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Self Esteem- Being Gentle on Ourselves

Saanich News August 16, 2006

Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual couple and Family Counsellor

Dear Paul

I feel low these days, down on myself. No matter what I try, what I do, it never seems good enough. Is this a self esteem problem?


If you want to understand this area we call self esteem, Bruce, first we need to understand the patterns that were established in our experience as children.

When we were children the source of our self esteem was the adults around us. We felt good, and found our sense of value, through the attention and approval of our care givers. We relied upon others for our sense of worth.

Then, as with all children, there were times when something happened and it was met with disapproval. We failed expectations and/ or to receive the acknowledgement we hoped for. We did something wrong. No matter how it occurs, as children we experienced we “failed to be good enough” somehow.

Sometimes when this kind of event happens a child doesn’t simply acknowledge ”I did something wrong”. Rather a child decides there’s something wrong with me, with the way I AM. This is a pivotal moment in terms of our self esteem. All children do this. You did this too.

Now having decided there is “something wrong with me” we have a new kind of problem to solve in life – being not okay and now trying to get to be okay.

“If I’m not okay as I am then I have to do something greater, be something more, in order to be okay.” We compensate, adopt a mask, a persona, a strategy. “I’ll be smart ( strong, funny, nice, important, quiet, helpful, good, bad, bossy, popular, etc.)

We joined the race to become “good enough.” Now trying fervently to prove ourselves or earn self esteem through doing or achieving enough, or being unique, okay, or special enough, in the eyes of others. This pattern remains the rest of our lives - and is tiring - and bankrupt.

Have you noticed that no matter how much we do, or how great it is, we never arrive at a lasting genuine personal satisfaction with ourselves for very long? We find ourselves “not enough” again. This is insanity.

We become free of this pattern by giving up the need for external reinforcement for our sense of self esteem. We stop working so hard at it. We look elsewhere.
So, Bruce, here’s two areas to look at.

First look at “self esteem” itself. What is “self esteem”?

Self esteem is not a thing. Not some thing that you have or don’t have, within you, although we talk of it that way. Self esteem, your experience of yourself, is ongoingly given by your thoughts. It is the result of what you are saying to yourself. Self esteem is the chatter going on in your head.

So this is the first place to look to manage self esteem - to become aware of, to “awake to” your thoughts. You will see you have lots of them! People are habitually absorbed in ideas, judgements, opinions, stories, about themselves. We are one of our favourite things to think about.

When we look at the nature of these thoughts we see some amazing things.

We may notice most of our thoughts seem to be on automatic, seem to have a life of their own. And our thoughts are taken as truth, and as such we rarely challenge them.

Further, our thoughts give us problems with ourselves all day long! We are weighing, judging, evaluating, worrying, trying to fix and improve ourselves ( and others). A pat on the back here, a reprimand there, a worry, then a scolding, next a fear, followed by a doubt, a proud moment, another judgment. This internal chatter is very busy trying desperately to uphold, to manage our sense of image.

So this is the first place to impact your sense of self esteem.

With this insight, Bruce, watchdog your thoughts. Observe carefully. Allow your thoughts and their conclusions to pass by without catching you. This is the beginning of learning to detach from judgements and evaluations and see through their mischief. This skill begins a process of being gentler with your self.

The second place I recommend you look to support your self esteem is the arena of your “actions.”

The challenge of self esteem here is simple. Supporting our self esteem has something to do with finding the simple easy nurturing actions we can take in any life situation before us - and then taking them.

It is withdrawal and avoidance that reinforces and strengthens our more troubled feelings about ourself. People are more powerful and at ease in action than hanging out in their conflicted thoughts.

Get into creative ACTION. Stay in action. Watch and you will see that being in effective action produces a sense of aliveness and satisfaction. It gets us away from ourselves on into our real life.

So Bruce these skills will help you look after your good feelings about yourself more effectively - a challenge in front of all of us.

Paul Beckow is a certified individual, marriage, and family therapist. If you have a relationship, personal issue or concern, he can be reached by phoning the Victoria Family Institute at 721 2477 or contacted through his web site at www.paulbeckow.com

For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.

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