Self Esteem - Being Gentle with Ourselves ( Part one )
LETS TALK with Paul Beckow
Goldstream Gazette, April 2010
I feel low these days, down on myself. No matter what I try, what I do, it never seems good enough. I just feel bad lots of the time. 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 for our feelings about ourselves that were established in our experience as children.
When we were children the source of our self esteem was the adults around us. We often 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. This established a pattern.
Then, as with all children, there were times when something happened and it was met with disapproval. ( We talked out in class. We walked away from our mom at the mall. We were “mean” with our younger brother. We didn’t get chosen on the pick-up scrub team. Our sister got the prize and we didn’t )
We thought we did “did something wrong and/ or we failed expectations or to receive the acknowledgement we hoped for. No matter how it occurs, as children there were moments we experienced we “failed to be good enough” somehow.
Sometimes when this kind of event happens a child firmly decides – “there’s something wrong with ME, with the way I AM.” ( not just with what ”I did” ) This is a pivotal moment in terms of our self esteem. We confused the event, the what happened, with who we are, with judgments and decisions about ourselves. 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 – being “not okay” we are now saddled with trying to find out how to be enough, to be all right somehow. This problem can keep us going a lifetime.
“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 role, identity, or a strategy. “I’ll be smart ( strong, funny, nice, important, quiet, helpful, good, bad, bossy, popular, successful etc.)
We joined the race to become “good enough,” fervently trying to prove ourselves or earn self esteem through doing or achieving enough, or being unique, okay, or special enough, in the eyes of others. For many of us, this pattern of thought and conditioning remains the rest of our lives, is very tiring – and can never be won.
We may notice no matter how much we do, no matter how great it is, we never arrive at a lasting genuine personal satisfaction with ourselves for very long. Oh yes, we may have a sense of “enoughness”, of “success” – that lasts for a day or two, yet more often than not, we find ourselves back at the starting line once again. We find ourselves “not enough” again.
This whole issue can make for such stress in our lives, keeps us churning inside, trying to fix and improve ourselves somehow. Ultimately the whole effort is “bankrupt” because it’s founded on “not being good enough”.
This is insanity.
It’s my experience we become free of this pattern by seeing the craziness of all this and by letting go of the need for external reinforcement for our sense of self esteem. We stop working so hard at it. We give it up, relax a bit on ourselves. We begin to give ourselves a “break”.
With these insights we begin to surrender the struggle. This is the beginning Bruce of being gentler on ourselves.
And we begin to look elsewhere for this matter we call self esteem.
This is a significant issue for us all Bruce. More on this topic next month.
Paul Beckow is an individual marriage and family therapist on the West Shore. See 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.