The Secret of Self-Esteem
by: Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Have you ever thought about what really creates self-esteem? Having a deep sense of inner worth is important to all of us, but many people have some false beliefs about what creates confidence in our own merit as individuals.
Some of the common false beliefs regarding what creates self-esteem are:
- I will feel good about my self when I’m making $______(fill in the amount) a year.
- I will feel worthy when I am in a relationship with a (beautiful) (handsome) (wealthy) (loving) (fill in own) person.
- I will feel worthy when I get enough approval from enough people.
- I will feel adequate when I have a baby.
- I will feel adequate when_______( fill in desired outcome that you attach to your sense of worth).
However, there are many people who have all of the above and still do not feel a deep sense of self-esteem. That’s because self-esteem has nothing to do with anything external, such as looks, approval, money, relationships with others, or having a baby.
Self-esteem, or the lack of it, is solely the result of how we treat ourselves. Those people who attend to their own feelings and needs with loving action on their own behalf feel good about themselves, while those people who ignore, invalidate, or judge their own feelings and needs feel badly about themselves.
For example, Anna grew up with parents who were hardworking and very caring about their children, but who didn’t take good care of themselves. Both of her parents smoked, drank too much, and didn’t eat well. Neither of them took responsibility for their own feelings, so both of them were anxious or depressed much of the time. Even though her parents were loving to her, Anna does not take good care of herself, having had no role modeling for personal responsibility, She doesn’t eat well or get enough exercise, doesn’t stand up for herself at home or at work, and doesn’t get enough rest or playtime. She is very attractive, makes lots of money, has a husband and children, yet often feels very insecure.
If you imagine that her feelings and needs are like a child within, you can begin to see why she doesn’t feel good about herself. Treating herself badly will always result in feeling badly. You might be tempted to think that she treats herself badly because she doesn’t feel good about herself, and that’s true, but she will not feel good about herself until she treats herself as a worthwhile person. Her good feelings will come from her loving action toward herself. The more loving action she is willing to take on her own behalf – taking physical, emotional, financial, organizational, relationship, and spiritual responsibility – the better she will feel about herself.
How can Anna be motivated to take loving care of herself when she doesn’t feel good about herself? It seems like a vicious circle, yet there is a way out. Anna doesn’t feel motivated to take care of herself because she thinks that who she is, is her ego, the wounded part of herself whom she doesn’t like. Yet if Anna opens to knowing who she really is - that she beautiful and perfect child of God, that her essence, her true Self is a spark of God, created in the image of God - she will want to take loving care of this wonderful soul within.
When Anna begins to take loving care of herself, her wounded self – the part of herself that has low self-esteem – begins to heal. The more Anna feeds herself well, gets enough exercise and rest, speaks up for herself and tells her truth, takes care of her financial situation, organizes her time and environment, treats others with kindness and compassion, and opens to her spiritual Guidance or Higher Power, the better she will feel about herself. Self-esteem is the result of taking loving action, not the cause of it. Since we all have free will, we each have the choice to take loving action on our own behalf.
It doesn’t matter how badly you were treated as a child, or how badly your parents treated themselves. Your actions need never be governed by your past. If you devote yourself, moment-by-moment, to taking loving action on our own behalf, you will discover that the result is high self-esteem.