A Step by Step Approach to Building Your Self-Esteem
Written by: James R. Weiss
You are what you think about yourself…nothing more and nothing less
Linda, a twenty-eight year old mother with three young children, scheduled a coaching session with me several years ago because she never felt good enough to be loved. “There’s a voice inside of me telling me that I am not doing enough to deserve the love of my husband and daughters. I’m tired of always having to prove that I’m worthy of love and affection. How can I change this?”
“Jim, I have too many boyfriends.” This lovely thirty year old grade school teacher was currently dating four different men at the same time. “When a man holds me, even for a short time I feel needed and loved. After he leaves I feel more alone than I did before. How can I change this negative pattern of behavior?”
To help you raise your self-esteem I have included several exercises that I have been successfully using with my workshop students for more than ten years. Take your time with each of these brief assignments…and above all please be honest with yourself. No one is going to see your responses to the questions I have prepared for you unless you allow them to do so.
Here are several common problems that are linked to a low self-esteem. Please take a moment to examine the following list and place a check next to those that apply to you:
• Stress related health problems
• Uncontrollable outbursts
• Sexual problems
• Emotional immaturity
• Difficult committing to long term relationships
• Strong feeling of being unworthy of love and attention
What Is Exactly Meant By The Term Self-Esteem?
First and foremost, self-esteem is a feeling of personal worth and competence. Self-esteem refers to your ability to cope with the challenges of your life and your right to happiness. Ideally we should all experience a high level of self-esteem, but unfortunately more often than not most people suffer from a feeling of insecurity, doubt, fear and guilt. It’s as if there is a small voice in the back of your head whispering things such as “you are not good enough to deserve a break in life”.
Unfortunately your feelings of inadequacy are not always easy for you to recognize simply because they have been so deeply imbedded in your psyche since childhood. It’s also sad to say that otherwise bright, articulate, well educated men and women will never have a positive feeling about themselves due to the negative influence of others and a lack of self-knowledge.
Your self-concept (self-esteem) is also what you consciously and unconsciously think about yourself. This includes your physical and psychological traits and most of all your feelings of self-worth. In actuality your self-esteem influences every one of your significant choices and decisions, thereby shaping the kind of life you live and the person you become.
When your self-esteem is false or negative you are living a lie and faking the truth of who you really are. When this occurs you start feeling rejected by others and actually begin to believe that your problems are between you and the other people in your life. In reality, the worst you fear in others is what you have actually done to yourself.
Several Major Reasons For Low Self-Esteem
Parents and Siblings
Parents are not perfect people, on the contrary, in many cases they tend to raise their children as they were raised. This usually means mistakes, like hurting their child’s feelings and having favorites. Eighty five percent of all of my clients who have come to my office for help with self-esteem issues have stated that they believe that their brother or sister was the favorite. Whether true or not the child’s perception of his parent’s behavior has a profound effect on the child’s behavior, including their feelings of self-worth. The message is quite clear to the child. If mommy and daddy are not satisfied with me I must be a bad person.
The Voice of The Critic
As responsible adults your parents, relatives, teachers as well as anyone else who had a hand in preparing you for adulthood were also very critical of you. “Brush you hair you’re a mess”, “stop wasting time and do something for yourself”, “don’t talk to strangers because they could harm you”. The list goes on and on. To make matters even worse you may not have been the scholar they hoped you would be.
All of these negative remarks that were meant to help you grow into a mature, educated adult also damaged your fragile self-esteem. As you grew older many of the negative messages you receive as an adult are just reinforcing the negative feedback you had been exposed to as a child, thus your self-esteem is still taking “a hit”.
Guilt Always Takes Its Toll
We are humans which means we are endowed with psychological capacities that allow us to love and hate others. Most of the time we act as caring concerned people, but as mortals trying to cope in a-some-what hostile world we often offend and hurt other people.
Case in point: One of the only fist fights I was involved in as a child was with one of my dearest friends. Unfortunately it was a quick and one-sided affair. I was bigger and stronger than David. In no time flat his eye was swollen and blood-shot. When I went to comfort him he asked me “how could you hurt your best friend?” That afternoon the both of us went home crying. Our friendship was over. He no longer wanted to know me.
Although this incident happened more than fifty years ago I can still feel the guilt and shame that came with injuring another person, especially a small twelve year old boy who I truly cared for. I never saw David after that incident, but if our paths should ever cross again I would ask him to forgive me, even though he probably would not have any memory of the fight. The point of the story is that the bad things we do remain with us and often have a negative impact on our self-esteem.
