When we’re children our quest begins to look for clues and examples of how we fit into our environment and how we match up against others. Even though our ability to correctly interpret the data coming in is immature, we still make our assessment about ourselves based on what we believe we are perceiving. To very small children their parents can seem infallible and if these higher beings find fault with us – well then there must be something wrong with us.
Let’s face it, not everyone should be a parent. Sometimes very sick, broken people have children and they pass down very sick, broken ideas, beliefs and behaviors to their offspring.
When a parent indicates to us by word or deed that we are lacking is some way – we believe it. This is, in essence, how our self-esteem is born. And thus begins our life long quest to look for clues out in the world to prove to ourselves that they were right about us – that we are lacking, even when faced with contradictory information.
We start off our early life looking to others to tell us who we are. This is the way we were taught how to evaluate ourselves. From our parents to our siblings, to our classmates to our teachers, we are compared to others in our abilities, appearance, personality, intelligence…and any number of things you can compare one against another.
Isn’t it funny then, that the term self-esteem really means the esteem that we hold for ourselves, when the level of that esteem has been determined, all our lives, by other people.
When we leave our childhood with the perception that we are not good enough and that we are unworthy, we carry that with us into our next phase – the classroom and those beliefs affect our performance there, those beliefs paired with our early school experiences confirm what we already believed about ourselves, then we take those experiences and those beliefs with us into adolescence and our early romantic relationships and they have a profound effect on our behavior in this arena and so on and so on.
Doesn’t it sound crazy that, if our earliest experiences were negative, that they would have an extreme and detrimental effect on our beliefs and behavior for the rest of our lives? This is a big part of what the late Wayne Dyer meant when he said, “Don’t let the wake steer your boat.” Don’t allow your past to control your present, or your future. It’s mind boggling when you realize that the issues of our parents and the perceptions of a child have been ruling our entire lives.
As a teenager I acted out a role my mother wanted to put me in. I’ll admit I was trouble. I was a rebel, a bad kid. I drank, I did drugs, I was promiscuous. Her label was her attempt to try and distance herself from my behavior – indicating to one and all that she wasn’t responsible for it. She wanted to put me in that role so she could say, “There was nothing I could do, she’s always been difficult and willful. I could never control her. She’s just a bad kid.”
As someone who was taught to believe other people’s opinion about myself, I believed her and I wore the hat of the bad kid, even though it never fit. Even though I knew I wasn’t bad, she was my mom and moms are always right.
The reality, as I see it now, was that I hurt, really badly. I felt so unwanted and unlovable. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. My own mother didn’t value me, and she taught me not to value myself. I was so hungry for love I went looking for it from anyone who would give it. I wanted to numb the hurt, so I self-medicated with alcohol and drugs. I wasn’t bad, I was just hurting.
So many of my readers struggle with self-esteem and they talk about how difficult it is to stop seeking validation from other people and they’re right it is hard and basically what you have to do is undo all of the things that were done to you.
- Understand that the behaviors and beliefs of others, that were feed to you as a child, were a lie. The belief that you are not good enough is simply not true, that you’re unworthy of love – not true. As children we are too young to understand that our parents might have issues of their own, so we held their regard as truth, rather than realizing that they had their own issues. As adults we don’t have to do that anymore. We know our parents are fallible. You don’t have to get angry or start an argument with them now, it’s enough just to know it’s source, so that you can pass the dysfunction back to them – remember what you don’t pass back you pass on – so pass it back this was their problem, not yours and it’s not going any further.
- Understand that you are so much more than this crude shell we walk around in. I don’t know about you, but I’ve experienced enough evidence to believe that there is something beyond this life and I believe that we are all massive, eternal, energy beings. We are so much more than these bodies and these bodies, that give us so much grief, are constantly changing, we don’t have the same bodies that we had 5 years ago, 10 years ago – so if your worth is not tied to your body then who are you?
- Learn that the true meaning behind self-esteem is that it is your perception of you, not someone else’s. Unlearn the notion that you learn who you are by how others perceive you. Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop asking for approval, permission and acceptance. Be conscious of when you are looking to others for confirmation and stop yourself. Instead ask what do I think, feel, and believe and get into the practice of trusting your own instincts and be okay with your own decisions and beliefs.
- Know that you were born good enough. You’re worthiness doesn’t change based upon someone else’s ability to see it. It’s a set point – it doesn’t move up and down and nobody, parents included, have the right, or the ability to alter that. People can’t give you self-esteem, because it doesn’t belong to them – it already belongs to you. Your job is to reach out and take it. That’s it. It’s that simple. There’s no algorithm, no equation, no ritual. You have to decide that you’re going to own it.
