The Truth About Self-Esteem
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When on a spiritual path, we're often told that we must love ourselves before we can love anyone else properly. We're encouraged to increase our self-esteem and be positive about ourselves. These all sound like great things to do, and pretty easy too, but the truth is when it comes down to the nitty gritty of every day life, it's harder than it sounds. I had terrible self-esteem all throughout my childhood and teens. In my late teens I attempted to try and pull myself out of the deep depressing feelings I kept sinking into. My main attack was on my poor self-esteem. I read books about positive thinking, wrote lists about the things I liked about myself, drew encouraging pictures of my positive visualisations, and improved my self-talk. I used all the textbook strategies. I did all the things the self-esteem gurus said I should do.
So my self-esteem improved and I turned my life around, right?
I got worse.
Sure, for a few days I would feel good, and I'd think, yes, I've got this! But soon enough I came tumbling down from Cloud Nine and back into hell. Only it was worse now, because I felt a failure. I had tried all these foolproof methods that had worked for so many others, but nothing worked for me. Not only did I still think all the horrible things I had always felt about myself, I now also had my failure to dwell on. What was wrong with me? There was no help left for me. Where else did I have to turn?
From then on, I tried sporadically to boost my self-esteem, getting on the wagon and falling off a thousand times, never really getting anywhere. I would get excited at a new strategy I found, work at it for a while, see no change in myself and give up.
So, is my self-esteem still in the gutter?
I can answer that with a big smile and a resounding NO! And here's why:
I learned that I am not one 'person', 'thing' or 'identity'. I am TWO.
Before, I looked at myself as one thing. So when I analyzed my own actions, there was only me to blame. When I couldn't keep my relationship happy, all I could think was, 'What's wrong with me? I can't keep my relationship happy. I must be a bad mate, a bad person. There must be something really wrong with who I am.'
What a horrible feeling that was. I felt sadness, despair, but most of all, shame. I hated being me. I would see other people achieving what I felt I could never achieve, and wanted to be them. I couldn't take inspiration in other people's achievements because there was no point trying to attain what they had attained. There was no way I could do that.
But then, I saw I was two things. First, there was the part of me that everyone saw. My identity in the world, how I carried myself, how I behaved and how I spoke to people. I call that my 'doing self'. Then,there was a part of me that was just the same as when I was born, the part of me that is so impossible to define, but that just makes me me. The essence of me. I call that my 'being self'. Once I realized this, my thinking about self-esteem was completely revolutionized.
What Did I Realize?
1. My doing self, that was temporary and subject to change, always did the bad things, but that the being self, my essence that was mine for life, always got the blame.
2. My being self deserves unconditional love and respect, because it is the core of my personhood. That is a love that doesn't waver, whether I am good or bad. Imagine how an ideal mother loves her child whether he is naughty or good. That's how I should love my being self.
3. My being self is the true me. My doing self is the face I put on for the world.
4. Everyone's being self is perfect, good and innocent, made in 'the image of God'. It wants only good things for the self and for the rest of humanity.
5. Everyone's doing self is not perfect. It lies, cheats, puts on false pretences, gossips, slanders, insults, belittles and laughs at others.
6. My feeling of shame came from me believing that my doing self was who I really was, deep down.
7. For me to stop feeling shame, I had to make the behaviour of my doing self match the wishes of my being self, whatever I felt like doing.
So, my work on self-esteem became two fold. I had to love my being self, with encouragements about how good, innocent and pure it was. I also had to love my doing self, with encouragements about how I can improve and strive for better actions, even if it was a tougher road to choose the right thing to do and I really didn't feel like it. Before, all the messages had been getting mixed up, so I felt that at my core I wasn't good enough, but it simply wasn't the case!
I feared that my badness was at the centre of my being, but really, it was only behavior-deep. And behavior habits can be broken.
At first, it was so hard! I thought I could never achieve good results, especially because of all my failed previous attempts. But I stuck at it, and before long I really did start feeling better about myself. Not only that, my relationships also improved.
I no longer feel shame when I look in the mirror, I feel glad to be me. When I had low self-esteem, I used to be very conceited and big-headed, pretending that I thought I was great. But now, I don't feel the need to make a big show of things. I am quietly confident in who I am, and you can be too.