Lack self esteem?

You’re in a better position than you know

If you’re reading this, you are probably one of the many thousands of people who have low self esteem – and wish they didn’t.

So here’s some good news. You’re better off, right at this minute, than the thousands of people who have the opposite problem.

Surprised?

You’re better off because people with the opposite problem – people who have too much self esteem – are usually quite blind to the significant problems this causes, for themselves and others, and therefore have no incentive to do anything about it.

You, on the other hand, are only too aware that your low opinion of yourself is having a negative effect on your life, holding you back and limiting you in many ways, and you’re reading this because you are not happy about this and you want to – and are ready to –do something about it.

You may not be entirely sure how to go about changing things, or how far you can get with changing things, but here you are, taking the first step. You are on your way to self esteem that is neither low nor high but healthy.

As the old saying has it: “The longest journey begins with but a single step.” So let’s take a look at ‘self esteem’ and what it means.

Where does your sense of yourself come from?

Nobody grows up in a vacuum, isolated on an island. We arrive into a family / community and the first sense we get of ourselves, of who we are and what we are like, comes from how that family / community sees us and treats us.

From a child’s point of view, what is around them is ‘the world’. This is reality, this is how it is. Children don’t question how they are treated, even if they suffer terribly. Children have nothing to measure their own experience against, whether it is good or bad.

It is only later, as we gradually mature, as we encounter others who behave quite differently from the people we first knew, that we get some awareness of a ‘bigger picture’, an awareness that our personal experience is not all there is, or all there can be, or necessarily ‘right’.

Speaking of things being ‘right’ reminds me of how to bake a fish.

baked fish.jpg

Rosalie’s mother liked teaching her little daughter all about cooking and preparing meals. She decided the time had come to show her how to bake a fish.

She took a large fish out of the refrigerator, laid it on a chopping board, cut off its head and its tail, laid it in her baking pan and covered it with freshly chopped herbs while Rosalie watched.

“Why did you cut the head and tail off?” asked Rosalie curiously.

Her mother thought for a while and then said, “I’ve always done it that way – that’s how Grandma did it.”

“Why did Grandma do that?”
“I don’t know,” said her mother. “Let’s go ask her.”

So they went round to Grandma’s house to find out why she cut the head and tail off the fish before baking it.

Grandma thought for a while and then said, “I’ve always done it that way. That’s how my mother did it.”

“Why did Great Grandma do that?” asked Rosalie.
“I don’t know,” said Grandma. “You’ll have to ask her.”

So Rosalie and her mother went to visit Great Grandma to see if they could find out why you needed to cut the head and tail off a fish before you bake it.

Great Grandma was very pleased to see them, and laughed heartily when she heard the question.

“it’s very simple,” she said. “I had to cut off the head and the tail because my baking pan was too small to fit a whole fish in!”

Nonetheless, our early experiences are among the most powerful forces shaping us, precisely because they happened when we were at our most impressionable.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be raised by cruel parents to have negative experiences. Our parents might love us very much, they might have the best of intentions, but not have good social skills themselves, for instance. So they would be likely to avoid social situations, or handle them awkwardly, and this would be the example that we would get, leaving us poorly equipped to deal with such situations ourselves.

Or they might not understand the emotional needs of children very well, and criticise our childish efforts too harshly instead of encouraging them, in the belief that “this is how to do it”.

If you had a lot of such negative experiences and / or negative feedback from people around you when you were young, and you accepted, as you likely did, the negative messages those experiences gave you about yourself, it can be surprisingly difficult to shed this negative view of yourself later.

Even if, rationally and consciously, you know that those assessments of you were biased and unfair and wrong, it somehow continues to feel ‘right and true’.

The opposite can happen too. Children and young people who are given anunrealistically positive message about how wonderful they are and how much they are entitled to the deference and admiration of others will come away with an exaggeratedly high sense of their own worth.

This is no less damaging, in its own way, than having an exaggeratedly low sense of your own worth.

So what actually goes wrong?

How bias can screw you up

I think we can all agree that, in order to have a chance of making even half-decent choices in life, it is important to have reliable and factual information.

It isn’t always possible to have all the information we need to make a decision, of course. In fact, we rather often have to make decisions based on insufficient information.

However, if, on top of not having all the information we ideally need, the information that we do have is wrong, either by mistake or through willful distortion, it’s easy to see that the choices we then make based on that information are more likely to lead in the wrong direction.

