Self-esteem - and ways to boost it - Quest for Life
Self-esteem - and ways to boost it

Self-esteem - and ways to boost it

Many people have a real problem with self-esteem. In Western society, it’s often more common to put people down than build them up.

We do this with our children too unless we’re mindful.

If our self-esteem is low, its effect will be felt in every part of our lives. Many of us excel in one area of our life, and we work quite hard to convey the image of being equally successful in all aspects.

Where does this crushing need to be perfect come from?

Is it a childhood in which our best efforts were never quite good enough, or where parents berated, instead of encouraging us?

Perhaps as we came to adolescence, we had demeaning nicknames thrust on us – Pudding, Pin-head, Bus-face, or whatever. We longed to be like the popular, good-looking members of our class or school, not realising that they too probably had their hang-ups and uncertainties.

Perhaps our low self-esteem came from a father who, though a good provider and therefore in the eyes of the world a good father, was always at meetings, out to dinner and never at home when we longed to talk to him about what was happening in our lives.

What could this tell us? That other things were more interesting, more worthy of his attention than being with us? Perhaps it wasn’t long before we got the message –

‘I’m not important, I’m not interesting, I’m not worth much’.

A broken relationship where a lover has rejected us could translate into

‘I’ll never have a successful relationship,’ ‘Men/women don’t like me,’ or ‘I’m not attractive to men/women’.

Sure enough, the subconscious programmer gets to work, and this is what we begin to project.

Sadly, our projected images of ourselves are so powerful that they can be extraordinarily difficult to change even if we want to. These images inhibit our reaching out to others, developing our skills, building relationships, embarking on careers, putting ourselves forward.

Our personalities can become corroded and we might never realise our full potential. We go on giving out negative estimations of ourselves and people take us at our own face value – the value we’ve been at pains to project even if deep down we know we’re not really like that.

This further builds our ‘victim-consciousness’ because we also begin to think,

‘Why can’t they see what I’m really like? I must be the way people think I am.’

This self-perpetuating circle brings more and more pain. If often leads to a breakdown in our health and relationships. However, often out of breakdowns come breakthroughs.

So, what can we do about this negative kind of thinking?

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that we have this kind of thinking and that it’s no longer serving us.

Secondly, we become willing to see things in another way. A simple willingness to let go the perceptions and judgments we hold about ourselves.

This poem snippet gives a light-hearted understanding of the art of becoming more fully one’s self.

“You can spend your life trying to become the best banana – which is impossible if you are an apple. Or you can seek to be the finest apple.”

How do we begin to relinquish who we are not, and become more fully ourselves?

Our vocabulary

A good place to start is in our choice of words. We’d all benefit by only using the following words appropriately:

  • Can’t (usually means we won’t) Instead: ‘I will, I won’t’, ‘I’ve decided to/not to’, ‘I choose to/not to’.
  • But (looking for an excuse) Instead: use ‘and’ instead of ‘but’. ‘I hear what you’re saying and how’s that going to work for this person/in this situation’.
  • If only (wanting it to be different from how it is) Instead: weep the tears of acceptance.
  • Should (who says?) Instead: ‘I will/won’t’, ‘I’ve decided to/not to’, ‘I choose to/not to’.
  • Ought (who says?) Instead: same as ‘should’.
  • Impossible (who says?) Instead: start thinking possible
  • Try (who’s in charge of your diary?) Instead: ‘Yes, I’ll be there’, ‘Thank you for asking me but no, I’m fully committed at present’, ‘I’d love to say yes, but I have to say no’.
  • Never/always (don’t load past conflicts into the present situation eg. ‘you never listen to me. You always walk out of the room!’ Instead: Deal with the current conflict, not the unfinished business of the past.

When we look back through history at the great people who continue to inspire and uplift us, they weren’t the kind of people who would have used any of those words. Imagine if Beethoven had said ‘If only I wasn’t deaf, I’d keep writing music!’ Or if the Wright brothers had decided after their first unsuccessful attempt that it was impossible for humans to fly…

We each know people in our own lives who’ve inspired us to go beyond our perceived limitations. Listen to their vocabulary. You’ll find it’s full of positive statements. They’re usually positive people who have the capacity to create what they want in their lives.

Don’t put yourself down

Check also to hear when you’re putting yourself down, and stop, even if it’s in mid-sentence. Change it to a positive.

Accept compliments

Learn to accept and give a compliment. Be open to the love others extend to you and return it in full measure.

Help others

Take every opportunity to listen to and help others – even if the help seems minimal. The right motive makes the degree of help irrelevant. It’s the desire to help that often heals.

Do uplifting things

We can renew ourselves by consciously taking opportunities to do things we enjoy – going to a film, for a walk, watching the waves on a beach, a sunset, sunshine on new leaves – surround yourself with uplifting things.

Look out, not in

Start looking outward instead of inward. When we’re less self-absorbed by our faults and practice giving love to others by being genuinely interested in their welfare, life begins to take on a richness and depth not previously felt. After a time, we don’t need to practice this consciously because it becomes natural to us.

**Excerpt from Quest for Life by Petrea King

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