How To Embrace Your Flaws
Acting like you don’t care what people think is a symptom of caring way too much. Listening to criticism and social feedback, and thinking about it objectively, on the other hand, is a symptom of deep self-confidence.
This kind of honest scrutiny is difficult because it’s when we feel the most fragile parts of our self-image are under attack that we get emotionally reactive. Those fragile points of vulnerability are the parts of our identity we defend most vigorously. The flaws you need to become aware of most are those that are the hardest to accept because they don’t fit into your self-concept. Accomplishing this is fundamentally challenging, but extremely powerful.
Not too long ago, my friends started to call me overly competitive. Instead of saying, “What makes you think that?” I would reply with an offhanded (and intentionally cocky) response like, “A god does not compete with mortals.”
I was sarcastic so I could avoid confronting the issue. I didn’t respond with an open mind when I got called out on a bad social habit, that deep down, I knew I needed to change. I dealt with my exposed insecurity by brushing it under the rug with sarcasm. Addressing this issue with an open mind was the only way to overcome my biggest insecurities, but I blinded myself to the possibility that it was even an issue.
Months after I had begun getting called out on my hyper-competitiveness, I finally saw my insecurities rear their ugly head. I was in a small college writing class, and one student was answering most of the discussion questions. His answers were well thought-out and added substantial value to the discussion. But I got frustrated, I told myself he was an attention whore and that he should let other people contribute more.
In reality, he wasn’t an attention whore. Most of the other students didn’t even have something to contribute. I wasn’t frustrated because he was hungry for attention, I was frustrated because I was hungry for attention. I saw the class as a social competition, and he was winning. I had an emotional need to be the ‘main guy’ in the class. I was jealous that someone else was charismatic, engaging, and intelligent. I was butthurt by the fact that he was offering more to the discussion than I was.
Until I realized what I was doing in that class, all the emotions I felt and decisions I made because of my machismo-infused competitiveness went completely unnoticed by me.
Beforehand, when people complained that I was too competitive, I consciously assumed they were jealous of me in some way (the irony is that even my thinking about my competitiveness was competitive without my awareness).
Blindspots to our own flaws are completely natural, and you can’t expect to be so perfectly aware that you have a totally accurate self-image. However, it is possible to become more aware of your flaws and bad social habits, but it requires a counterintuitive approach. Remember that when you feel uncomfortable, the dialogue you tell yourself cannot be trusted because criticism and self-doubt put your ego on defense. Unfortunately, the voice in your head prioritizes the protection of your current self-image over open-minded self-reflection.
Instead, listen to your emotions. Whatever makes you emotionally reactive can become a goldmine for personal growth. When an interaction makes you angry, anxious, jealous, etc., that’s when you can be sure you have insecure self-beliefs that you are not consciously aware of. Listen to your emotions much more closely than to the voice in your head.
Admit to yourself that the fact you are upset is telling you something that you probably don’t want to hear. Once you come from this vulnerable, open-minded starting point, then and only then, you can start to accurately analyze what is causing you to feel emotional discomfort.
This process is difficult in a culture that teaches people to place blame on everyone but themselves. However, when you start assuming responsibility for your emotional reactions to people, situations, and criticism, you can accurately root out the instances when you are (at least partially) at fault. There are instances in which your emotional reactivity is warranted, but usually, emotional discomfort is indicative of something you should be working on internally.
What frustrates us about others tends to be what we’re afraid of in ourselves. If you hate men who regularly sleep with girls on the first date, most likely you’re either secretly jealous and unable to admit this to yourself, or you think that what he’s doing is disrespectful and you’re afraid that you’re capable of acting the same way if you’re not careful. Either way, this is saying a lot about your values and your insecurities, and very little about the other person.
I have a friend who is extremely uncomfortable around anyone who’s a bit socially awkward. He will complain about how weird some guys are and treat them like shit. In his mind, this treatment is fair; these socially awkward people deserve to be treated poorly because they’re awkward. But what he doesn’t admit to himself is that he is terrified of being socially awkward himself. These people ‘trigger’ him not because they’re socially awkward, but because he’s afraid of the possibility that he might be socially awkward too.
This is an example of what famed psychologist Carl Jung calls the shadow. The shadow is all of the pieces of our identity (or ego) that we keep hidden from ourselves. My friend is so terrified of being awkward, that he will not do anything that makes him feel vulnerable. In fact, he will regularly dare me to pull unusual stunts in public when we go out, like approaching a girl with an awkward pickup line (Is it hot in here? Or is that just the holy spirit burning inside of you?).
Numerous times after completing my challenge, I gave him a similar task and he always became visibly nervous and refuses to do it. To this day, he hasn’t done a single thing that he thought was socially uncalibrated, even when offered money to do so as a bet.
His fear of being socially awkward is understandable (yet irrational), but what makes it so powerful is that he won’t admit to himself that he has this fear. The only way he can come to terms with his own insecurities is by assuming that his emotional discomfort is reflective of his own flaws instead of placing the blame on others.
Realizations likes this catalyze significant change, yet this is always emotionally challenging. It requires a mindset shift towards your own negative emotions. You must realize that emotional resistance isn’t something to avoid, but something to lean into and learn from. Negative emotions aren’t bad, they’re revealing a point of vulnerability in your own self-concept.
Negative emotions are signposts for your own neurotic and insecure beliefs, and they’re screaming at you to become aware of this to make a change. As soon as you see these emotions as signals, as opportunities for growth, they transform from something to be avoided, to something to be sought out purposefully.
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