“Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves.” ~Nathaniel Branden
Hey guys! It’s dad.
First, I love you. You’re wonderfully, beautifully, perfectly human. 5 Words. Right?
Just the way you are!
So what is self esteem? Self-esteem is how we see ourselves and how we value ourselves. It’s based on our opinions and beliefs about our perceived strengths and weaknesses, which can feel difficult to change. Self esteem affects our self-confidence. Our self-esteem can affect whether we appreciate ourselves or disrespect and dishonor ourselves.
It took me a long time to actually understand self esteem (or lack thereof) before I could start to use that awareness and understanding as a tool. Now I use those thoughts, emotions, fears, and insecurities like a sort of barometer as to how I’m doing in my life as a whole. When I’m feeling down or disappointed about myself, my performance, or my behavior I ask questions such as: Would I be my friend? Would I hire myself? Would I trust myself? Do I even like myself? Do I have a level of self esteem (enough value) that will give me the confidence to stand up for myself? Do I subordinate my values, feelings, thoughts, ideas, and needs in order to make others feel better or to fit in? Can I stand on my own? If the answer to those questions is yes, I look at why I think that way. If the answer is no…I ask, “Why not?” which helps me dive into what I need to do to fix it!
Psychologists are constantly adding to an already bloated list causes for low self esteem or feelings of inadequacy. These causes include: Lower than normal physical or academic performance, disapproval from authority or parents, social beauty standards, emotionally disengaged or neglectful parents, and many others.
But let’s look at this from a new perespect, a difference that I don’t see as semantic. “Esteem” literally means to respect and admire, and we all know what “Self” means. But if self esteem means the presence or absence of respect and admiration toward ourselves…how can we hold others accountable for the state of the way we view ourselves? Isn’t their view of us and behaviors toward us and “esteem” that they do or do not hold for us? Shouldn’t self esteem or for that matter a lack of self esteem be attributed to us…not them?
I heard author, Jay Shetty, once say, “Whatever you want from someone else, give it to yourself first! If you want compliments from someone else, give them to yourself first. If you want validation or praise from someone else, give it to yourself first.” If we can’t give ourselves those compliments…what do we need to do, what actions do we we need to take in order to believe that we deserve them? How can we expect more from others than we’re willing to do ourselves.
As a teacher I’ve had many tear-filled conversations with high-school students who finally recognize how poorly they view themselves. It typically goes something like this…
Me: “If I told you a secret, would you keep it? If your brother or your boyfriend told you a secret, would you keep it?”
Student: “Yes. I can’t imagine sharing someone else’s private things with someone else. We don’t even have a right to do that.”
Me: “Why not? OK, but what if they didn’t tell you to promise not to tell anyone?”
Student: “I still wouldn’t tell. That would break their trust in me. It would be mean. I just couldn’t do that. I would hope that they wouldn’t tell my secrets if I shared one with them.”
Me: “You’re showing respect and compassion and understanding toward your friend.”
Student: “Yeah! It’s easy when you care about them!”
Me: “But earlier this week you told me that you were gonna get more sleep, eat better, and not allow yourself to be distracted so you could get caught up on your schoolwork. YOu made that commitment to yourself. You know how important it is, not just to you but to your family, that you graduate on time. You deserve that. Did you keep that promise to yourself?”
Me: “Why not?”
Student: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Why did you keep that commitment to your friend?”
Student: “Because I care about her. I respect her and her feelings, and just being a decent human being!”
Me: “So you don’t care about you? You don’t respect you and your feelings? You don’t think you deserve the same love and care and respect as your friend.”
That brief conversation is usually followed by silence, awareness, acceptance, then tears.
We all do it. Well, most of us anyway. We make commitments to others, our bosses, our spouses, our kids, our neighbors or extended family members. We keep ’em all. But when it comes to us, “I’m gonna go back to the gym 5 days a week!” “I’m gonna spend less time on social media.” “I’m gonna quit drinking soda.” “I’m gonna put my phone down thirty minutes before I go to sleep.” but then we almost immediately break those commitments to ourselves. A commitment? A promise? That’s semantics. The fact that we don’t respect ourselves as much as a colleague or neighbor is sad and far too common.
Maybe our self esteem really is “from us.” Maybe we shouldn’t be looking for praise and acceptance and acknowledgement from others until we’re willing to give ourselves the very same thing. Maybe we can notice when we’re undermining our own views of ourselves and use those as triggers to challenge those beliefs. Find examples of skills or talents or character traits that you do possess. Think of something you contribute to. Think of something kind or supportive you’ve done for someone else…even if they never noticed or never thanked you! Maybe all you did was listen. But that in itself has become a lost art! Listening! And you did that! Big or small. Noticed or not! You still did something kind for someone else.
Clearly the girl in the conversation above lacked true self respect, but she was honest, trustworthy, and integral in her friends life, and what character traits are more important than those?
What do you do if you truly can’t think of a talent or skill or character trait or something kind that you did in the service of others? Then you have a blank slate! You have every opportunity to let this awareness trigger that change in you. The world is your oyster! Challenge yourself! Explore! Try things. Fail. Build a healthy, balanced relationship. Say no to people and things that aren’t congruent with who you, your values, and where you want to be.
Give and find out how giving you are.
Live a little and find out what life is about.
Laugh and feel the happiness your laughter brings.
Love and feel how loving you are.
I love you guys. I hope you love yourselves too.