Suzanne E. Harrill, M. Ed |
We evolve daily as we explore our life and build awareness, getting to know ourselves better, face our fears, change habits, and make conscious choices to better our lives. We do many things to evolve: read self-help books, gathering information to improve our lives; talk to friends about our problems, receiving support to solve them; or go to a group or individual psychotherapy, gathering insights from others outside of our frame of reference. Some of us, on the fast track, do all of the above and more.
For many, there comes a time when change slows down and it is difficult to progress at the same fast clip we’ve been accustomed to while changing patterns, beliefs, and behaviours.
One of the most skipped steps in the healing process is learning to love yourself. It requires recognising and addressing the negative feelings you have about yourself. If you want to improve the quality of your life, you, at some point, must improve how your feel about yourself. Why? Because self-esteem, how warm and loving your feel about yourself, is the foundation of your life.
Read the following paragraph and notice the degree of truth for you. You may feel the statements are true, somewhat true, or false. If they are not true for you, begin the healing process by saying these affirmations often to yourself. This will repattern your inner belief structure over time to give you a different experience of life.
I am a valuable, worthwhile person. I deserve love, respect, good relationships, health, and work that uses my abilities. I am capable of living peacefully with others, able to communicate well, to problem-solve, and to resolve conflict. I forgive myself for not being perfect and learn from my mistakes. As I take positive risks to change within, I notice my outer world changes. I enjoy my life, feel good, and I love the person that I am.
Take a moment to reflect and answer the following questions. How does this paragraph of positive statements make you feel? What are some things that affect or have affected your feelings of self-worth both positively and negatively? Where in your life do you notice feelings of low self-esteem? high self-esteem?
When you do not feel worthy of love, support, help, friendship, and good relationships, to name a few, it sabotages your progress into being a fully functioning adult. Happiness, self-empowerment, satisfaction in work, good relationships, and success are all built on a foundation of healthy self-esteem.
No matter what your challenges are in life, know that you are a valuable, worthwhile human being who deserves love, respect, and happiness. If living your life has been based on false assumptions, it may now be time to change your beliefs about yourself to a new level of truth. Then you can experience different results in your life, such as inner peace and self-acceptance. You may, for example, have struggled with depression or a physical illness and forgotten that who you are, is not your illness. So many of us were taught to base our self-esteem on what we do and not who we are.
Self-esteem is a term that gets bandied around a lot these days. The downside is that self-esteem has become a cliché, an easy label, and therefore easy to ignore. The upside is that almost everyone knows the meaning and importance of self-esteem and that building inner resources improves such things as outer confidence.
Let us look at high self-esteem and low self-esteem so we can get a better understanding of where we are headed and what gets in our way.
High self-esteem is a quiet, comfortable feeling of total acceptance and love for yourself — as you are. It is respecting and valuing yourself as a worthwhile human being, honestly seeing your good and not-so-good qualities, and taking care of and nurturing yourself so you can become all that you are capable of being. High self-esteem is characterised by congruence between inner states (beliefs, feelings, attitudes) and outer states (behaviour, relationships, health). When you know and love yourself, you automatically reflect this to others. (The way you treat others is how you treat yourself).
Signs of High Self-Esteem:
- Having an internal locus of control; getting “okayness” from within, not from others.
- Taking care of yourself — physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
- Maintaining a balance between extremes of thought, feeling, and behavior; when out-of-balance, taking action to correct.
- Learning from mistakes and being able to say, “I made a mistake, I’m sorry.”
- Managing your life responsibly.
- Honoring individual differences among people.
- Listening to other points of view.
- Taking responsibility for your own perceptions and reactions; not projecting onto others.
- Having the ability to listen to your wise inner self (your intuition), and to act on this guidance.
- Demonstrating self-respect, self-confidence, and self-acceptance.
- Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses.
- Choosing continuous self-improvement and taking positive risks.
- Balancing being and doing.
- Feeling warm and loving towards yourself.
- Giving and receiving love easily, with no strings attached.
In twenty years as a counsellor, I’ve repeatedly witnessed the emotional turmoil, spiritual paralysis, and personal tragedy that can come from deep-seated problems with self-esteem. People with low self-esteem present themselves to the world in a variety of ways. I’ve learned to recognise the signs. Among the most common are extremes in thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
Some people with low self-esteem are overachievers who believe that a high IQ, physical beauty, winning at sports, or being Number One assures emotional well-being. They are often motivated by feelings of inferiority that propel them to seek validation of worth (their own and others) in outer manifestations, like money, power and praise.
Others make a practice of devoting all of their time and energy to family and friends and none to themselves. Often they are “giving” for the wrong reasons, with hidden agendas and expectations. Still others believe that they can only earn love by doing something. They evaluate their worthiness based on what they do, not on who they are. Finally, many base their self-worth on the opinions of other people or on outside indicators, much like the erratic swings of the stock market.
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
- Self-blame, self-criticism, or constantly putting others down through guilt, blame, shame, or faultfinding.
- Over- or under-achieving, eating, working, doing, etc.
- Playing the victim, rationalising that outside circumstances are the cause of your problems.
- Not taking responsibility for your own life, turning power over to another to make decisions for you, then feeling victimised if the results are not to your liking.
- Taking undo responsibility for the lives of others; dominating and making decisions for them.
- Fear of change and reluctance to take risks, or too much change, taking dangerous, unwise risks.
- Constant negativity or being so optimistic that reality is denied.
- Reacting to others with extreme emotion or no emotion.
- Boastful, overbearing behaviour around others, or inability to maintain integrity during interactions.
- Demanding to be “right,” needing to have agreement or have your own way most of the time, or constantly acquiescing to the will and opinions of others.
- Constantly comparing yourself to others, and thereby feeling inferior or superior.
- Black-white, either-or thinking; e.g., believing that a person is either good or bad based on rigid standards of good and bad behaviour.
- Having pervasive, deep-seated feelings of fear, terror, or panic.
- Speaking with lots of “shoulds,” “oughts,” “could-haves,” and “yes-buts.”
- Interpreting the hurtful words or actions of others as proof of your unworthiness.
Since self-esteem is the foundation of your life, how do you proceed if it is not strong? If you do not like parts of your life, you have the power to rebuild that foundation. Begin with your beliefs about yourself; update all that are false or that fail to support your growth and highest good. Remember, you alone have the power to change your inner world.
As you gradually accept the truth of these new beliefs, your feelings about yourself will improve. This in turn will affect your actions, accomplishments, and relationships and you will experience more love, joy, abundance, and satisfaction in life. Yes, you will still have your challenges in life, we all do; however, you will view them differently.
I would like to mention here the importance of accepting, at some level, that you are of value because God, or Life (use your own spiritual language) has called you into creation. The mere fact that you were born affirms that you are important, needed, and loved for who you are, no matter what you have been told or what you think.
It is helpful to summarise by using an acorn analogy to help you love and accept yourself. You are like an acorn that at each stage of its growth cycle does its best to become a giant oak tree. The acorn can only grow to the degree that it is nurtured by sunlight, rainwater, and nutrients from the soil.
But, even if its early life is less than ideal, its growth will accelerate at any time proper nutrients become available. You, too, have done the best you can under the unique conditions that have shaped your life thus far. With additional nurturing, self-awareness, and self-acceptance — just watch yourself grow!
By Suzanne E. Harrill, M. Ed