Is there a relationship between our negative self-image and our impact on the earth?
I was prompted to ask this question during an interaction I had with my sister.
She was constantly worried “What would people think?”
Her constant preoccupation with people’s opinions triggers me big time. I can’t help but wonder how much time she wastes and how many things she buys because of what other people might think.
How much time and how many things do we waste so people can see us?
As social beings, belonging and connection are our basic needs, and for this to happen, there has to be some degree of likeability.
But often, we stretch way too much to fit in and to be liked to the point that we no longer know who we are, what we really want, and why we do what we do.
Here are some of the reasons why we might suffer from a poor self-image:
Unresolved childhood trauma and our dependence on external validation.
Although I have been on a spiritual path for several years now, I still catch myself trying to fix things on the outside and improve the image of the self that I project unto the world.
I fall into this pattern every time I feel unworthy or not good enough. I thought I have done my work, but this pattern is more common than we think, and it is a difficult one to heal.
David Icke says:
“The greatest prison people live in is the fear of what other people think.”
Having a negative self-image comes from trauma—most often from childhood trauma or what psychologists call “development trauma.” This makes us feel incomplete, unworthy, and unlovable.
The natural impulse when dealing with shame and feelings of unworthiness is to seek control of how others see us. We are a bit like the old drunken man who lost his key inside the house, but he kept looking for it outside the house because there was light outside.
Because we are unable to be with ourselves and our feelings of unworthiness, we turn our entire attention on the outside and unconsciously seek to project onto the world an image of ourselves that is perfect and flawless.
Because we cannot accept ourselves, we are convinced that nobody will accept and love us unless we are perfect. Being perfect gives us the illusion of being safe from criticism and therefore, lovable, although not deserving of love.
Disconnection from our bodies.
Having a negative self-image is also linked to disconnection from our own bodies, emotions, and sensations (this concept is known in psychology as dissociation).
According to renowned neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel, dissociation consists of mind fragmentation that occurs as a way to deal with trauma.
This is why we are irrational in making choices while we are one hundred percent sure that our decisions are well-grounded and rationally motivated.
R. Baugmeister and K.L. Sommer conclude:
“Consciousness thus undermines the lawful, predictable nature of human behaviour and produces a situation of indeterminacy. But when disconnected, we are not conscious of our emotions and therefore, not able to understand how they could affect our otherwise ‘rational’ choices. Not only we do not understand how emotions determine our choices, but most of the time, we are not even aware that are our choices are not ‘ours.'”
From clinical cases to less severe forms—we are all affected
More severe conditions take the form of clinical disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and often translates into obsessive cleaning, extreme need for order, or the need to control everything that appears controllable on the outside—since we cannot “control” the thunders inside us.
Psychologists agree that most of us, even those with perfect parents and a perfect childhood, suffer from some kind of hidden trauma.
Research done by biologist Bruce Lipton demonstrates that we can inherit trauma from our parents or grandparents just like the colour of the eyes or of the skin. If we think of all the wars and the tragedies that humanity had experienced in the last centuries, chances are we all suffer from some kind of hidden trauma.
Thus, most of us suffer from less severe forms that leave us socially functional, although highly dysfunctional emotionally.
What does this have to do with the climate?
In my opinion, it has a lot to do with it. Traditional economic theories assume that people are rational in their economic choices and seek to maximize benefits and minimize costs. But more recent theories—such as behavioural economics—pay more attention to the role that emotions play in our choices.
Neuroeconomics speculates that:
“Emotions may guide automatically people’s behaviours and decisions. In this area of the brain, negative and positive stimuli make the amygdala neurons very active, resulting in signals which may drive automatically the behaviour.” ~ Agnes Virlics, Sibiu University, Romania.
According to Andres Moya, economists have also found an increased risk aversion in subjects who have been exposed to violence.
If the majority of us are emotionally dysfunctional, and if emotions play a pivotal role in our decision-making, is it a surprise that we live in a dysfunctional society with a dysfunctional and unsustainable economy?