So far, so easy to understand. We need the facts.

But think about this. The one constant factor in every decision you will ever make in your entire life about anything at all is YOU.

If the ‘information’ you have about yourself is wrong – that is, it is mistaken ordistorted (deliberately or not) – all your decision-making will be affected. And not in a good way.

You will base your decisions on the belief you have that you are ‘a certain kind of person’ when in fact you might be a quite different kind of person.

Wouldn’t you like to know who you really are?

When it comes to yourself, don’t you have a right to know the true, fair, unbiased (in either direction) facts?

Getting hold of the facts about you

You’d think it would be easy to know the facts about yourself, wouldn’t you? After all, you are you! Who knows you better than you do?

But it’s not so simple.

I mentioned above how our first sense of ourselves comes from the people around us. They tell us ‘what we are like’ – and we believe it. This is a universal human experience.

But those people who are telling us ‘what we are like’ have been through the same process themselves. They may have a true and fair assessment of themselves – and of us – but it is equally possible that their assessment of themselves – and of us – is distorted or mistaken.

As history all too plainly shows, completely wrong information can get handed down as ‘fact’ for many generations.

Not only that, but because we, as infants and young people, are so very impressionable, the ‘distorted facts’ about ourselves tend to get very deeply absorbed into our ideas about ourselves. We absolutely and completely believe in their truth,and not just with our heads. It feels true, right down to our very bones.

And the consequence of this is that we think, speak and act in ways that maintain theview we have of ourselves.

So even when you are presented with convincing objective evidence to the contrary, evidence that you are anything but a no-good no-hoper, your bones just won’t play along. You still keep doing and thinking the things that keep you trapped.

This puts you in a real pickle.
A certain young lioness was once in this very pickle.

Once there was a lioness cub who became lost in the desert. So long did she wander through the desolate dryness that she even forgot she was a lion cub. Truth to tell, she didn’t know what she truly was, although she still had some vague idea that there might be some proud majestic but perhaps mythical creatures out there known as ‘lions’. But soon she had other worries.

Wandering under the unrelenting merciless heat, our lioness cub became increasingly, then desperately, thirsty. But a small helping of luck mingled with a sprinkle of fate brought her to a large cave in the rocks where she could at last shade herself from the sun’s blistering rays.

As it happened, deep within this cave lay a cool pool of life saving, thirst quenching, lip-smackingly delicious water. Our young lioness couldn’t believe her luck, and was about to dive headlong into the sparkling pool when she noticed something scary...

Staring back up at her from the water was the most magnificent, dignified, strong, clever-looking, awesome... could it be? Yes, it was! She had come face to face with a mythical lioness! So they were real! Not just something she had dreamed up!

Of course, she had no idea that it was nothing less than her own reflection that had brought her up short. Awestruck and fearful, she backed off hastily.

“How can I, lowly creature that I am, get past that proud beautiful creature, the great guardian surely of the very waters of life?”

She padded around the cave not knowing what to do, her throat becoming drier and her whole body dehydrating further by the second. And each time she peered into the pool, there she was again! That magnificent creature staring up at her!

Finally, her truly desperate need gave her courage. No matter what the apparent risk, she had to drink.

So she took a deep breath plunged into the pool.

And of course, there was no other lioness waiting for her. Or rather, the lioness of the pool was she herself. She drank her fill and was saved.

And that is how the young lioness came to know her true nature.

How do you bring what you ‘feel in your bones’ and what you ‘know in your head’(because, unlike that young lioness, you understand about reflections) together, so that you can both know and feel the truth, and escape from the limitations imposed by biased and distorted information?

Over the coming weeks I’ll share some steps to help you build your self esteem.

Each blog that I share will tackle a different aspect of identity and self image in detail, with lots of thought provoking information and tried and tested exercises to help you

  • understand what shapes your view of yourself

  • discover how to break out of the imprisoning bias of low self esteem

  • realise your true potential.

Watch out for the confidence tracker sheet that I’ll share.

Why it’s important to monitor progress

Keeping tabs on yourself like this makes you more aware of even small improvements and helps you to stay committed.

Even one move to the right on the chart is progress, and you should be ready to appreciate and congratulate yourself on the smallest positive change that you notice. Always remember that you have a long term goal here, and it’s little steps that will get you there. From time to time you may see a big jump, but gradual, steady, sustainable progress is what you are really after.