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The Power of Meaning: or How to Feel Worthy No Matter What

He looked around the place.

He ignored my existence as if I wasn’t there at all. He didn’t even greet me.

The table next to me received more attention and ‘eye’ contact than me –the actual human.

Any attempt to connect with him would come off as a desperate attempt to grab undeserved attention.

Then, after making everyone in the group laugh, he walked away and I felt very bad because it was obvious that he had been ignoring me.

I felt insecure and my pride and self-esteem were affected.

I bet you had a similar situation where you felt the same.

I’m not here to talk about what to do when you lose your self-confidence, I’d already done that. Instead, I’m here to talk about the effect of the events themselves.

There’s one single piece of information that, once I’ve learned, I’ve become stronger in the face of the external events.

It’s not about the events

Here’s a fact that you probably know.

External events can affect you. I’m talking about all external events such as achieving something or losing something. Or even just a stranger who smiles or shouts at you.

Or my experience with that person above.

They can affect your mood, or even your self-confidence and well-being, positively or negatively.

This is neither good nor bad news.

Here’s another fact that you probably won’t like.

External events can and will affect you, but not for the reasons you think they will affect you.

They don’t affect you because they are painful or enjoyable.

Heck, we can say that they don’t even affect you at all! What really affects you is the meaning that you give to these events.

So, the situation I mentioned above doesn’t have any effect on me or on my self-confidence and self-esteem. What will really affect me is the meaning that I’ll give to this event.

And we don’t give meanings out of the blue. We assign them according to our already existing beliefs, our current thoughts, or even our mood.

Let’s break down this point because it’s very important.

What meanings do you give and why?

Let’s look at the situation I mentioned above.

One of the meanings I could give was, “I’m boring”

If I was interesting enough, he would speak to me.

With this meaning, I would feel insecure and bad about myself. I would feel like I’m unworthy of attention and connection.

Another meaning could be, “He’s an asshole!”

If he was a good enough person, he would speak to me.

Here, I would be full of rage and anger and resentment. I would be mean toward him and other people who I perceive as assholes, too.

Another meaning, “He hates me”

If I was a good enough person, he would speak to me!

Here I would feel bad, especially if this person was popular, attractive or important. I would feel small and unworthy of anything.

The sad part is that the ‘he’ will eventually become ‘people’! “Oh my god, it’s not only him, EVERYBODY HATES ME ACTUALLY.”

Can you see the pattern here?

With each meaning, the way I feel and what I do will be different.

My self-esteem will be affected by the meaning that I give to the situation. And usually the meaning I give stems from my already existing beliefs.

For instance, if I believe that I’m a boring person then I will filter all the other possible meanings and focus only on the fact that I believe I’m boring.

These are called distortion cognitions, I talked about them thoroughly here.

And this meaning I give will reinforce the already existing negative belief that is killing my self-esteem.

It’s a cycle.

You believe in something, you distort the reality by giving events meanings that support your beliefs, and you end up believing in the ‘negative “something” about yourself’ even more.

That’s a vicious cycle.

However, it can be broken. It can be broken by using the fact that we mentioned above: the external events don’t have any influence on you; the meaning that you give to these events is what will affect you. And you can, in fact, choose the meaning.

Choose something different this time

Back to the example I mentioned at the beginning of this article, let’s do something different.

If I chose to say to myself, “He ignored me. It’s not about me. Maybe he’s having a bad day or he’s just stressed.”

Or, “Him ignoring me right now doesn’t mean that he hates me. Remember all the times he greeted me sincerely. Maybe he’s tired or stressed out at the moment.”

Don’t jump to conclusions too fast. Give him a chance, man. We all have some bad days that make us feel bad.

That would change the way I feel about the situation thus it will change its effect on my self-esteem.

I wouldn’t feel insecure because I’m not making the event about me.

Or what if I chose to say, “He ignored me. That’s OK, I’m not the center of the universe. Not everybody should give me their attention. I know I don’t give mine to everybody around me. Does that make them less worthy? Hell no!”

Or another meaning, “He ignored me. It probably means that he doesn’t like me. Well, that’s OK, other people like me. Plus, do I need him to like me in order to like myself?

In the two above meanings, I tell myself that, yes, he doesn’t like me and he is ignoring me. I don’t change this. I change the meaning of these 2 facts.

Does the fact that he’s ignoring me mean that I’m bad? Does the fact that he hates me mean that I’m not worthy? Fuck no.

This way you’re OK even with the worst case scenario.

When you give a different meaning, a few things happen:

  • You stop reinforcing the negative beliefs.
  • You start enforcing other positive beliefs.
  • You challenge the negative beliefs by not reinforcing them and also by enforcing positive beliefs. When you challenge them long enough, they’ll weaken and be destroyed.
  • You’ll feel differently about the situation, and thus what you’ll do will differ as well. (For instance, you’ll not beat up yourself because you feel that you’re boring).
  • What you do will ultimately shape not only your beliefs (positive or negative) but also your destination in life.

That’s powerful. It’s a simple change that most people ignore it, yet its results are huge.

And I can see why many people ignore this small change in the mindset. You don’t get actual results immediately.

Yes, it takes time. It takes time to develop the habit of consciously choosing empowering meanings that help you feel worthy and move forward with your life instead of disempowering ones that cripple you.

Heck, it even takes time to realize that you do have the choice to choose meanings to the events and that those meanings you choose are what will affect you emotionally and thus affect your actions.

Read that again. Let it sink.

Using this to flourish your self-esteem

Self-esteem usually comes from the beliefs you have about yourself –the beliefs you have about your own worthiness.

Low self-esteem comes from having so many negative and toxic beliefs about one’s self.

And on the other hand, healthy self-esteem comes from healthy beliefs and thoughts. (Read: How Do People With High (or Low) Self-esteem See The World?)

One of the ways we develop and enforce those beliefs, positive or negatives ones, is through the meanings we give to the events. We’re always giving a meaning, whether we notice it or not.

So, by choosing to give a different meaning to an experience that makes you lose your self-confidence, you’ll stop reinforcing the negative beliefs. And at the same time, you’ll enforce positive beliefs.

In the example above, I could’ve reinforced that beliefs that said, “I’m boring and people don’t like me.” But I challenged that idea and gave it a different meaning.

Instead, I said, “Why I’m making it about me? He could be busy or it could be anything else; I’m not the center of the universe. And even if he thinks that I’m boring, I have people who enjoy my company, I’m OK without his approval.”

Note that when you start doing this, you’ll not immediately feel confident (though sometimes it’s possible to feel an immediate relief).

Bear in mind that this is a mental habit that will help you in the long run.

It’ll help you have a healthier self-esteem because you’ll not be interpreting situations in a twisted way. You’ll see reality much clearer; you’ll create a better reality.

And it even can help you become more resilient when you face difficulties or fail in your life. By changing the meaning of an experience, you can change the way you respond to it.

In the face of failure, you will not be defeated.

It’s a simple twist, but a vastly powerful mental habit that would help you not only with your self-esteem but also with your general outlook toward life.

To finish, I’ll leave you with this quote and a little note:

“It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you respond to it”

The way you respond to it depends largely on how you perceive it and what meanings you attach to it.

As usual, you have the power of choice. Choose wisely.

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