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Self-Esteem

Where Did It Go & How Can We Get It Back?

A feature article by Susan Peabody, Nov 07, 2003

Summary: If we are to feel good about ourselves, and reach our full potential, we must have self-esteem. Unfortunately, many of us lack a feeling of self-worth. This article explains why many of us find loving ourselves difficult and what we can do about it.

It is hard to know whether we are born with self-esteem, and then sometimes lose it, or whether we are born without it and never get a chance to develop it. Either way, the lack of self-esteem (what we call low self-esteem) is a painful disorder. It can be seen as both a mental and spiritual wound.

I have studied this problem for many years, and it is clear to me that young children cannot love themselves. Instead, they must be validated by the people around them if they are to build a sense of self-worth. Love and attention are the most important forms of validation. Unfortunately, some children do not receive the nurturing they need to thrive.

As well as finding themselves unloved, many children are also neglected, abandoned, and sometimes abused. This causes children to unconsciously assume that something is wrong with them. They donít want to believe that the grownups around them are bad (this would be too frightening), so they conclude that they themselves are bad or flawed. If they are flawed, then they assume that they are worthless. If they are worthless, then they feel unworthy of love. The end result of this unconscious chain of logic is low self-esteem.

Parents are also like mirrors, and should reflect an image of loveliness to their children. When parents are shame-based, or have low self-esteem, they reflect a negative image to their children who then conclude (unconsciously) that they are flawed as well. This is how parents pass on shame and low self-esteem even when they are trying to be good parents.

Once a child has low self-esteem, it begins to feed on itself. Due to their poor self-image, children are incapable of compensating for neglect and abuse by loving themselves. They are also unable to accept the small of doses of love their parents do provide, or the love of other people they may meet as they are growing up. This triggers more shame and low self-esteem.

There are numerous ways that these painful feelings might impact a personís life. Some people will become painfully shy, while others will have illusions of grandeur to compensate for a poor self-image. Some people will lack ambition, while others will be over-achievers. Many people will become people pleasers, while others go to the other extreme and become anti-social. (Anti-social people sometimes become criminals.) One of the most serious consequences of low self-esteem is the self-loathing that results in self-mutilation.

Building Self-Esteem:

I want to start out by saying that while many of the following suggestions will help you build up your self esteem by validating yourself, other recommendations will encourage you to utilize the validation of others to enhance your self-esteem. This may seem contradictory. Many people feel that we can love ourselves unconditionally from within and have no need for the love of others. However, I feel that we do need some outer validation. We are only human, and no matter how strongly we believe in ourselves we need a little support. What is important to remember, is that our own validation of ourselves should come first and it is more important that what others think of us. In other words, you should build a strong foundation before you build a house.

Adopt an attitude of self-acceptance or unconditional self-love. This means really understanding that you are a worthy person despite your shortcomings. This is a mindset.

Once you have a general acceptance of your worth as a human being, spend some time focusing on your specific attributes. This enhances your self-worth.

As part of your new positive thinking campaign, learn how to superimpose new information over your old negative tapes. (Negative tapes are all the hurtfull and inappropriate things people said about you while you were growing up.) This is the best way to diminish inappropriate self-criticism which erodes self-esteem.

Reclaim your self-respect-the pride or satisfaction that comes from: self-discipline, being responsible, honoring your own value system, and handling adversity well. Please note that self-respect, which is a kind of conditional love, does not necessarily contradict the notion that you should love yourself unconditionally. Both concepts are important to maintain self-esteem. You must try to find the balance between loving yourself unconditionally and pushing yourself to do things that will engender self-respect.

Surround yourself, whenever possible, with people who affirm you (people who like you just the way you are). Like it or not, your relationship with others can erode your self-esteem. So make a point of choosing your friends carefully. You did not have a choice about this as a child, but as an adult you are free to pick and choose most of your companions.

Get to know yourself-who you are, your values, needs, wants, taste, etc. How can you value what you do not know?

Stop trying to be perfect. No one is perfect. We all live in the shadow of perfection, and are perfectly imperfect.

Do nice things for yourself. Take care of yourself. Never get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. This self-care validates your self-worth.

At the same time, do nice things for other people now and then. There should be some balance in your life between taking care of yourself and being kind to others.

Stop comparing yourself to others. They broke the mold when they made you, and this is the attitude you must have about yourself.

Learn how to receive, especially if you are a people pleaser or have always had a monopoly on giving. Stop dismissing compliments and returning gifts. Let the love come in.

Be creative. Everyone has a talent, and they should use it.

Stand up for yourself, especially if you donít usually do this. Remember that you value what you take care of. Standing up for yourself means: setting limits (saying no),expressing your opinion, walking away from neglect or abuse, being assertive when appropriate, no longer apologizing when you havenít done anything wrong.

Make amends if you have ďwreckage from the past.Ē Most people have hurt people at one time or another, and they should honor their appropriate guilt. We have a conscience for a reason. You cannot ignore healthy guilt if you want to feel good about yourself. So, take the time to separate inappropriate guilt from healthy guilt and proceed accordingly.

To protect your newfound self-esteem, prepare yourself mentally for those times when people try to drag you down (people you canít avoid like family and co-workers). Learn how to keep from taking them so seriously, as well as how to filter out inappropriate criticism.

If you work very hard on this task of building up your self-esteem, you will have taken a great step forward. Your life will change and you will know peace. You will also be genuinely happy-perhaps for the first time in your life. And it gets better. There is no end to the happiness you will know when you love and cherish yourself as well as others.


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