealous rivals? Resent someone who was unfair, unkind, or unpredictable? Felt someone took advantage of you? Believed someone was not honest with you? Ignored you? Use your feelings and memories to cope with what you are feeling in the “here and now”. Then let these feelings resonate to some possible life precedents. You will find connections to your current reactions your memories of earlier years and become better able to put your feelings into a meaningful context. You will use your personal history to inform your present emotional responses when you are in touch with yourself and are not focusing on the “other” person who may have done or said something that truly may be unfair or unthoughtful. You can empower yourself by strengthening your ability to cope with strong emotions.
Use the power of your mind, your emotions, and your memories. Reflecting backward and inward upon yourself enables you to move forward and better understand your emotional reactions to others, now placed in a context within your life history. You will also discover there are no simple answers – no “one size fits all”. There are no easy “tricks” or “solutions” that others can provide through checklists and reassurances. You empower yourself the more you get to know yourself and appreciate that self.
There are extraordinary benefits when you learn to believe in yourself. The ultimate path to success starts inside your mind and in your conviction of your self worth as a worthy and talented human being. You may be complimented by others, but you are not completed as a person because of their opinions or actions. No audience, invitation, presentation, contract, standing ovation, publication, or approval by others (as wonderful as that feels) truly can give you deep self-respect when you believe you are worthy and capable. And no one can ever take that belief away from you – ever!