Self-esteem is a subject that often comes up in the therapy room. It’s a big deal and can make a big difference in how we experience life.
It is expressed in many ways – posture, facial expressions and language patterns. The word “confidence” usually emerges and alongside it, other matters such as anxiety and insecurity.
We know what it looks like in others and we can often tell when it’s being faked. There is a subtle difference between the way a person carries themselves (such a fascinating turn of phrase, that one) when they have high self-esteem and when they don’t but attempt to look confident. Like a poor poker player who twitches while holding a weak hand, there are often tells.
If you have struggled with low self-esteem, you’ll be all too familiar with the experience of being in a room full of people and just wanting to shrink, unnoticed, into a corner or better, out of the door. Having to perform in front of others when that voice in your head says “You’re just not good enough, you’ll probably blow it” is even worse, like a cruel and unusual punishment!
In those scenarios and in that state of mind, we can start paying special attention to what others might be thinking, noticing how they look at us and whether they look at us and then whisper to someone else. Paranoid thoughts can arise about how we look and talk. The tension builds, which inevitably leads to our social behaviour shifting and our performance deteriorating.
One tactic to curtail this self-esteem spiral is to attempt to ensure everyone likes us. Because if they like us, if they think we’re good then all will be well. We can do this by being super-nice. In Transactional Analysis this might be described as the Please Others Driver. It goes something like this… “If I am pleasing to them, they will like me, maybe even love me and then I will be safe”.
Another tactic is to become impressive; “If I impress them in some way, they will love me”. This can take the form of attempting to Be Perfect and eliminate any opportunity for criticism or to Be Strong, which means not being vulnerable with our emotions and toughing it out (these too are TA Drivers). But attempting to get esteem this way is so flawed.
We all do it (or at least most of us do) in some way or form. We try to become someone who will be liked, loved and impressive. It’s unsurprising, we are tribal creatures and, historically, our very survival was dependent on being part of a group. It’s not in any wrong to want to be liked and loved. In fact, I think being loved is truly one of life’s greatest treasures. Whether it is a partner we develop an intimacy with, like no other or whether it is a friend or group of friends we can trust and authentically be ourselves with, knowing they value us, being loved is the most wonderful thing.
However, it will never give you the esteem you want that equates to feeling confident, that mercurial quality which has been written about so much.
The word esteem, according to dictionary.com means “to regard highly or favourably; regard with respect or admiration” and the word regard means “to look upon”.
To have self-esteem means to look upon yourself highly, favourably, with respect and admiration.
This is where a lot of people begin to get it all tangled up…
“If you are focused on getting others to like and love you so you can feel good about yourself, you’re looking in the wrong direction.”
If you are focused on getting others to like and love you so you can feel good about yourself, you’re looking in the wrong direction. You will always be left wanting and ultimately insecure.
Self-esteem and confidence come from within. They come from the voice inside you that says things like,
“You’re OK, just as you are”,
“You’re enough, you don’t need to be perfect”,
“You are gifted, talented and skilled”,
“You are capable of so much and in time you will grow”,
“You are unique, you have no need to compare yourself with others”,
“Your journey is different from every other person’s on the planet”,
“You can make mistakes and still view yourself highly”,
“You can grow and develop in your own time and at your own pace”,
the list goes on…
If you’re waiting for those words to come from someone else, you might be waiting a long while and they don’t have the same impact from others. Self-esteem doesn’t work like that.
The truth is, this stuff doesn’t just change overnight. It’s not like you can start saying a phrase to yourself and all of a sudden you’re the most confident person. But, recognising that it’s what YOU think of YOU that is at the core of building confidence and self-esteem will allow you the opportunity for new options.
By the way, sometimes realising how hard we are on ourselves can prompt further frustration with ourselves. As you become more aware, it’s important to be really gracious, kind and gentle with yourself.
That said, many of us, have been through very tough times in life, which, for whatever reason has left us with an inner voice which is very hard to shift. All the positive affirmations in the world may not cut through the critical thoughts that arise.
If that’s you, talking to an experienced professional, such as a therapist or counsellor, can facilitate the untangling of all the inner criticism.
The conclusion of this brief blog is this: Being esteemed by others is nice, it feels good while it’s happening but it will never create a deep sense of confidence in you. That’s got to come from you. What will truly change you is self-esteem.
When you regard yourself more highly than others do and when what you think of yourself matters more than what others think of you, that is when you will begin to “carry yourself” and “hold yourself” in a way that just feels right, just as it’s meant to be.
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Wellbeing… it means different things to different people but one thing is for certain, it means a lot to everyone. We all want to be well, healthy, full of vitality and joy. But life is sometimes tough and there is no such thing as a pain-free life.
Learning to live well, despite the tough times, is key to being happy and fulfilled. This is what this blog is all about.