- And once you own it you have to protect it. When someone treats you like you don’t deserve better treatment – you must shake hat notion right out of their heads. When you act like you’re a person of value, other’s will follow your lead and when they don’t, it’s your job to act accordingly and eliminate them from your life.
Learning how to value yourself is a shift in perception and understanding that you can’t look to others to give you what they don’t have. You are already a person of value – you just have to figure that out for yourself and when you do – you won’t tolerate anyone who doesn’t treat you with the love, kindness and respect that you deserve.
Really the whole exercise is about letting go of other people’s expectations, judgements, prejudices, and issues and just being who you were all along and understanding that that is all you ever had to be in order to be good enough.
A hippopotamus doesn’t worry about its weight. It doesn’t wonder if it’s a little too hippy, or if its ass looks too big, compared to the other hippos. It just is what it is and lives its life doing whatever it feels like doing, irrespective of how anyone else feels about it. It can still run really fast even though it’s not a horse. It’s still a warrior of an animal. It fears nothing and knows it’s fierce. It doesn’t have to be a bear to be beautiful. It doesn’t have to be a lion to be fierce. It was born all of those; things and it doesn’t lament the fact that it is what it is. It doesn’t spend it’s time wishing it was eagle. It doesn’t need anyone else to tell it is good enough. It doesn’t need other people to tell it it’s beautiful and neither do you.
Own who you are. Own your own worth and stop looking for it in places where it’s not.
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Love!!! So true… Self-esteem and self-love come from within, and it is a decision to live with them as our guiding light. We may have been conditioned in childhood to not believe we are deserving, but the moment we realize that is BS, and we see the influence of the past and how it makes us miserable, we get to choose. Another way. The way of self-love, just as we are. It’s a DECISION. It’s not easy, it hurts and is scary and unknown, but we will keep having the same learning lessons until we get it right. Life times, even. And you can know you are on point in loving yourself and knowing your worth by how you feel- by feeling what you feel and thinking what you think and doing what you need for yourself – without feeling guilty or shameful or in any way bad about standing in your center. These are the boundaries we were never taught. Other people’s feelings and actions are not our responsibility and certainly do not reflect our worth!
This is excellent, Savannah. Thank you.
Wow – this is so profound!! I REALLY needed this tonite. You always write about exactly what I need to hear at any given time. Your words are so healing and comforting. Sometimes I feel so incredibly low, as I did tonite, and I just cannot imagine that anyone has gone through what I went through or has such low self esteem as I do, and then here are all of the people that follow your blog. They have each been on their own heartbreaking journeys. I don’t wish that on anyone but it’s comforting to know I am not alone. Thank you Savannah and everyone! I am learning so much from you all.
Brilliant stuff! The hippo example is really perfect. Hippos, like all animals, just naturally accept what they are. I on the other hand need to work at acceptance, at being comfortable in my own skin. But it’s a great goal or target for me to aim for: to be so ok with myself that I hardly even think about it at all. Not there yet. But visualizing the placid hippo gets me closer ….
Incredibly helpful. I really needed this one right now.
I have gone back to this several times this week! Great, pointed article and advice. I am a devotee and grateful for your regular insight.
Great post Savannah thank you once again for reminding us to stop looking for our worth in other places where its not.
Absolutely Love this! Thanks for all your post, I look forward to them every week!
Thanks! It’s been a while since I read your posts and I started a new job and just now after reading your article that the reason I left my old one was exactly as you say, the management treated me like I didn’t deserve better. So I left. I have zero tolerance for that treatment anymore. And that is not only OK, but excellent.
Thanks for this post….I needed this today.
Emilie…I can relate so well to your reply. I walked away from my soul-sucking job as well, and I have not looked back. I refuse to be devalued and disrespected by anyone (they were all narcs). I don’t know what my future holds but I know it’s good. Keep Thriving Emilie and I will too!!!
So beautiful,each and every word. Thanks so very much ,Savannah. I always have no words to thank you enough. Thanks for saving so many lives.
Hi Savannah! So grateful I stumbled upon you work a while back. This one is my absolute favorite so far. Well written and very powerful. I’m printing this one out and keeping it in my purse as a a definite go to piece.
Beautiful message. Thank you.
Right on! So glad I found you, Savannah! I can’t tell you how much you have helped me see the light. I did a marathon reading of your posts last night, and I really feel great today! Thank you!
An arrival for the ages. To be read again and again!
This is an AMAZING message. It struck me as pure truth. Love the hippo analogy! Thank you for all you do.