10 Steps to Self Esteem: Step 10 - Put Yourself First
Welcome to the final step of your 10 steps to self esteem watch out for potential bonus steps.
ACTION POINT! Remember to fill in your Progress Checker before you start!
If the emergency oxygen masks drop down, put your own mask on first. This will decrease the risk of you passing out before being able to help your children or other passengers.
Air safety instruction
Throughout this series I have been encouraging you to think differently, to think flexibly, to focus on the bigger picture and to give yourself the chances and the respect that perhaps weren’t given to you by others (although I don’t know that for sure, of course).
This final step is a call to you to prioritise your own wellbeing. It is not about being ‘selfish’.
Selfishness is not healthy. A real danger of self help that’s not based on sound psychological principles in that it can encourage too much self absorption, at the expense of focusing healthily outward onto others and the community.
In the last step I talked about developing that part of yourself that can observe yourself more objectively, to see what you really need and look beyond the immediate emotional content of your mind.
Emotional unhappiness is an important signal. It lets us know that we need something that we are not getting, or don’t know how to ‘process’.
Not selfish but practical
If you cut your finger, you will have a need. The signal that lets you know you need to address this will be the pain you feel (and possibly the blood gushing from your wounded digit).
If at this moment you focus more on your finger than on your friend Bob’s upset over his broken-down car, you are not being ‘selfish’ (no matter what Bob says).
You’ll only have the ‘spare capacity’ to focus outward on someone else (Bob and his automobile woes) once the bleeding and pain has stopped. Once you’ve met your need.
If you are in emotional pain, it’s hard to find the spare capacity to focus on your career, or outside interests, until the pain has stopped or is under control.
Low self esteem is an emotional signal that we are not meeting one or more of our basic ‘primal needs’.
‘Primal needs’ are those fundamental physical and emotional requirements that we all share, that have been part of our human make-up since the very beginning. It’s time to take a good look at their role in our lives.
What do you need?
If a flower doesn’t get sufficient water or sunlight, it will suffer. Our physical needs – for air, water, food, shelter, exercise, sleep – are obvious enough.
But we also have emotional needs which are not so immediately obvious.
When you are not clear about what you need, it can feel like you are floundering around in life, lost and confused, and perhaps even feeling guilty because you don’t feel stable enough to help others, or get involved in life and the community as you feel you should.
When we know what we lack, we have a chance to:
reassure ourselves there is nothing intrinsically ‘wrong with us’ – it’s just that some of our basic human needs are not being met
actively seek to appropriately meet our needs in healthy ways.
So what are these needs?
When I say you need to ‘put yourself first’, what I mean is that before you can really contribute in a meaningful way to life and others (which also helps your own sense of wellbeing), you need to make sure you are looked after.
This is no more ‘self indulgent’ than a flower requiring water is ‘self indulgent’.
Part of why it’s so important to develop calm objectivity about yourself, at least some of the time, is that this allows you to see, at least sometimes, what you really need.
If you are too isolated, under-stimulated, under-appreciated or over-stressed (which will make you feel insecure), then you need to see clearly that this is so and work towards correcting the situation.
But if we have become overwhelmed, it can be difficult to take an objective view, and we may need help from a wise friend – to borrow their clear brain, so to speak – until we can do it for ourselves. (I’m aiming to be that wise friend to you right now.)
Ultimately, you need to set boundaries with other people some of the time, so that you can properly meet your own needs and not always deny yourself what you need in favour of others. Becoming more assertive is a way of ensuring that you get what you need in the way of ‘emotional nutrition’ so you can thrive in life.
It’s also important to remember that what we want, or think we want, isn’t necessarily or always the same as what we really need.
We are ‘conditioned’ by the culture we live in to desire unlimited wealth, super status, the total admiration of others, and so on. But, as with any form of ‘nutrition’, you can have too much of a good thing (which is never really a good thing).
Yes, you need to meet your emotional needs – but to a healthy extent. This will help you feel happier, be more confident and have that spare capacity to focus on meaningful activity in your life.
Exercise • What do you really need?
Carry out your own emotional audit. On a scale of 1 to 10, note down how well your physical and emotional needs are being met in your life now.
Healthy mind/body __________
Feeling safe __________
For those needs that you have marked 5 or less on your scale, make a specific plan for ways in which you can improve how those needs are met.
