How difficult is it for us to see ourselves in a positive light? Why do we put ourselves down so easily when things go wrong in our life? These questions reflect a common theme in the lives of many people around the world. The answers often determine our ability to see ourselves first as human beings who make mistakes, and second, to see ourselves as people of worth. Now for many folks the first part of any statement may not be so difficult. "I failed a test"; "I didn't get to a meeting on time"; "I ruined dinner." But the second part can be brutal to our psyche. "I'm a stupid person"; "I'm a horrible business person and shouldn't even have this job"; "I'm a terrible cook, now my date will leave." We send messages to ourselves that so easily can build us up or tear us down. Are we even aware of what we are saying when we beat ourselves up so quickly?!
Self-esteem is a construct of the human experience that entails having a sense of respect for your self, as well as a dedicated sense of confidence in your abilities to succeed. In believing in our abilities despite our challenges, we not only recognize our humanness but also pave the way for improvement. Self-esteem is a difficult thing to manage when we get messages that start early in our life that reflect other people's perceptions of us - namely, our parents or other guardians. This is often where self-esteem is formed. The early years of our identity is often molded by what we were told at home about how those who took care of us saw us, and this had a impact good or bad on our overall internal development. We then carry this box of messages with us, and those messages become the defining blueprint of our level of success in life. If the messages were negative, this can hamper our ability to feel good about our successes when they occur because of feeling unworthy. If the messages were positive, but we fail at the task before us, we can buffer the failure against the positive messages and find ways to improve in the future.
In essence, people with a higher level of self-esteem tend to perform better in the world than those with lower levels of self-esteem. What does this mean for you in practical terms? For starters, if you suffer from low self-esteem you can improve it by recognizing that you get to decide how you see yourself. The messages you send yourself do not have to be the same degrading messages you might have often received when you were young. Our ability to judge ourselves so harshly is staggeringly unbelievable, when we could spend our time building ourselves up by recognizing all the good qualities we possess! This is also often a contributing factor to the experience of high levels of depression. Here's the awesome secret to building better self-esteem: A simple change of message sending to our brain will alter our perception of our inner sense of worth and harness the power of seeing ourselves as worthy, capable, good, lovable people.
Some of you are still staring at the last line above, and that's okay. Go on, take a minute. Maybe even two minutes. I'll go grab a snack. .......... Okay, I'm back. Ready? Rather than "I'm a stupid person", try "I wonder how I can do better on the next test." Instead of "I'm a horrible business person and shouldn't even have this job", try "I need to better structure my day so that I allow enough time to travel to my next location." And while this last one might leave many in tears ("I'm a terrible cook, now my date will leave"), consider the thought that it was a difficult recipe "Wow, that didn't seem like an easy meal to make. But there is a nice restaurant down the street that is open late." We send our brain messages that our brain will then process unbiasedly and without question. The end product is the result of our own doing. We can't blame anyone else once we realize that we are responsible for our own self-worth. So sending messages that reflect our love and compassion of ourselves will indeed help us feel better about the events in our lives.
Counseling is always helpful in this regard if you find yourself challenged in creating a more positive outlook on your life. Consider that sometimes we are not able to always see how we need to change our thinking, but we do realize more easily that something does need to change. Consider seeking assistance when you are unable to sort out how to start correcting the areas of your life with which you have trouble. If you are local to my area, please feel free to contact me to discuss meeting for services. We can build your self-esteem better together.
Shawn Thomas Berthel M.S., is the owner of Life Path Counseling PLLC, and a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor. He lives in University Place, Washington.