For the Recorder
Published: 1/6/2023 6:11:06 PM
Modified: 1/6/2023 6:10:17 PM
What is great about you? Do you believe you are lovable, just as you are? Are you proud of having gotten through some struggles? Can you express your feelings and needs, and say “no” when needed? Do you believe you deserve to be happy?
You may have guessed that we are talking about self-esteem – how we value and perceive ourselves. Many of us focus on what we do not like about ourselves and do not put enough of a spotlight on our positive traits. Having negative, limiting beliefs about ourselves can leave us thinking we are just not “good enough.” This belief appears to be prevalent in epidemic proportions.
A colleague of mine attended a conference with top “successful” executives who were asked to state their core belief about themselves. Astonishingly, each one stated they did not feel “good enough.” Not feeling “good enough” seems to be a universal phenomenon that affects people from all walks of life. With societal messages that convey unreasonable standards for attractiveness, a perfect life, success, and what “normal” is, it is no wonder.
Why self-esteem matters
Our thoughts and feelings about ourselves play a huge part in so many aspects of life – our decisions, actions, aspirations, mental health and overall outlook. When it comes to relationships, how we treat others, and allow others to treat us, directly reflects the quality of our relationship with ourselves.
Where self-esteem comes from
Our family, school and social histories, as well as the cultures we live in, all shape our beliefs and feelings about ourselves. For example, if important emotional needs were not met in childhood (such as acceptance, kindness, respect, and to be heard and “seen”), we may be more vulnerable to having low self-esteem. This may take the form of negative self-talk, staying stuck in toxic relationships, comparing ourselves to others, believing we are undeserving, or people-pleasing.
If, on the other hand, we were raised in an atmosphere of unconditional love, acceptance and support, we are likely to feel positively about ourselves more of the time. Psychologist Carl Rogers, who coined the phrase “unconditional positive regard,” found this to be the foundation for self-esteem. He points out that when a child is pressured to meet unreasonable expectations, they are likely to perceive themselves as “not good enough.”
Ways to build more self-esteem
Remember: Nobody is perfect
Although no one is perfect, many of us find it difficult to tolerate our own “imperfections.” It may be hard to feel we are “good enough,” considering our shortcomings or mistakes. On a personal note, I spent years feeling badly about my difficulty staying on top of details and paperwork. I finally decided to accept that my brain doesn’t work in certain ways. Instead of continuing to feel embarrassed, I decided to accept my limitations. I acquired help with doing the things I find hard, tedious and tend to avoid. It truly is relieving to accept one’s imperfections. We all have them!
Stay away from destructive relationships
Involving ourselves with a person who doesn’t treat us well will not lead to positive, life-enriching experiences. On the contrary, our self-esteem will most likely take a hit. As part of the human family, we all need relationships to feel safe, connected, supported and valued.
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Relationships in which the above needs aren’t met will inevitably produce misery, as we may come to feel increasingly worse about ourselves. Whether we were struggling with self-worth before the relationship began, or we had a positive, intact sense of self, mistreatment will tear at our self-esteem.
Is there hope when there is criticism, judgment and unkindness in a relationship? In my work with couples, I find that it takes a willingness to do challenging, focused work to change destructive behavior patterns. Although it’s not easy to face one’s own contributions to such a dynamic, it really is worth it, if one wants to become a better partner and have a healthier relationship.
A question for you: When you are with the important people in your life, do you find yourself feeling at ease, accepted, supported and “seen” for who you are? Or, do you feel invisible, unheard, disliked and ignored? Taking some time to examine the health of your relationships could be one of the best things you ever do for yourself and your self-esteem.
Turn your inner critic into a cheerleader
Human beings are the only species that has inner dialogues or “self-talk”. It might be worth paying attention to what we actually say to ourselves! Using a technique called ”reframing,” it’s possible to transform our self-talk, and become kinder to ourselves. For example, after your partner has just expressed their unhappiness with something you said or did, you may think “I messed up again and I am a terrible person.” The reframe might be “I know I have a lot to offer even though at times I make mistakes.”
Work on healing past wounds
Not surprisingly, I have never met one person without inner wounds from the past. We may have been hurt by abuse, neglect, bullying, loss, abandonment, or just being criticized too much. Whether the mistreatment was by a parent, partner, friend, or others, there is help to heal from these experiences. Seeking out professional support and guidance can free us from the impact of these experiences on our lives and even on our current relationships. A valuable resource for finding a psychotherapist is: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists.
You deserve to feel good about yourself!
The journey towards greater self-esteem is full of growth and promise. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s research on human needs brought attention to the fact that every person needs appreciation and recognition. He points out that we need to receive this from ourselves as well as from others. I am cheering you on to know that you are special, unique and worthy, and that others in your life see this in you as well!
Amy Newshore is a couples therapist/coach who earned her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Antioch New England University and went on to train in the Developmental Model for Couples Therapy along with NonViolent Communication which serve as the foundation of her work as a Relationship Coach. For more information visit her website at www.coachingbyamy.com.