Sometimes It Doesn’t Pay To Be One of the Crowd
Of course we all want to have friends and be part of the crowd, but what price are we willing to pay to belong? Maria, one of my clients, was recently inducted into a very prestigious woman’s business society. “Jim, there were lots of new social contacts for me and a chance to move my career forward. These women liked and respected me for what I know, but I don’t belong here. I’m not like them. I should be thrilled to be accepted by these female executives, but they are making me unhappy. I feel lonely, especially when I am at one of their meetings”
After several sessions Marie began to realize that although these “female executives” could help her career they were not the people she wanted to associate with. The reality of this situation was that by being in a situation she did not feel comfortable in her self-esteem was suffering. When I last spoke to Maria she told me that she had joined a women’s group at the college she attended.
The Scars of Childhood (Healing Your Inner-Child)
No one has a perfect childhood. The best you can hope for is to be treated with kindness, love and understanding. Unfortunately childhood is often the source of pain, fear and humiliation which is usually repressed, disowned or forgotten once the child reaches adulthood.
So how do you handle a problem that is more common than you would imagine? Many reject the child they once were and their anger towards the child remains in place forever; thus as an adult you continue to find evidence for being rejected just as you were as a child. This in turn causes your life to be controlled by self-repudiation and you continue complaining that no one loves you.
When you learn to forgive the child within for what he/she didn’t know and when you accept the fact that the child was fighting to survive the best way he could then you will no longer be at odds with your “inner child” and your self-esteem will be given a serious boost.
Building Your Self-Esteem
Before discussing several methods you can use to raise your self-esteem let’s review some of the characteristics shared by men and women who have high levels of self-esteem:
• People with higher levels of self-esteem find it easier to speak of their achievements or short-comings with honesty and sincerity
• They are more independent than the average, thus they are more outspoken
• Those with higher levels of self-esteem are more open about their thoughts and feelings
• They are also more self-assertive
• They value their self-esteem over the opinion of others
Here is a short exercise to help you to begin removing some of the road-blocks that are keeping you from raising your self-esteem. Take your time responding to each of the following questions. Please be honest with yourself and remember no one is going to read any of your response to these questions unless you allow them to do so.
1. Am I being honest with myself about me “feelings”?
2. Am I being honest with others about my feelings or do I seek to protect myself or their feelings? (be specific)
3. Do I strive to be truthful and accurate in my conversations with others?
4. Do I stick up for myself and honor my needs and interests?
5. When I am wrong do I acknowledge this?
6. Why am I afraid to change?
7. Who do I admire that has a high level of self-esteem and why do you admire this person?
8. Do I see my own faults and failures in others, especially those close to me?
9. How would my life change if I had a higher level of self-esteem?
10. What can I do right now to raise my self-esteem?
If you are truly interested in building your self-esteem you must begin removing the negative self-defeating phrases from your vocabulary. To help you get started I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common self-defeating phrases. Please feel free to check off any of the following statements that apply to you and by all means begin to record all of your own negative phrases so you can begin removing them from your vocabulary too.
• I have a hard time making new friends
• I’m afraid of failing
• I wish I had more luck
• I’m not smart enough to (fill in your own words here)
• I’m not very good looking
• I’ve tried to change, but it’s too hard
• My brother/sister was always the smartest one in the family
• I’m tired of being rejected
• I’ll never find someone to love me
• I’m not good at anything I do
Here are a few more thought provoking questions for you to answer. Please take your time and thoroughly answer each question before moving on to the next one.
1. What one thing can I do for myself to raise my self-esteem?
2. What one thing can I do right now to move me closer to fulfilling my dreams and aspirations?
3. What must I change about myself now to improve my self-esteem
4. How much time and effort am I willing to commit to raising my self-esteem?
5. Make a list of the things you have trouble accepting about yourself and methodically begin removing these negative traits from your life.
Here Are Several Guiding Principles To Help You Build Your Self-Esteem
The Golden Ten
1. Your self-esteem is not determined by worldly success, physical appearance, popularity or your level of education and intellect
2. Positive self-esteem is about feeling appropriate to life and the challenges of life
3. Positive self-esteem is refusing to deny or disown aspect of yourself
4. Positive self-esteem is about helping other people find their way
5. Positive self-esteem is knowing when to apologize for your mistakes
6. People with a well-developed self-esteem have no need to gossip or spread rumors
7. Developing a positive self-esteem is an important part of your journey to “wholeness”
8. Those with a highly developed self-esteem have a higher purpose in life
9. Your well-developed self-esteem will help you to attract new like-minded friends and colleagues
10. A well-developed self-esteem will provide you with the self-confidence you need to successfully navigate your way through life
Never Forget That There Are No Short Cuts
If you are truly serious about raising your self-esteem you must be prepared for the journey. This means taking the time to examine every aspect of your life. This includes your past, present and your plans for the future.
The suggestions I have included in this article are meant to be a starting point for your journey towards “wholeness” If you need help with any of the material or if you need further assistance developing your own tailored made self-helped program please feel free to CONTACT ME.
If you have any questions about the information in this article or if you need guidance with your search for a new career please do not hesitate to contact me