Can I build my self-esteem? That’s a question I get asked often as a therapist. But what is self-esteem and how come we focus on it in therapy?
From Wikipedia: self esteem reflects a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. [It] is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self: it encompasses beliefs about oneself, (for example, “I am competent”, “I am worthy”), as well as emotional states, such as triumph, despair, pride, and shame.
In therapy we focus on self esteem because it is at the root of how we show up in life, how we make decisions, how we factor ourselves into relationships and how we perform at school and work. It’s a known predictor of happiness, achievement, and success in relationships.
Like many of us, I thought I was doing ok in the self-esteem department; much of my life seemed in order, and I was grateful for the blessings therein. Yet I had the distinct feeling I was holding myself back, of treading perhaps over-cautiously through professional opportunities, of being hyper-vigilant in social situations to keep myself secure and in control.
I began to get curious about what the blocks were that were in my way. With some caring help from family and my counsellor, I began to uncover the simple formula that how I valued myself in any given situation was the determiner for the success of the interaction – not the superficial outcome, but the sense of satisfaction that I felt and carried forward.
For as long as I could remember I had tried to manipulate circumstances, exerting control on each situation. This pattern began to make sense as I examined and shared my life story.
I learned that my experience of life was improved as I watered the seeds of my own self-worth. My perception of myself was at the heart of satisfaction… and I had some pretty strong doubts about myself… that I kept to myself in order to hide those ugly self-beliefs and be accepted in the world. I carry a pretty common negative self-belief that ‘I’m not good enough’. Sobering and hard to admit. And the question became less of ‘How am I going to get over this next life hurdle?’, but rather ‘Am I worth having the life I want?’
Of course I knew all this intuitively! Yet what was missing was the awareness of my patterns of negative self-talk, of the quality and intensity of feeling I was experiencing at any given moment. What I learned is that choices for positive interaction open up when we have the awareness of what’s happening in our thoughts and emotional landscape, and that takes real steps, real experiences of support, self-care and connection in relationships to shift the old negative perceptions.
Building self-esteem starts with self-awareness
What can I do today to begin to build self-esteem? It starts with self-awareness.
So take a breath and sit with yourself. Get curious about what thoughts arise at any given moment. What is the quality of those thoughts? And how about the feelings that attend those thoughts; what is the quality of feeling? These are valuable clues to our patterns – the emotional architecture that is so influential to our decision making. It’s extremely beneficial to have a daily practice of self-awareness, whether sitting in quiet reflection, meditation, taking a moment walking or stretching; we can examine what’s happening inside of us anywhere, anytime. I recommend a free meditation app like Headspace to help begin a process of cultivating mindfulness.
Notice. Be honest. And share!
We don’t get to control our thoughts and feelings, but we do get to choose what we will listen to. Take a moment to notice how you value yourself, and be honest with yourself there. And from that place reach out to loved ones, and get reminders of what is really true about you beyond some of that negative self-talk, of your true nature, your strengths and skills and impact on the life of others.
And be ready to do the same for them, for these interpersonal connections are essential to the shared experience of expanding our human potential.
Imagine the life you want: it will be yours inasmuch as you can visualize and embody the desire to manifest your goals, and clarify your purpose on the planet.
Make joy your goal. Or peace. Or Adventure… whatever you choose.
Ok, it’s true this isn’t easy stuff, but we’re talking about your life’s work here.
So start now, take a moment… you’re worth it!