How can we have a healthy society with a healthy economy—no matter its basis—capitalism, socialism, communism, and so on?
From trauma and disconnection to unconscious overconsumption
To compensate for this disconnection and quiet down the voices of unworthiness inside us, we accumulate fat, things, academic titles, and jobs—sometimes even life partners, lovers, and children.
The tragedy is that all these new things make us feel better for a short time and create the desire for more things. We engage in compulsive shopping and accumulation because it makes us feel better in the short run and only opens up within us the desire for more.
Overconsumption—from the food we buy and waste, to the oversized real estate properties and obsessive travelling—doesn’t stem from a basic need, and it has a tremendous negative impact on the planet. While consuming enough for a happy and fulfilled life can be legitimate—nothing extra is—it is waste.
Fear is what makes us preys to big companies that invest piles of dollars in advertising to make us buy their products—including those we do not need—in a continuous pursuit of profit and all at the expense of further depletion of limited planetary resources.
Negative self-image is what creates and opens the doors for radical leaders
Psychologists affirm that people in the highest positions are also the most insecure ones. Alfred Adler developed the concept of “inferiority complex” that is caused by physical or psychological impairment during childhood, which makes the future adult perpetually strive for “compensation.”
Talking about Adler’s “inferiority complex,” James Hemming writes:
“Is it appropriate to point out here that compensation for inferiority feelings can assume enormous proportions? Both Hitler and Alexander the Great had rather uncertain childhoods. What was their compensatory drive for this early loss of face? Nothing less than to conquer the world.”
Negative self-image and fear make us vote for power-seeking politicians who use fear and hate speech to grab power from us. When we are afraid of not being enough and not having enough, we resonate with those who speak about fear, hate, and the enemies they create.
Fear is what pushes us straight into the arms of aggressive, unconscious, and power-seeking politicians. Champion deniers of climate change push for aggressive exploitation of the earth resources as long as it brings them profit.
James Hemming also states:
“The world is in desperate peril from the greed and destructiveness of those who neurotically pursue wealth as a source of personal importance.”
The fact is, no form of organisation of the society will be sustainable unless we heal ourselves first.
Ruthless leaders and multinationals would not thrive without our tacit support—without the people who continue to support them and continue to shop compulsively.
The unattended pain inside us will always push us to buy more, until we pay attention and allow it to heal.
It is not a question of strong or weak will—our mind will always find a way to get the next quick fix, be it heroin, sugar, the new iPhone, or a Louis Vuitton bag.
It is not capitalism; it’s us.
As long as we focus on external gratification, we will always find a way to acquire and consume. The greatest argument in this direction is the example of former or current communist societies whose impact of our planet’s resources is quite similar to the capitalist ones.
Awareness of our emotions and acceptance of ourselves as flawed human beings will help us make better choices in the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment.
Capitalism and the Christian tradition suggest to us that we must be perfect, or at least aim for perfection, in order to have a successful and fulfilled life.
But when it comes to happiness and fulfillment in life, indigenous traditions point inside and tell us to accept life as is.
Inner well-being and peace come from an understanding of life as a learning experience and from an appreciation of life’s events with equanimity—taking in the lessons without the negative or positive labels.
Brad Blanton says:
“Refocussing on experience helps the person in denial to feel what is going on inside her and begin to tell the truth to cure herself. She may learn that the source of her bodily sensations are beliefs and fears based on earlier incomplete and unpleasant experiences where she made a moral resolve never to let anything like that happen again.”
Through embracing life as it is and accepting our flawed selves, we fall in love with life—with all its aspects—and break the compensation patterns. Then we can finally start living our own lives and within the boundaries of our planet.
Accepting our flawed, vulnerable selves enhances connection and cooperation. Through cooperation—and not competition—we waste less of Earth’s resources.
We cannot heal the planet without healing ourselves first.
An organism cannot live long when its cells are ill, and we are the cells of this planet.