I recently saw a Facebook post of a teen girl that read, “Ten Prettiest girls?” Very lovingly and big-sister-like, I commented on her wall, “Comparison is the thief of joy. Just sayin’.” And after my post, it hit me in my gut; I do that all the time.
Does this make me look fat? Do you like this? Do you approve of me? Am I good enough? Does anyone really like me, or do they just pretend? Am I a failure?
Whoa, this is getting personal pretty quickly! Are those questions really in the heart of who I am? Are they in the heart of who you are? It is incredibly true that comparison is the thief of joy. And I need joy.
I wish it was as easy as just not caring what anyone else thinks. And I wish it was an easier process to be comfortable in my own skin. But I’ve found that it is worth the effort to dig through the mumbo-jumbo to find out who I am; and even more importantly, Whose I am.
I was about eleven years old and in the sixth grade when I distinctly remember my first real identity crisis. As a fifth grader, a friend who was a boy had made a word-play with my name, calling me Tubby Tabby. I was actually thin at the time, but the taunt made its way into my spirit nonetheless. By sixth grade, I had decided that I was ugly, fat, and that no one really liked me anyway. So I covered all the mirrors in my bedroom with cloth. For almost a week I only looked at myself in the mirror as little as possible. And when I saw myself in one, I remember muttering to myself: I hate you! You are so ugly! Nobody likes you! You are fat! Over and over and over, I told myself terrible things. Sharing a room with my sister shortened the life of my no-mirror policy, but the muttering to myself continued for years.
I had gotten so used to my negative self-talk that I hardly even realized I did it. Idiot would pop out of my mouth when I made a mistake. I’m so stupid was a common phrase too. And I still struggled with self-image all the while.
The first person to challenge my self-destructive pattern was my newlywed husband of a few months. He sat me down after one of my tirades and lovingly said, Please don’t say those things about yourself, Tabby. It hurts me to hear it. You’re saying terrible things about the woman I love. I would never allow anyone else to say that to you! It kind of shocked me that he said something about it, and I began noticing more often when I said bad things about myself. And he wouldn’t let it go. He kept lovingly coming back and asking me to stop; it was incredibly sweet and really meant a lot to me. So finally I stopped most of the negative self-talk… out loud. Instead of declaring my angst about myself to whomever was near, I just said it in my mind. And it still had the same effect in my spirit.
Eventually I learned about how much God treasures me as His daughter: imperfections and all. He
made me just like I am (for some crazy reason, I told myself). But that wonderful God-assurance did much to assure me. That plus my husband’s constant positive influence helped me to quell the intensity of my comments to myself. Steve would say things like, You are the most beautiful woman in the world so many times that I finally believed that HE believed it. I told myself that he might be blind, deaf, and dumb – but I knew he really felt that way about me.
And I hid a sleeping giant for a while.
About five years ago I led a brand-new Bible Study by Jennifer Rothschild. I chose it because I trusted the author, and I knew that a lot of ladies struggle with the topic. But I didn’t realize at the time that God had planned this lesson with me in mind. The book and study are both titled Me, Myself, and Lies and preparing for the classes forced me to deal with the giant that had been sleeping in my spirit for years. I had been telling myself destructive things for a very long time, and it took a lot of prayer, introspection, and honesty before God to deal with it all. And then God slew the giant.
I’ve struggled with negative thoughts and self-talk off and on since my freedom came. When I realize it, I stop, pray, and remind myself of the truth, and once again cut off the destruction that longs to grow within me.
I’m not fully there yet. I still catch myself thinking negative things sometimes. But I’m far enough along that I can remind my sisters that each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made… on purpose, just the way we are (Psalm 139). God has a plan, and He will help us to get there (Deuteronomy 31:8).
So if you struggle with a negative self-image or self-destructive behaviors, please know that you do not have to stay in that place. There is hope. There is help. Ask God to help you slay the giant in your life too. Just sayin’.