Many people wish that they were better looking than they are. This desire sets them up to feel that they are not good looking enough. They feel inadequate when comparing their appearance to others.
They imagine that they will feel good themselves after their weight loss, boob job, face lift or hair transplant. In many cases, however, they find that the painful and expensive efforts do not have the expected outcome on their confidence. In their hearts, they are still the same stupid, ugly, unlovable soul.
The problem is not their appearance, but their attitude toward their appearance and themselves. A negative self-image isn’t always rooted in appearance. Career setbacks or other disappointments can lead to feelings of failure and depression. For men, episodes of impotence can undercut confidence in their manhood. No matter what its cause, a poor self-image can take a toll on your life. When anxiety develops as a result, it can spark a downward spiral of diminishing self-esteem.
Carrie: “Well, if appearances aren’t important, what is?”
Therapist: “That is a good question. Appearances are important, but how important are they? Do you find yourself thinking, ‘I could look more attractive if I did X.’”
Carrie: “Yes, all the time.”
Therapist: “Do you ever get an answer, or do you keep turning it over and over in your head?”
Carrie: “That’s what I do, just dwelling on how I look over and over.”
Therapist: “That’s called obsessing. We obsess when we have a problem we cannot solve. You cannot solve it because you do not know how pretty is pretty enough. You can’t stop trying until you reach the goal of perfect prettiness. Then you’ll be pretty enough when your perfect.”
Carrie: “But that will never happen.”
Therapist: “That’s why the problem is unsolvable.”
Carrie: “So what can I do about it?”
Therapist: “The answer is that you don’t solve it at all. It is a fictitious problem that is based on lessons from the past. The truth is that you are already pretty enough, you just don’t feel that way. Our task is to get you to feel that way so you can stop obsessing about it and enjoy life.”
Carrie: “I work so hard at looking nice, but it’s never made me happy.”
Therapist: “Of course it didn’t because that is not how it is done. Tell me, how does this issue of appearances apply to your relationship with your boyfriend? He makes you very unhappy doesn’t he?”
Carrie: “I spend a lot of time picking out clothes to please him. He even picks out clothes for me to wear. He wants me to look ‘young’ for him, so I wear tight jeans and sleeveless tops.”
Therapist: “Does it work?”
Carrie: “No. He still criticizes me.”
Therapist: “Just like your parents did. We cannot be compatible with people who will remind us that we aren’t good enough. It’s hard to feel good enough about yourself as long as you live your life according to others expectations for you. They just keep raising the standards. It’s never enough.”
Carrie: “Appearances are very important to my boyfriend, and to me as well. I like the way we look when we walk into a room together. We are both charismatic and captivating. We look like a celebrity power couple and everyone in the restaurant looks up when we walk in. It’s exciting.”
Therapist: “I’m sure it is. But you pay a high price for that excitement. It’s no substitute for feeling that you are a worthwhile human being regardless of what others think.”
Carrie: “Maybe that’s why I feel so badly when he is away from me. He gives me confidence because his approval reassures me that I’m attractive. I can’t do it on my own. I need him.”
Therapist: “That is called dependency! If you do not trust your own judgment, you are forced to depend on the judgment of others. It’s not a very secure basis for a relationship.’”
Carrie: “What can I do? That’s the way he is.”
Therapist: “There isn’t much that we can do about your boyfriend, he isn’t here. He hasn’t asked us to do anything about him, and we cannot improve him against his will. But there is a lot we can do with you. You have come to define your worth in terms of how you look . We have to find a way to redefine your worth as a human being in spite of your faults and imperfections, without reference to external considerations.”
Carrie: “How can I do that?”
Therapist: “Appearances aren’t important. Self-acceptance is. You can push your comfort zone and catch yourself exaggerating the importance of looking good in boyfriend’s eyes and instead, choose to perceive yourself in that moment as a worthwhile human being on your own terms, no more and no less than anyone else.”
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Last reviewed: 29 May 2014