Determine what you think about yourself, not by what others think of you.
If I were to search for the central core of difficulty in people, it is that in the great majority of cases they despise themselves, regard themselves as worthless and unlovable. In some instances that is covered by pretension, and in nearly all of us these feelings are covered by some kind of a facade. – Carl Rogers
Munching along wearily through their lowly life, caterpillars might notice butterflies soaring freely overhead. One or two of the envious ones might try to be like them, pasting on wings and jumping from the trees! But instead of flying, they fall. People with low self-esteem tend to do the same, trying to be what they are not. They hope to gain approval from others so that they can feel good about themselves. For caterpillars and humans alike, this can be self-defeating.
Self-esteem means esteeming yourself. Yet many people have the mistaken belief that their self-worth comes from people or things outside themselves. They believe that others are responsible for their happiness, then blame others for their unhappiness. Self-esteem, however, is determined not by what others think of you, but by what you think about yourself.
People are looking for self-esteem in all the wrong places, through:
Any of these—doing a good job, looking good, being funny, having beautiful friends—can be an important part of our self-esteem, especially if these things are a genuine complement to our well-being. The problem arises, however, if we feel we have to impress or please others to prove that we are okay.
If we depend on approval from others in order to feel we are worth something, we give up power over our own self-esteem. Demanding or manipulating for approval is also an attempt to control others. We may fish for compliments, but if we “catch” one, we probably won’t believe it. The path to self-esteem comes from gaining our own approval and affirming our own worth.
Self-esteem and love go hand-in-hand. If I believe I am not lovable, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else might really love me—even when they really do, and make every effort to show me! If I despise myself, I can’t love my kids, my spouse, my siblings, my parents, or my friends. And if I don’t care for myself, I don’t take very good care of myself.
On the other hand, when I do love myself, I become more loving and lovable. When I cherish myself, I take good care of myself and have an increased sense of my worth. All my relationships, in turn, are enhanced. Unconditional self-esteem is based on unconditional love for oneself.
Remember, self-esteem is an inside job. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent!”
You alone are responsible for your own self-esteem. Only you can give yourself self-respect. Only you can give yourself self-acceptance. Only you can give yourself self-esteem. And you alone are responsible for your self-esteem.
Self-esteem means esteeming yourself. It means knowing and affirming that you are valuable, lovable, worthwhile, and capable. It involves respecting yourself—and teaching others to respect you. It means treating others respectfully because they deserve it.
Low self-esteem doesn’t feel good. In fact, it aches. And what does our high-speed society teach us to do with pain and discomfort?
Everyone uses these strategies of avoidance at times. They can provide a brief vacation and give us time to regroup. But they can also get us into big trouble. Wanting to forget or control pain, people drink, take drugs, smoke, or eat. But the positive feelings are short lived. Drugs can stop the pain of low self-esteem, but can do nothing to raise it. These strategies of avoidance are actually the highway to chronic pain and addiction. When we deny, distract, or drug ourselves, we do nothing about our true problems.
Instead, we need to accept the fact that pain and discomfort are a part of life. They are messengers bearing important information. We need to pay attention to the tension or the pain. What is the message? What do I need to change in my life? Then we can take responsibility for ourselves. When we change something, learn something, and gain personal power, our self-esteem goes up a few notches.
Self-esteem creates natural highs. Knowing you’re lovable helps you to love more. Knowing you’re important helps you to make a difference to others. Knowing you are capable empowers you to create more. Knowing you’re valuable and have a special place in the universe is a spiritual joy in itself.
Imagine what your life would be like if you knew that:
Positive self-esteem is the choice to respect, accept, and love yourself fully. It is a commitment to yourself, and the best gift that you can give and receive.
With an Ed.D. in the prevention-based field of Community Psychology, Louise Hart’s presentations and books deal with matters of the heart—positive parenting, emotional well-being, self-esteem and assertiveness. Author of “On the Wings of Self-Esteem” and “The Winning Family,” she is also a speaker. Learn more at: www.upliftprograms.com