When I was in school I developed an intense crush on one of the best looking boys in my year group.

It was painful!

I was the weird, socially awkward, deeply uncool girl with big teeth, weird hair and a mouth FULL of orthodontic work.

He was GORGEOUS and so very cool.

I would turn into a blushing, butterfingered, gibbering idiot everytime I saw him.  Which was every day.  Obviously.  Everyone knew how much I fancied him.

He didn’t feel the same way (and I can’t say I blame him, it was probably embarrassing for him too!).  It was completely excruciating, and I still sometimes cringe when I think about it.

My inner 14 year old is currently having an epic tantrum because I am writing this!

Lessons were learned from this experience.  They were

  • NEVER let men know you are attracted to them
  • The good looking ones are TOTALLY out of my league
  • I am utterly incapable of speaking to attractive men in anything approaching a sensible fashion
  • I should be grateful if men like me
  • If men know I like them, it is shameful and painful

In other words.  I am not worthy of love, of being found attractive and of being with someone I want to be with.

Not very helpful lessons in general, but as self preservation attempts go, it was a valiant, if somewhat misguided, attempt on the part of my subconscious to keep me safe.

That teenage experience was 30 years ago, but the uncomfortable 14 year old still lives inside me.  She has wreaked havoc in my relationship with myself, with other people (especially men) and with the world.

Throughout the years, there has been a lot of evidence along the way that her ideas are not always correct.

I have had conversations, friendships and relationships with men I have been deeply attracted to (including marching up to one in a rare but memorable moment of bravado, handing him my business card, and inviting him to call me!).  I have been told I am beautiful, and have had men declare deep love for me.

But the ideas and protection measures that got embedded in me at 14 have steered the course of my life, not only in my relationship with men, but in my perceptions of myself in general.

Luckily for me, I have discovered the joy and power of self discovery, and have been examining perceptions of myself and my interactions with the world in some depth in recent years.

I’ve been comparing the stories I have been telling myself my entire life with the actual experiences I have, and have made some amazing discoveries that I am sure you will relate to.

Your perception of yourself has more to do with your inner self than the physical self

When I was really unhappy and utterly devoid of any real confidence, I hated looking at myself in the mirror.

I was so sure I was horrifically ugly that I ignored my best friend when she told me I was wrong, assuming she was saying it not because she wanted me to see it, but because she was just trying to be nice to me.

I ignored the times boyfriends told me, assuming they too were just saying it to be nice, or because they wanted to take my clothes off.

I ignored the evidence of photographs that showed me looking lovely, and focused instead on the ones that were less than flattering.

I was so sure I was hideous I was unable to see anything that disproved that until I felt better inside.

Physical appearance isn’t the be all and end all of who we are, but when we are teenagers, it matters, and perceptions we create of ourselves then ripples down through the years.

What is funny is that in trying to find a photograph of young me to prove my ‘I was so ugly’ theory, I cannot find any, the child I see in the photographs is lovely!

Just because the inner critic thinks it, doesn’t mean it is right

Through the writing of this post, and other revelations I have had in recent weeks, I have realised beyond doubt that my inner critic is my 14 year old self.

So many of the hang ups I have had to contend with in order to achieve anything have their roots in my teenage years, I am now sure that she has been running the show for decades!

But 14 year old me was terrified of the world, painfully naïve, awkward, shy and didn’t have a clue who she was.  Why on earth am I letting her make decision for me?    If she was my daughter I wouldn’t be asking for her advice on how to run my life!

She has filled me with fear, shame, doubt, self loathing, and kept me hidden from myself for years.

I imagine that your inner critic is probably a younger, more scared version of yourself too.   Spend some time with that aspect of yourself, write a letter to them, thank them for trying so hard to keep you safe, but tell them of all the amazing things that you have learned, done, experienced and been since you stopped being their age.

I would love to tell 14 year old me that she has got the world all wrong, that she has got herself all wrong, and that she is, in fact, bloody amazing!

Love yourself, you’re totally worth it

More than anything else, the greatest gift we can give ourselves is the gift of self love.  We are not encouraged to practice self love.  Along with self care, it can be seen as selfish, and somewhat narcissistic.  But is is the exact opposite of that.

If you can love yourself completely, you are more likely to be forgiving of your mistakes, more likely to be able to take yourself out of your comfort zones, more likely to grow and evolve through life, more likely to be able to truly love other people.  When you love yourself, you are also better able to show love, compassion, respect and care for others.

Psychologists know of the phenomenon known as psychological projection, which means that we see in others negative emotions that we are feeling ourselves.  I have experienced this, being accused of doing things I can clearly see the other person does, and know that I have done it myself on many occasions.  Loving yourself reduces the chances of this happening, and so leads to greater harmony.

The best thing about self love is that it can be, it must be, completely unconditional.

You don’t love yourself only if you get something right, you love that you tried, forgive yourself for the mistake, learn the lesson and move on.  You don’t love yourself only if other people love you – you love yourself regardless, and in doing so, you attract love to you. Love is the most powerful emotion we have, it actually keeps us alive when we are babies, so when we love ourselves, we hold ourselves in a position of truth and power.

Self love is not always easy, not with the 14 year old inner critic in charge, but it is a great way to live, even when you are not there 100% of the time.  How much would your life improve if you loved yourself even a little bit more?

If you would like to learn how to soothe your inner self, discover the source of the inner critic, and develop greater self love, then let’s talk!  Book a free Connection call with me, and let’s see if we can soothe the inner 14 year old in you!

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Esther Nagle
Teacher, writer, speaker at Balance and Breathe
Esther is a former alcoholic, smoker and all round stressed out mess. She found the path to health, happiness, freedom and joy through Yoga. She is a passionate advocate for the power of Yoga, and time in Nature, in bringing balance to life, and giving you control over your health, happiness and wellbeing.

Esther is a powerful public speaker, writer and author. Her first book, Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga, has gained many 5 star reviews and has helped many people along their recovery journey.

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