(Don’t try to raise them all to a 10 in one go. Small sustainable steps are more likely to get you what you need.)
Write down what you will do, when you will do it and how you will know that it’s made a difference.
For example, if you gave Attention a score of 3, you might plan to
meet up with a certain friend
get out of the house every day and speak to at least one other person
join an evening class
do some volunteer work
Remember that needs overlap – when you meet one of them better, others will improve too!
If you repeat this exercise every six months or so, and take action, you will notice a significant improvement in your emotional well-being.
But here’s a word of warning...
People are always seeking to fulfill their emotional needs. But if they are not clear (as clear as you now are) about what those needs actually are, they can find themselves trying to meet those needs in inappropriate, even ‘fake’ ways – for example, by getting swept up in an unhealthy relationship or some other destructive addiction.
How needs get hijacked: low self esteem and destructive relationships
Low self esteem often follows from not getting our emotional needs adequately met and then feeling that somehow we are ‘at fault.’
If we have had little or no real experience of having our needs appropriately met in the past, and so have no mental ‘blueprint’ for what makes a ‘good relationship’ or what constitutes a ‘healthy lifestyle’, we are more likely to be drawn into addictive behaviors like drug taking, drinking or getting involved in destructive relationships.
This is because such behaviors ‘mimic’ the relevant need and seem to promise fulfilment. But in reality they don’t (and can’t) deliver in any sustainable way. Not to mention that they are ultimately harmful in themselves.
It’s been noted that people with low self esteem are often attracted to people who treat them badly because they treat themselves badly. If we routinely neglect or abuse ourselves, then we are more likely to feel ‘in tune’ with others who treat us just as badly, because their behavior to us matches – and so confirms – our own low opinion of ourselves. However low our self esteem, we cling, like the rest of humanity, to being right. Especially about what an inferior person we are...
This can lead to people getting caught in a ‘round’ of abusive relationships – either going back to a previous one, or getting involved in a new one. It’s as if they simply don’t realise or feel that any other kind of relationship is possible for them.
You’d think that someone with a low opinion of themselves who had been having a hard time would welcome being treated well and given some respect, wouldn’t you?
But what we more often see in such cases is deep distrust of anyone being nice. We identified way back in Step 1 that a key sign of low self esteem is inability to accept honest compliments. Another key sign is inability to accept that people can be nice to you without an ulterior motive.
Think about this: One important way you can tell that your self esteem is rising is that you find it easier to accept, as your natural right, that other people treat you well.
I trust that by now you have come to understand better how meeting your emotional needs is vital to improving your mental and physical health and happiness.
Getting this right, enough of the time, also provides you with more ‘head room’ or ‘spare capacity’ to love others, follow your life goals and focus beyond your own emotionality – which, paradoxically, can make you even more emotionally fulfilled.
Knowing the facts about emotional needs is a great start.
Now you need to absorb this information and make it part of who you are and how you live. This will allow you to become more resilient, more resourceful and more resistant to depression (depression is linked not so much to what has happened to you as to how you respond to what happened to you.
To get your needs met, more of the time, you need to focus on:
connecting with others
contributing in your community
learning new things
creating meaningful and healthy relationships of all kinds
doing meaningful work
engaging in and developing different interests
All the steps in this series will help you ‘absorb’ the good stuff in life, digest healthy experiences and so help you feel more genuinely fulfilled and nourished by life.
you feel valuable enough to give your needs more priority
you can more calmly and objectively discern what you really need in order to live well
you no longer feel bad about looking after yourself
you find you have more ‘spare capacity’ when you look after yourself better
you have a clearer sense of what direction to take to make your life feel a lot more meaningful
This isn’t really the end, is it?
You have now trodden this path (these 10 steps) once, but now let it become a familiar path for you, like a beautiful pathway through a lush sunlit forest – a place for you to revisit, to wander along and to gain from. Revisit the steps and enjoy taking responsibility for your own wellbeing and developing yourself further.
I hope you have gained much from this series, consciously and unconsciously. This is your series, so use it, inhabit it and live it – and remember never to sell yourself short in life.
All my best.
Get in touch if you would like hypnosis recordings to support any of the 10 steps or would like to discuss support options.
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