The medieval abbess knew just what to say when her good friend struggled with poor self-esteem.
Most of the time, dark thoughts—whether they be gloomy ruminations or a permanent habit of self-deprecation—manifest themselves as little sentences said to oneself, or in barely perceptible reflections. Our beliefs, often unconscious, form a filter through which we interpret reality. When this filter is negative, these little inner sentences we say to ourselves negatively influence our choices about actions we decide to take and about our relations with others.
This negativity can lead to a lack of confidence, and even to anxiety, depression and illness. This is what St. Hildegard of Bingen emphasizes in her writings on the necessary harmony between soul, body and mind. For her, it is essential to be aware of this effect, and to cope with it. To do so, you must identify this self-destructive mechanism by fundamentally changing the way you look at yourself.
In a letter addressed to her friend Father Bertulf and quoted in a book by Hildegard Strickerschmidt, the German abbess stresses the danger of self-criticism. She writes, “You remind me of a man who looks at his face in the mirror, but does not rejoice because he is overwhelmed by doubts about his beauty. Your heart then looks like a building visible from afar, but covered with fog …”
The mental fog that St. Hildegard speaks of in the Middle Ages is a concept commonly used in contemporary psychology. Under the influence of negative thinking, we are unable to see our positive character traits.
Aren’t we dissatisfied most of the time with our own appearance when we look in the mirror? This inferiority complex, which destroys the joy of who we really are, can also affect our spiritual and intellectual life.
In her letter, St. Hildegard describes the abbot’s goodness, which was clear to everyone around him but which he himself was unable to appreciate. A little negative inner voice was poisoning his spirit, preventing him from making the most of his gifts.
According to St. Hildegard, we must seek the talents that lie dormant in us, rejoice in them, and cultivate them. God created humanity out of love, and made us his partners. In the story of the creation of the world, God considers all his work—including humankind—to be very good.
Five exercises to regain self-confidence
For Hildegard of Bingen, human beings—mirrors of God—radiate around them what they have in their hearts:
“Man is a drop of water through which the shapes of the world pass. By having God alone as his goal, man will bring creation closer to the Light. The center of the center of the universe is Christ, the one who is God made man.”
When human beings become conscious of this, when they listen to Christ, contemplate Him, and unite themselves with Him, then they find their true identity. They heal from their dark thoughts and can develop their own talents, following an impulse that is filled more and more with joy.
In order to achieve this, here is some advice inspired by St. Hildegard. These are resolutions to remember as soon as the little negative voice resurfaces:
- God has given me many talents that I want to discover anew.
- I would like to develop my talents creatively and have more self-confidence.
- I will think about what I would like to do or continue to do with joy and energy.
- To do this, I need to be proactive and ask my loved ones for help.
- I count on God, who accepts and supports me as I am. He has given me talents. With Him I am confident. I surrender myself to Him.