It was one of the first weeks of the fall semester at West Shore Community College. I had just walked out of science class with my brain spinning, back pack loaded with homework. The whole week had been trying. I had two tests to prepare for, but, with their being the firsts tests of the semester, couldn’t even guess what they would be like.
Then I had read the psychology study guide. I immediately felt overwhelmed. Paragraphs of questions covered two pages. They weren’t “yes” or “no”, “true” or “false” questions. They weren’t questions with one word or phrase answers. They were “describe” and “explain” questions. It was so long, confusing, and extremely detailed. My stomach had tied in knots.
Now, as I walked in the empty hall, from behind me, my psych teacher approached. Cheerfully, he commented about a question I had asked that morning. “You aren’t still worrying about the absolute refractory period, are you?” I pasted a friendly smile on my face and stopped walking, but I couldn’t answer. He might’ve been seriously wondering, or perhaps he was just making conversation. Either way, I couldn’t lie, but I certainly couldn’t tell the truth. I tried not to let the “yes, I am still really worried” show on my face, but couldn’t think of anything to say.
In the silence, he spoke up again, conscious of at least a little of my worry. “Well, I saw you were looking at the study guide. Isn’t that helpful?”
The smile disappeared. “No. No, not in the least. The study guide was what put me into such horrific terror!” But I didn’t say what I was thinking. I put all my effort into not letting the tears form and run down my cheeks.
I knew the silence was long and the lack of eye contact would make him suspicious. I knew if I didn’t answer right away, I would have to admit the truth. If I didn’t say something, he would find out how I felt. But my jaw was clenched as I fought to keep the tears from escaping. I lost the battle.
In the empty hall, in front of my respected teacher, I started crying.
I really didn’t want to make him feel bad. He had done a fine job, I was just stressed. It wasn’t his fault, and he didn’t need to feel bad for me. But I couldn’t hold the tears back.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“It’s not a big deal. I’m just a little worried about this test and the material.”
“Do you want to come to my office and we can go over some of it?”
I’ll never forget those fifteen minutes of my life. Partly because breaking down crying at college, especially in front of one of my most respected teachers, is embarrassing and is not an easy thing to forget. However, I’ll remember those minutes mostly because what Dr. Kramer was willing to do for me meant so much. A single one of his how-many-students starts sobbing about something stupid and he takes her back to his office, even though he had a meeting to be to in fifteen minutes, and spends his time trying to calm her down. The value that Dr. Kramer had for me–as evidenced in the way he treated me gave me more confidence in myself.
Self concept is complicated. So many things influence the way we view ourselves. Even things like those simple fifteen minutes are so crucial, so memorable, so impacting. This is partly because people and instances impact the way we view ourselves. This is called reflected appraisal–“the theory that a person’s self-concept mirrors the way the person believes others regard him or her” (Adler & Proctor, 2014, p. 413). So, the way people treat us can change the way we believe in ourselves. What they do sends messages–and we believe what they tell us.
Our self concept has significant value. If we are confident, yet humble, realize our strengths with pride yet understand our weaknesses without becoming distraught, then we will be able to spend our energy on more productive things than simply worrying about who we are. Being confident that we are valuable will allow us to reach out to greater things–take bigger steps.
Because of how easily impacted our self concept is–but still how valuable it is–it is essential that we keep ourselves in good company, spending time with people who will show us love and respect. It is vital to surround ourselves with people who will back us up and push us to press onward. It is also essential to spend time in God’s word or inspirational books which remind us how valuable we are (Spoken For: Embracing Who You Are and Whose You Are). Especially those of us who tend more toward beating ourselves up over struggling with pride, if we don’t purposefully remind ourselves who we are, we are likely to fall into pity parties or stop marching because we no longer believe in ourselves.
Similarly, we need to speak love and value to other people–especially those of us who believe that each human is created in God’s image. There are so many ways to encourage others: write a note to them, give a phone call, spend some fun time with them, complete one of their chores for them. Where will the world see God’s love, if his people aren’t showing it? But even speaking to people who aren’t into God, you know how much encouragement from a friend can speak to you.
I’d like to challenge you to consider the five people you spend the most time with. Do they believe in you? Are they building your self concept in a healthy way? I’d also like to challenge you to encourage some of the people around you. A good friend gives, and doesn’t just take. What is something concrete that you can do right now to influence your friends and tell them that they are valuable?
Finally, you know I love comments 😉