I met Al in college. He was awkward, clumsy, ugly and small. His mannerisms labelled him – loser. He had a sharp wit but that didn’t seem to matter. Al was an outcast.
I’m not sure of the reasons but a few of us decided to use Al for an experiment. We had heard a speaker talk about loving the unlovely so we decided, with somewhat dubious motivation, to use Al as our guinea pig. A sows ear to a silk purse…
So in typical Pygmalion fashion we began to convince Al, and everyone around him, that he was a winner. We told him he was good looking. we had pretty girls flirt with him. At the college sporting event we started a cheer – “Al, Al, Al”. It wasn’t long before the entire stadium was yelling his name. He ate it up. He became our team mascot, then our school mascot; our own personal Gurgi (from The Chronicles of Prydain, if you haven’t read it to your kids, why not?).
Something started to happen.
It wasn’t long before Al began to look different to us. I wasn’t sure if it was his dress or his manner but he had changed, and continued to change. It wasn’t that he became more like the rest of us, more like society. Al became more “Al” like. He realized that in spite of the media, in spite of all his previous experience, he was obviously good-looking – everyone was telling him so. Apparently he had a good body as well. He was popular, though he probably didn’t understand why.
And Al started to blossom.
It wasn’t long before Al really was cool, very cool in fact. He was hilarious, witty, engaging, even gregarious. He started to approach girls. A few didn’t turn him down. At sporting events he ran the crowd. It wasn’t long before our little Pygmalion was indeed the most popular guy at the college.
Mental health professionals tell us that our self-image is largely determined by the attitudes of those closest to us. If our friends think we are ugly we soon believe them. If they think we are amazing then this too will define us. It is for this reason that I have always insisted that my boys are winners, beautiful, talented, and incredibly humble. just like their dad.
So many of us have been belittled by spouses or friends so long that we have come to believe we are ugly, or stupid, or unlovable. Some of us have been in abusive relationships with someone who reminded us, often in subtle ways, that we are losers. For some reason our self-esteem has been ruined. We no longer think of ourselves as winners, as valuable. We have lost our “Al-ness”. We have succumbed to the inner and outer voices that demean and negate. There are probably people in your life who find their self-esteem from making you feel like less. They need to hurt you to feel good about themselves.
And some of them are closer than we realize.
I have that inner voice that reminds me of my failures and has a list of the ways I fail to measure up. You probably don’t need to tell me my faults, I have a complete index of my mistakes, most of us do. It is easy, the older we grow, to forget that we once loved ourselves, were once allowed to share our “Al-ness” without ridicule. Most of us have become so fearful of sounding arrogant that we can barely remember how special we are, or at least were.
A little Al can go a long way. You just need someone to believe in you.
Stop listening to your critics, especially if that voice sounds an awful lot like yours…
- One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others (scott-williams.ca)
- Why Sarah Cuts. (The ugly side of low self-esteem) (dr-carol.com)