Leaving Your Negative Self-Image
We absorb so much from our culture and our families. I’ve read that before the age of six, we have absorbed what our parents are trying to teach us. Then, add to those instructions any abuse or trauma or illness or suffering in the young child and the self-image of the child is set in those early years. Our guilt and shame from these early years are hidden from us. Our tears and grief get buried deep within us. All of these early events form our self-image and the lens through which we view ourselves and others and God. For myself, the hell-fire-and-damnation church of my life up to the age of thirteen, led me to fear God above all, and to look at myself with doubt and fear, knowing I would never feel safe and accepted. It took years for me to step back from the effects of this church and to see that its teachings had nothing to do with me, but it was a long journey to get free of the capricious and vengeful God.
Fortunately, God was right there with me, guiding me, leading me, even when I was totally unaware of His presence. Eventually, I came to see that there were many different interpretations of the Bible passages and that I could come to love a wholly different kind of God—one of love and forgiveness–from the one I had been stained with. Eventually, I gave my life to Christ and since then, much has been done to repair my self-image and how I treat and think of myself and others. Much has been healed in me and today I live my life in gratitude for God in my life and I am at peace, no matter what happens to me.
What saved me? It was becoming an observer of my thoughts—stepping way back from their impact on my life, so that I could see the source of that repetitive programming in my mind—the “shoulds,” the “ought-tos,” and the “have-tos.” At first it was difficult to sit with my thoughts in the quiet. I wanted to run from what they were saying(and had been saying since I was very young) about me. But I realized the necessity of sitting in the quiet and could begin to sit and think about the thoughts that drove me crazy before. I could identify the source of each one after a while: my Dad for any impatience, my Mom and Dad for being on time, my Aunt Grace for not spending any money unless you had to, and so many more. As an observer, I could see that they had been with me all my life, “old friends” in a strange way. But I no longer was upset about them, nor did I do what they were trying to get me to do.
I had hoped that they would go away over time now that I could just observe them, but not involved with them emotionally. But they stayed. Now I just smile at them when they occur and I think that they will continue until the day I die.
I am able to sit in the quiet no matter what I am thinking. Those old thoughts are pretty loud in my mind, but I have come to know the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12 KJV) of God that resides in me beneath all the clamor of these learned responses to life. Now I just listen to God and willingly do what He suggests. And my life is full of purpose and joy and fulfillment as I walk through life totally accompanied by God. It is a miracle, given where I started from. A blessing. And grace.
You, too, can walk away from the self-image that these early experiences froze in you. Try it out. Write down the “shoulds,” etc. in your life and think about the source of each one. Step back from them and see what anxiety or fear or anger they produce in you when they come to you loud and clear. See them as old friends, but no longer formative of who you are, and watch God step in with His “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12 NIV).
Then continuing the quiet, listen for the soft and gentle voice of God: suggestions not harsh law, guidance not “have tos,” love and forgiveness not orders from headquarters. Then follow those suggestions and see where He leads you. You’ll go deeper and deeper into the self that He created you to be, and you will feel more and more fulfilled and loved and forgiven! It’s an amazing outcome of just being still. Thanks be to God!