How to learn to love yourself and see what others see?

Im 26 and have always been insecure about my looks. Right now I would say an overwhelming amount of people are interested in me and tell me I’m attractive but I can’t even feel good or believe it because I just don’t see it. I’ll notice one imperfection and hyperfixate, take 1000 photos analyzing myself and staring at it until I’m crying that this is what I’ve looked like and people see and I’m just noticing now. At one point I convinced myself that these people were saying I was so attractive as a joke. I know everyone has flaws and understand that people with this anxiety can make up things in their head but in my mind it’s always things I’ve noticed a tiny bit before but now that I’ve honed in on it it’s all I can see and I’m mortified that this is what people see on me and when people say I’m attractive I feel like I’m probably fooling them somehow by my makeup etc. One big thing that has made this worse is the app tik tok. There are all these challenges on who has the cutest side profile and it’s basically defined as being beautiful only if you have a very small button nose. I have a larger nose but it’s never been something I was THAT insecure about. Now I sit and look at my side profile mortified wondering if everyone talks about how big my nose is and how I definitely need a nose job. Another trend, the inverted filter. Shows how other people see your face vs the mirrored image you normally see. Well I guess I have a more crooked smile and now that’s all I’ve been analyzing and panicking about for the last 12 hours, again mortified that this is how people actually see me and wonder if that’s something they have noticed or talked about behind my back. And again I have people telling me I’m so beautiful and picking me out of all of my friends who I believe to be more attractive. How can I see myself the way everyone else is seeing and even telling me I look like?
Asked by Anxiousannie94

I am so sorry to hear that you are having difficulty loving yourself right now and seeing what others see in you. It will be important to recognize when our feelings have a purpose versus when they do not.  We of course want positive feelings in our lives, but sometimes negative feelings are there for a reason and we need to live out that purpose in order for it to get better.  If we do not live out the purpose of our feelings, it likely leads us to feel worse.  For example, something as simple as having anxiety about needing to get the chores done has the purpose of getting us motivated to get the chores done.  Therefore, if we do not live out that purpose and the chores remain undone, that can lead to more bad feelings, such as, “I am lazy” or “I am worthless.”  This is a simple example of how if we do not pay attention to our feelings and live out the purpose, they can become much, much worse.  So I would encourage you to try and separate out the thoughts that have a purpose from the thoughts that do not have a purpose and are more intrusive. 


For the ones that do have a purpose, it can be helpful to allow yourself to think through the anxious thoughts because anxiety has a nasty way of going to the worst possible scenario.  If you can wrap your head around that scenario, it can make it less scary.  For example, I had a client that was very anxious daily about being single for the rest of his life.  Thinking to that extreme is clearly anxiety and it just lingers there.  Once he was able to think through that scenario and come up with a plan to make it less scary.  He then came up with that if he really is going to be single the rest of his life, which is highly unlikely, he is going to work towards being able to live close to the ocean since that is a dream of his.  Thinking about it now does not make him as scared because he recognizes he could be happy with that. So try to think through specific things you are anxious about that have a purpose and make sure you have a specific plan on how to improve those things. For example, having a specific plan for how to work on your body image that feels forward-moving.    


Intrusive thoughts tend to not have a purpose and it can be really helpful to try and overpower those before they are accepted as truths.   We can have power over our thoughts and I want to help you not engage in these thoughts that make you so upset.  The easiest example of this that I can think of is if I went skydiving.  If I went skydiving I would have some obvious, rational, anxious thoughts.  If I really have a desire to skydive though I will need to not engage in those thoughts.  I might have thoughts such as, "My parachute could fail, I will hit the ground, I am going to pass out, etc."  However, since I really want to follow through with skydiving, I would not stop those thoughts in their tracks with, "I know this is going to be really fun, they inspect the parachutes ahead of time, people hardly ever get hurt doing this, etc."  By focusing on those thoughts and not engaging in the others, I would be able to follow through with skydiving. Try to sort through any thoughts that get you down about yourself and that you can’t handle all of this and try to overpower those.  These types of thoughts are very common when having negative thoughts about yourself that are not based on truths.   


As you do those processes it can be helpful to validate yourself and more specifically your body image. Something that could be helpful for you is what I like to call centering thoughts.  These are thoughts that are predetermined and unique to you for you to turn to in low moments.  They need to be powerful enough to bring you back to your center.  It is important that these thoughts are accessible for you to look at when you need to.  Some clients prefer to read and re-read them and some prefer to write and re-write them until they feel better.  I have clients that write these somewhere they will see daily such as their bathroom mirror or phone background, while others simply have them in their phone to pull out when they need to.  An example of a centering thought would be from a client I had that related to nautical-themed things and her thought was, "I will not let this sink me."  An Olympic skier actually had difficulties with negative thinking getting in the way of her performance so she went to therapy.  She mentioned that she learned about centering thoughts to battle all of the people telling her she “should be” or “should do.”  To battle those thoughts, she uses the simple centering thought of, “I am.”  She can then remind herself that she is good enough, that she is confident, and that she does want to still compete, which really affirms her own feelings and not others.  Hopefully, you can come up with something that helps validate your worth, physically and emotionally.


I hope that some of this is helpful and that you can apply it to your circumstances.  I hope that you can lean on some family and/or friends through this.  Doing so can help take weight off of your shoulders as well as hopefully get some valuable advice from them. Try to take the healing one day at a time and adding one positive thing back into your life each day.  I wish you all the best and I hope that you are staying safe.