Reframing the Negative Beliefs We Have About Ourselves

If you ever hear a voice that says, “you’re too this” or “you’re too that” or “you’re not enough of this or that,” I want to suggest that you can gently steer that voice to a new truth. I think it’s possible that what we’ve come to consider our weaknesses, in many cases, might be our greatest assets. Let’s talk about reframing that inner chatter that has led to beliefs about ourselves that are not serving us well.

A few weeks ago I was in a work meeting where I found myself waffling back and forth between 2 sides who were making very good points. I suddenly felt terribly embarrassed about my lack of decision-making ability. Embarrassed that I couldn’t choose a side and stick with it. Embarrassed that I couldn’t make up my mind. My inner critic was turning up the heat with warnings of how ridiculous I looked. I pictured her rolling her eyes while she said, “Renee’ your inability to choose a side is reflective of your lack of intelligence. Everyone in this meeting is annoyed with how indecisive you are and you’re losing any respect you may have had from these colleagues. If you were smarter you would know which choice was the right one and stick with it.” When the meeting ended I sent a message to my co-worker apologizing for flip-flopping and joking that I would make a terrible politician. Her reply caught me completely off guard and offered that eye-rolling part of me a new interpretation of who I am and what I have to offer. My co-worker shared that if she had a choice of who would mediate a difficult discussion with 2 opposing views, she would CHOOSE me, because I’m fair and open to hearing both sides before making a decision. In a matter of seconds she turned a trait I have always seen as a shortcoming into a skill, a strength, an offering to help others. I was astounded! For as long as I can remember I have been frustrated with my inability to choose a side and then “stick to my guns.” For the first time, I was hearing that this “inability” actually made me capable of leading difficult discussions and bringing nuance to disagreements. In a matter of seconds my colleague took a 30+ year belief that I was a failure at being decisive and turned it right on its head.

Do you have beliefs about yourself that could be reframed? Maybe you believe you’re too emotional or oversensitive, but your friends and co-workers see a compassionate human being that heals hearts with loving empathy. Maybe you think you’re too shy, too quiet, but people feel a peace in your presence because you naturally make room for them to process their feelings and just be. Maybe you believe you’re too loud or too assertive, but others are drawn to you and inspired because you bravely stand up for what you believe in.

I encourage you to share your insecurities with a trusted loved one and ask them what they see. Allow someone who loves and cares for you help you redefine how you see yourself and your “flaws.” Explore those areas where you beat yourself up, and consider the possibility that those could be the very places that bring so much value to the lives around you. We will always have opportunities for growth and areas for improvement, but let’s first make sure we’re not trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

Discovering Perspective

I’ve been obsessively listening to Pantsuit Politics, a thought-provoking podcast with two bright young female lawyers with different worldviews who respectfully (yes, respectfully) discuss politics. Their tagline is, “keep it nuanced y’all.” I love this because it reminds me to consider how many distinct ways a situation can be interpreted as we all witness the world around us with an individual set of lenses. I used to be someone who lived in a world with very little room for grey, but as I’ve grown both personally and professionally I’ve come to realize that there are different shades, different meanings, different degrees of understanding with every story told and every story heard. I feel a freedom when I’m able to disengage from the idea that everyone who doesn’t see the world as I see it has been misguided. Until today, I thought I had made great progress in my ability to step back from my firmly held beliefs and step into another’s shoes in an effort to cross the divides of dissimilarity.

This morning I was surprised to have a conversation about a news headline that I had no idea could even be nuanced. The story of the doctor dragged from the United Airlines flight came up in conversation and I honestly and ignorantly assumed everyone would be as disturbed by the images as I was. Maybe my naivete was based on the fact that it was a non-political story, but regardless of the reason, I mistakenly assumed everyone had been affected in the same way. As we began to discuss the incident I made it abundantly clear how disgusted I was with the policeman’s force and inability to de-escalate the situation. I asked incredulously, “what is wrong with people? Where is common decency?” It was at this point that my dear friend responded, “he was resisting.” It took me a moment to recover from this comment as I can honestly admit that I did not expect anyone to have a deviating perspective. I realize now how arrogant it was of me to assume everyone would see this situation (or any situation for that matter) as I did. As we travelled deeper into the conversation, it was additionally pointed out that the “fine print on airline tickets explicitly states that you may not actually get a seat on the flight,” and that the passenger “resisted and was belligerent with police” saying, “you will have to drag me off. I would rather be arrested,” AND that “he ran back onto the plane even after he was dragged off by security.” The longer these different angles were discussed, the more insistent I became that my view of the police officer’s short-sighted behavior was the correct view and that there was no other way of examining this situation than the way I already had. I dug my heels in. I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend how anyone could determine what had happened as fair or appropriate. The passenger was the victim and I couldn’t wrap my head around anyone arguing the contrary. Then my friend said something that hurled me over the empathy wall, where I could undoubtedly witness her landscape.

She said, “I guess I give the benefit of the doubt to law enforcement officers because my dad is a retired police detective and my husband was an air Marshall.”

Boom! Perspective bomb!

Once we said our goodbyes, I began internally berating myself and questioning my ability to see both sides. I had failed miserably at my devoted practice of denying the need to “be right!” I spent the rest of the day considering how many stories my friend must’ve heard about simple law enforcement situations escalating to dangerous, scary, life-threatening moments. I spent the rest of the day acknowledging how many times she must have worried about her father as he faced unknown scenarios and unknown personalities while putting his life at risk every day to keep people safe…people he didn’t even know. I spent the rest of the day imagining the times her father and her husband thought a moment was safer than it actually was and how everything can change in the blink of an eye. I spent the rest of the day admitting that I wasn’t as skilled as I had hoped at recognizing the delicate shadings in our individual interpretations of every piece of news we absorb…every narrative we discover.

Recognizing that there was an alternative way to hear and see this story didn’t change my mind about it being handled poorly, but it did help me conclude that our past experiences, our history, our environment, our culture, our family, and all that we’re acquainted with casts a filter on the lenses we wear every day to perceive our world. Having this open and honest conversation with my friend helped me grasp that we may never see the colorful world that lies beyond our familiarity until someone illuminated by a different world shares their vision, their tone, their saturation, their space their hue with us.

That night I texted my friend and apologized for the lack of understanding and for my insistence that I was right. I’ve always thought that I was open to seeing the “other side” but now I realize that there are times I don’t even realize there IS another side. I consider myself blessed to have friends in my life that will help me see the hill ahead and then guide me up and over to the other side for a fresh frame of reference. I am thankful for friends who aren’t afraid to disagree with what I’ve deemed “right.” Friends who love me enough and respect themselves enough to be vulnerable and authentic. Thank you to my friend (you know who you are) for being you even when we’re not aligned. You make my life increasingly more colorful and you make me a better person who continues to grow in shades and hues!