A Journey of Self Reflection: I Never Liked Who I Saw

Even men can feel feeble about their self image. Unresolved pain from the past can manifest itself in unsuspecting ways.

It isn’t easy for a guy to talk about his inadequacies, hell, it’s not easy for anyone. We think that by exposing our shallowest view of our abilities or attributes we are being weak or not being enough. We don’t want to be exposed.

In the past, I’ve been told: “you are being strong for doing this,” but it sure doesn’t feel that way. While I have been able to share some of my darkest secrets with the world, some things are still tough to admit and talk about. Physical things that I can’t really change but I can change my perception of them.

Many people struggle with vanity issues, even men. To honestly sit in front of a mirror and love or at least appreciate who you are looking at is something that eludes a majority of us. We have ideal body images in our minds but almost none of us believe we are it. For the few that legitimately do love themselves, they could be mistaken for being vain. What is so wrong with being vain?

I am nearing my 40th birthday, and on this milestone year, I have reflected on the thought of being a middle-aged man. Up until the last few months, have I begun to truly appreciate what I look like and who I am becoming. For as long as I can remember, I never liked the person looking back at me in the mirror. In fact, there were times I strongly disliked him.

My self-esteem had always been horrid.

I always disliked my hair. I always envisioned myself looking like Cosmo Kramer from the TV show Seinfeld if I ever decided to let it grow out. In fact, if the afro ever came back, I could probably rock a pretty decent one. My hatred for my curly hair stems back to my childhood. I was often teased, sometimes relentlessly about my hair. The large, tightly wound curls on my head were meant for girls at the time, not for a boy. I was called all kinds of names, and instead of embracing my difference, I denied it. My constant denial opened the door for those hurtful names to occupy space in my mind.

It wasn’t until recently that I understood why I had such a soft spot for something so trivial as my hair growth. Unlike most hairstyles, my hair does not lend itself to many styles. As a child, I pleaded with my parents to buzz it. I believed that if I could change my hair, I could rid myself the pain of bullying, but that was not the whole story. My hair or the teasing was not the reason for my emotional pain.

Pain always has a source, but you have to be willing to open yourself up to find the path to it.

Every morning before school, as I ate my breakfast, my father would brush my hair. I am not certain where that routine came from, but it probably came from the fact that as a pre-teen boy, I never gave much attention to my self-care. But every morning, I would sit there and allow him to do his work. Often times, it would physically hurt as curly hair was not very forgiving to a stiff hairbrush. You may be asking: Why is a parent caring for their child such a bad thing? Well, it’s not, unless of course it is being done by the man who sexually abused you not long before this routine began. I never thought of it much at the time, but the mind can do some wonderful things to protect you from emotional pain.

With my father paying attention to my hair, my mind somehow equated my hair to the emotional pain of my abuse. As my peers in the schoolyard would point out and make fun of my hair, it would trigger deep emotional pain that I had no understanding of. Sometimes the bullying would become too much for me, and I would seek shelter with my parents, but their words wouldn’t help me. They tried their best to cure the topical pain of the bullying but my father was too close to the underlying pain.

Over time, the cycle of pain would ultimately lead me to dislike not just my hair, but my nose, my body type, my ears and my face. In the image of my body, I was ugly, but deep down all I was looking at was the ugly child abuse.

While I now understand the connection between my self-hate and my abuse, it does not give me the power to blame or feel angry. If someone burns down my house, blaming them is not going to solve the problem: I still have a burnt house. Blaming my father for the abuse or the bullies who teased me would only extend the cycle of pain.

For 20 years of my life, my hair had been the menace to my self-esteem. I had allowed it to happen, I couldn’t face it, I didn’t have a reason to. Eventually, becoming a father made me face it and it has taken close to 10 years and a lot of hard work both mentally and physically to get myself to love what I see in the mirror.

Life is a lot of work, and it’s mostly a job of taking things apart, seeing what they are broken, fixing them up and then hopefully putting them back together in better shape. When you look in the mirror and dislike what you see, that is the opportunity to open yourself up, identify and fix the emotion that makes you feel that way. Covering it up only serves to continue the cycle of pain that will eventually destroy you.

Our insecurities will continue to write a painful story.

We all have our insecurities; we all have stories behind them. What do you hate about you? What’s your story? Will you change it? Can you?