Don't Let What "Simon Says" Rule Your Self-Image

I caught up on the Xfactor this weekend and noticed something interesting about many of the contestants' reactions to often crass judge Simon Cowell.  

On the episode I watched last night, I saw one young person after another smiling brightly after their performances, but when it came time for Simon to critique and he said things like, "Your makeup made you look like a clown," or "Your performance was horrendous" (both times, in my opinion, harsh, overly critical exaggerations), I saw the expressions on the performers' faces become quite embarrassed (even humiliated), and dejected.

I often talk about how in DBT we learn that a thought is just a thought and that a feeling is just a feeling.  After witnessing what I did on Xfactor, I think it's important to also remember that an opinion is JUST an opinion, whether it's Simon Cowell's, your friend's, a parent's, coworker's -- even your own.

What other people think of us is really none of our business. Their opinion is their perception, and it does not define us.   Just because Simon says you look like a clown doesn't mean that you do. Just because someone tells you you're stupid, a loser, or a jerk, doesn't mean that you are. 

Many of us with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder have difficulty separating what others think about us from who we really are. We may believe others' perceptions and projections and shift just moments later when we hear another opinion about who we are.  This is just one of the ways that the difficult symptom of lack of a strong identity can manifest, but we can practice skills to help us better define who we are, apart from what others may think or say.

Interpersonal Effectiveness, such as the "FAST" skills can be very useful. These skills are used as guidelines for being effective at keeping our self-respect:

  • be Fair - be fair to both yourself and to whoever else is involved. Simon doesn't always play by this rule, but how might you respond to a Simon-like comment in a way that is fair to both you and the other person without meeting cruelty with more cruelty?
  • no Apologies - when we have low self-esteem or insecurities around being accepted, we may be overly apologetic when we sense that someone is upset with us. We may even feel guilty for standing up for ourselves or asking for our needs to be met. With this skill, we watch the urge to overly apologize come up, and then we release it, keeping our self-respect in tact.
  • Stick to Values - it's difficult when you don't have a strong sense of self to identify what your own individual values are, apart from what anyone else might hold onto.  As you get to know yourself more, you will become more confident in your values. For example, I am a vegetarian. Before I started growing in my sense of identity and my strong values about cruelty to animals, I would sometimes be swayed into thinking it was okay to eat meat, even though it was against my own inner value around animals. Once I became clear that, for me personally, it's not okay to eat animals, nothing could sway me. I am adamant, and I stick to this value.  Dr. Marsha Linehan suggests that we "[d]on't sell out on [our] values or integrity for reasons that aren't very important..." and that we should "[b]e clear on what [we] believe is the moral or valued way of thinking and acting, and 'stick' to [our] guns" (Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder, page 128, Interpersonal Effectiveness Handout 10).
  • be Truthful - Because we can be very insecure and desperately want the approval of others, it's tempting to lie or act helpless even when we are not or to exaggerate or make up excuses. I notice that I sometimes regress to more childlike behaviors to get my way, especially in the context of my relationship with my significant other. I may act helpless, even when I am not, and then feel a lack of self-respect afterward.  I've found it's better to just take space and be honest that I'm feeling vulnerable and need extra support. (Here is a post where I share the complexities around my acting like a little girl in an adult relationship: Sometimes I Act Like A Little Girl)

How might you create imagery of a protective space around you that doesn't allow others' opinions of you to stick and take hold?  What are some things you know about yourself, your values, or your preferences that you know you can stand firm in no matter what anyone says?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.


  1. I can really relate to this Debbie. I just wrote a post about the same topic a few weeks ago.


  2. OMG I so needed to re-read this today after what happened in group.

    An opinion is JUST an opinion



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