Can you feel better about yourself? Yes—and it’s a worthwhile journey
There’s a quote I particularly like for its comment on self-esteem. By Arlene Raven, it proclaims: “The way in which we think of ourselves has everything to do with how the world sees us.”
In my work with patients I often say that what is within is reflected outside, just as what is outside becomes absorbed within. So how we think of ourselves, our “internal universe,” gets projected onto our external universe, and becomes our experience, announcing to others both in subtle and obvious ways the state of our self-esteem.
This is also why it’s so important to surround ourselves with healthy relationships and positive experiences, as we internalize what what is around us. And what we absorb, in turn, then contributes to our self-esteem either positively or negatively. And onward the cycle continues.
Self-esteem is the reason I began my work some 28 years ago. In the counseling I was doing in various agencies, I realized that it was the underlying cause of so many human difficulties—showing up in our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, the relationships we attract, the entire way we see our lives.
Just about every issue that came to my attention had a significant self-esteem component. And where did these self-esteem roots lie? In the earliest chapters of life, of course.
That is a journey of discovery for psychotherapy and other forms of self-growth work. But I’ll suggest to you that a healthy starting point to work on the feelings you have about yourself is to realize that self-esteem is not an “either/or” proposition.
It simply isn’t accurate that you have either good self-esteem or low self-esteem. Such thinking presupposes that there are no gray areas, no degrees, to your opinions about yourself. The reality is there are many areas of your life that are in flux, some identities are also in flux, and so your feelings would, quite organically, evolve accordingly.
Think of it like this. We all have many parts to our lives which, for simplicity purposes, can be seen as pieces of a pie. Your life may include, for example, home, work, school, friendships, perhaps a significant love relationship and family. Each piece of the pie requires a different amount of time and energy, and each fulfills a different need.
The pieces also carry your different identities (son, student, worker, parent, lover), and the differing feelings you have about yourself in that area. Maybe you feel that you’re a good friend, a great lover, a so-so employee, but you feel guilty about being a lousy (in your opinion) son or daughter.
Or perhaps you see yourself as an accomplished career person, a devoted sibling, but feel awful about the quality of your friendships and your string of transient love relationships. Maybe you think you’re a great dad, but a poor son to your own father. You get the idea. Each piece of the pie has its own piece of your self-esteem.
If you’re wanting to make positive changes to your self-esteem, my suggestion is to take a breath, get to an honest place, and ask yourself a few beginning questions: When do you feel good about who you are? Under what circumstances? In which identities? How often do you feel this way? How long does the feeling usually last? And conversely, when do you not feel good about yourself? Under which circumstances? In which identities?
Still with me? OK, now ask yourself: What one gift do you possess, modest or grand, that is commendable? Where do you excel in life, and others know this about you? Which of your identities is doing great right now?
You see, self-esteem work is often the process of “borrowing” the positive and empowered feelings from one area of your life to remind you of the possibilities, to strengthen you to take the steps necessary to apply that confidence in other areas. If you can do it with one piece of the pie, then in time, with conscientious, intentional work, you can have the whole pie feeling a whole lot better.
It requires courage. And you must believe that you deserve this. This is about you, not about pleasing others. It’s about your internal universe and feeling better about yourself.
As author and minister Max Lucado puts it: “Can you imagine a life with no fear? What if faith, not fear, was your default reaction to obstacles?” Perhaps faith—in yourself—is the gift that lies waiting for you along this journey.