While it’s true you have the power to reject such negative input, if the remark came from a person you respect or admire, it’s not so easy to dismiss.
One unfortunate side-effect of allowing these comments to penetrate your consciousness is that you can start believing that these words are true and say something about your value as a human being.
If you’re not careful, you can let them re-shape the way you see yourself in a permanent way. And this altered perspective can impact choices you make for the rest of your life.
This almost happened to Vanessa Brewer, the first-year college student featured in Paul Tough’s New York Times Magazine article, “Who Gets to Graduate?”
Vanessa was an honors student in high school but struggled during her first semester at the University of Texas in Austin. After failing her first test in statistics, she called home. She was looking for reassurance from her mother, who had always been supportive. But rather than consoling Vanessa, her mother’s response planted seeds of doubt: “Maybe you just weren't meant to be there. Maybe we should have sent you to a junior college first.”
Vanessa described the impact those words had on her: “I died inside when she said that. I didn’t want to leave. But it felt like that was maybe the reality of the situation. You know, moms are usually right. I just started questioning everything: Am I supposed to be here? Am I good enough?”
Think about this!
Those two sentences spoken by her well-meaning mother struck Vanessa so deeply that she started to question whether she deserved to be a student at UT.
Fortunately, UT has programs in place that encourage and support students like Vanessa who struggle with college life during their first year. These programs provide a support system that makes it safe for students to express their doubts and fears. They discover that they aren't alone and that others have prevailed after experiencing similar challenges.
Without a support system like this to plug into, your self-esteem could spiral downward whenever another person criticizes you.
A few tips to make sure that doesn't happen:
1. Evaluate if the statement is true. Even if it’s an accurate description of something you did, that incident does not define who you are.
2. Set up a positive support system. Make sure you have people in your life who are rooting for you to succeed. Reach out to them when your mind fills with self-doubt, because they can help you restore a balanced view of your worth.
3. Monitor your self-talk. If you find yourself repeatedly criticizing yourself for something you did or said, STOP IT. You cannot change the past, and a constant barrage of negative comments only brings on feelings of guilt and regret. Instead, forgive yourself quickly and move on.
"Other people's opinion of you does not have to become your reality."
- Les Brown, American author (1945- )