“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Do you spend more time wondering whether other people like (or love) you than asking yourself if you like (or love) them? When making decisions about what to wear, the kind of car to drive, where to live, and even where to go for dinner, do you give more weight to what others may think of your choice than what you think? Are you more worried about what others think of you than what you think of you?
If you answered yes to these questions, you’re probably living from the outside in.
And you’re not alone. Most of us were taught from an early age to derive our sense of worth from what others think of us—our accomplishments, our relationships, our possessions. Some of us were also taught to “go along to get along,” meaning we should keep our thoughts and opinions to ourselves unless those thoughts and opinions are in alignment the people around us). Sometimes, we put so much effort into fitting in that we twist and contort our thoughts and perceptions to suit other people. We let what’s outside drive our inside.
This is a dysfunctional way to live, often creating (or at least contributing to) depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of intimacy, and countless other issues.
The fix for this is simple, though not easy. We need to stop living from the outside in and start living from the inside out. Living from the inside out means that every choice we make—and how we see the world—is based on our reality and perceptions, rather than on what we make up about what others think and feel. Living from the inside out bypasses and transcends the external factors that drive our esteem, letting us find our sense of worth from within. Instead of searching for external validation, we develop and enjoy an authentic sense of inherent value. This is self-esteem in its truest and best form.
When we have self-esteem, we know what brings us joy, and we take responsibility for making that happen to the best of our ability. When we’re looking “out there” for someone else’s seal of approval, we don’t even know what brings us joy because we’re focused on external—rather than internal—factors.
Here are four action steps you can take toward developing a more confident sense of self by living from the inside out.
1. Focus on your thoughts, your feelings
First and foremost, you must consider what you think and feel about a situation, an event, an experience, another person, or even a tangible object. This means you let go the habit of trying to guess what someone else might be thinking.
If you catch yourself wondering what someone else will think of your choices, consciously return to your own thoughts, preferences, and wants by asking:
- What will bring me joy?
- What is the next right thing for me?
- What is in my best interest?
If you’re used to living from the outside in, these questions may sound self-centered. But they’re not. They are questions that will help you develop self-esteem by living from the inside out. When you do that, you are much more likely to create love, success, and abundance for yourself and for the people around you.
2. Let go of control
If you notice that you’re attempting to manage or control a person or situation to achieve a certain outcome, you’re using “negative control.” This is a sure sign of living from the outside in. The problem with negative control is that none of us has control over another person. None of us can know the next right thought or action for someone else.
Recognizing and letting go of negative control moves you from outside in to inside out living. As a side benefit, when you accept that you are powerless over other people and events, you can offer up the outcome of whatever you were trying to control to your Higher Power—however you conceive a power greater than you—thereby strengthening your spiritual connection.
3. Focus on finding what works for you, rather than striving to be accepted
When beginning or initiating any new relationship—dating, interviewing for a job, looking for a therapist, doctor, etc.)—remind yourself to place as much or more emphasis on what you think and feel about the other person as on what they might think and feel about you. Remind yourself that you are neither “less than” nor “better than” the other person. What matters is whether the relationship or situation works for you. This will stop you from wasting precious time and energy on relationships and situations that bring you down and take you away from living your authentic life. At the same time, you are considerably more likely to develop mutually beneficial and mutually affirming connections.
4. Remember, you have inherent value
If you notice that your sense of worth and value changes dramatically based on what another person says or does, that is a definite sign of living from the outside in. When you notice that you are feeling “less than” based on what another person did or said—or maybe what they didn’t do or say—remind yourself that your worth doesn’t depend on others. Your value is not determined by anything that is external to you—not even by your family members or your intimate partner.
You have inherent value that comes from within.
Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW is the author of Moving Beyond Betrayal: The 5-Step Boundary Solution for Partners of Sex Addicts. For more information, visit her website: vickitidwellpalmer.com