Emerald was recently asked to list three words that she feels describe her. Without any hesitation at all, she rattled off: smart, talented, pretty, in that order. Jim and I were elated. It makes us all kinds of happy that she did not have any problem coming up with positive words about herself, and she didn’t have any reservation about sharing those thoughts. Smart, talented, pretty . . . all of those describe my Emerald very well. I could add at least a dozen more.
She then asked me what words I would choose to describe myself. Tellingly, I didn’t have as easy a time coming up with my three and not being critical. I thought for a brief moment and then answered, “Intelligent, thoughtful, um . . .” I wanted to say “witty”, but I wondered if that were true. Do others think I’m witty? Darn it, I couldn’t even name three positive things about myself without doubting their veracity. And how did I measure how true they were? By the opinions of others (as perceived by me). How silly is that?
Luckily for me, Emerald processed my two replies and moved onto her dad, not noticing that I had only given her two answers. Surprisingly (at least to me), Jim had as tough of a time naming his attributes as I did mine. He jokingly rattled off negative things, “annoying . . .” I can’t even remember the other two. Emerald laughed, we all started joking, and the subject was left there.
So why can’t we, as adults, say positive things about ourselves without feeling weird? I know I am intelligent, kind (usually), thoughtful, attractive, witty, and even more, but to say it out loud feels arrogant and may invite comment by others. Comment that I’m not sure I want.
It’s an odd dichotomy. On the one hand, I don’t want others to contradict my opinion of my qualities. But on the other, when people are too complimentary, I feel like I can’t possibly live up to their impression of me. So I end up feeling like a phony and wanting to “come clean” that I am not all that they think I am. Insecurity? Maybe, but also the knowledge that no one is perfect, certainly not I.
I also don’t want to come across as being self-centered and conceited. Who goes around saying, “I am awesome,” except a total jerk? In our society, we raise our children to not be boastful, and that is a good thing. But somewhere along the way, we become hesitant to acknowledge our good points, unless we’re applying for a job, in which case “putting our best face forward” is a must. Ordinarily, though, it’s polite to be modest. Again, that’s a good thing, but modesty can also lead to the inability to voice one’s attributes. A double-edged sword.
I am so thankful, and frankly “over the moon” that Emerald does not have any of these issues. It is my job (along with Jim) to make sure she never does. To make sure that she will inherently know the difference between being able to voice her strengths and boasting. And that she will always be able to recognize her good qualities. I’m afraid that’ll be easier said than done, especially through the teen years, but I feel it’s an important part of parenting, especially these days, with societal pressures and judgments more prevalent than ever. I want my daughters (both of them) to always be able to say, “I am beautiful,” something so many women struggle with today.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?