I get a lot of emails asking the same question, “It’s all well and good to say we determine our own worth and we are responsible for our own self-esteem, but _____happened to me. How does somebody just snap out of it and start to feel good about themselves after so much bad has happened?”
People are always looking for a quick, magical solution, that will instantly make them better. As I grow and I acquire more and more experiences, I’ve come to learn that like most other things in life – learning to love yourself is a process. For me, I had reached a point where I didn’t like how I was feeling every day. I wanted to feel happy all the time. I wanted peace all the time. I wanted stability in my life and I wanted to be treated with love and respect, but instead, I was feeling sad, lonely, unworthy, heartbroken and in pain for the majority of the time. Heartache had become my default setting and I seemed to always draw people and experiences that brought out those feelings in me.
It’s a Choice
I’ve read dozens of books on self-esteem and the best definition I’ve heard is this: Self-esteem is a subjective image that we hold inside of us, that represents our beliefs about who we are, our abilities and our worth. It is our own view of ourselves, it may not be accurate or how others view us, but it affects every aspect of our lives. Whether or not our self-esteem is positive or negative will have great repercussions on how we think, how we communicate, our relationships, our careers and our goals for the future.
You may come from a dysfunctional family. You may have been abused, neglected or constantly criticized. You may have even been teased or bullied at school because you were different and there’s no doubt about it, as children our emotional development is immature and how these experiences get internalized is probably far off the mark from how they were intended.
But regardless of what happened to us as children, if we have low self-esteem as adults, it’s our problem now and what I’ve come to realize is, that your sense of self-worth is your choice and it has always been your choice. Taking the time and putting in the effort to take care of you, is a choice you make every day. Changing the way you feel about you, is a choice that you make every day. Not accepting the poor behavior of others, is a choice that you make every day.
I think of it like a habit. Smoking is a habit, drinking is a habit and if you’re an alcoholic you have to reach a point where you say, ‘enough is enough. How much more of my life am I willing to trade in being a victim of my own behaviours and my own thoughts?’ Ask yourself – How much more of my life am I willing to spend feeling unhappy, unlovable and unworthy?
And once you make that decision to be and think differently about yourself, you just do it. You make the changes and you back them up every day, by consistently making the choice to think and act differently until your new thoughts have become your new habitual way of being. You take it one day at a time. Some days will be more difficult than others, some days something might spark an emotional reaction and you’ll want to handle things the way you have in the past – it’s those days where you have to battle through your feelings and just say no -I’ve made the choice to do things differently, to think differently. I control my thoughts and I control my actions and I am choosing to put me first and treat me in a loving and respectful way.
There are going to be people in your life – family, friends and partners, that are used to treating you in a less than manner and we’ve all heard the quote, “You treat people how to treat you.” You need to set up boundaries of acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior and if some people don’t conform, then – adieus , because now there are consequences to treating you poorly and those consequences are – they don’t get to be a part of your life. If you don’t set boundaries then people will just run amok treating you any ole way they want. This is your life – you set the standard.
The problem is you have allowed people to walk all over you for so long that it will be a huge adjustment for them and for you, but you’ve got to start eliminating people that do not support your decisions and your boundaries. And you’ll find that you really aren’t missing anything by not having them around. In fact you’ll find that you have gained quite a bit. There may be some people that you simply can’t detach from completely, but you’ve got to limit your exposure and no longer give them the reactions that they’ve become accustomed to.
“When people treat you in an unloving, disrespectful way it doesn’t say anything about you – but it sure says a lot about them.”
That Little Voice Inside
The biggest hurdle we run into trying to make improvements is – ourselves. There is that little voice inside all of us that is always feeding us negative thoughts, and trying to lead us down paths that we know we shouldn’t go. It’s this voice that tempts us. It’s this voice that leads us to self-destructive thoughts and behaviors – it tells alcoholics to drink, dieters to eat. It makes you think about and miss someone who isn’t worth your time. It’s always there, always talking to us. This voice tells us we aren’t good enough, that we aren’t worthy of love.
I’m not going to lie, there are times when my ex-Narcissist pops into my mind. In the past it would bring up feelings of pain and abandonment, but now I don’t follow that voice. I know where it wants to take me. If I let it, it will start thinking about excuses I could make up to contact him- an accidental text I meant for someone else, or a variety of other lame ideas. I just cut it off before it goes anywhere. I control my thoughts and I don’t allow it to continue.
In Michael A. Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul, he says, that this voice isn’t you – that you are the observer of this voice, but we can control it. We can stop it, before it starts to lead us to thoughts we simply cannot feed. It’s a lot easier to stop the voice at the beginning of a harmful thought, than it is to stop it once it’s led us somewhere that causes us a great deal of pain.
Your Inner Fighter
This isn’t easy, believe me I know. I was the biggest people pleaser. I’ve put other people’s needs and wants ahead of my own. I’ve been codependent. I’ve felt unworthy and unlovable. For me, it all came to a head when my mother and I were in a car accident and she was killed instantly. My father had died years earlier and now I was all alone. Within a few weeks of her death, I had lost my health, my longtime boyfriend, my home, my car and everything that makes a person feel safe and secure. It felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me and I was in no-mans-land, so fearful of everything and everybody.
I would always tell people that it felt like the universe picked up my life and shook it like a snow globe. But the greatest lesson I learned from all this tragedy is, that I get to put the little pieces of snow back exactly how I want them. That this is my life and it’s quality is entirely up to me and the decisions I make.
I had two choices I could fight for me and the life I wanted or I could sink deeper into depression and become a victim of my life.
I found my inner fighter. I read hundreds of books. I traveled. I did a lot of deep, deep introspection and I recognized that the person I wanted to be was incongruent with the way that I felt about myself. I was never going to achieve any of my goals believing that I wasn’t worthy. So I made a choice and every day I make the same choice. It really is that simple.
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