Not long after my first book was released a book reader came to me for advice. The first words out of her mouth as she entered my office were, “You don’t look the way you are supposed to look!” It wasn’t a compliment. Not long afterwards I was the keynote speaker at a conference and my talk was enthusiastically received by the audience, after the talk that same woman walked up to me and said, “Who would have thought you had that in you!”
Although I wouldn’t have described myself as someone with low self esteem I struggled to feel good about myself whenever someone made such a comment. During that time I received some great feedback from people telling me my book had changed their lives but I focused on the criticism. I gave up public speaking because I didn’t want to live my life always feeling as if “I wasn’t good enough’.
Mixed messages mean we can have high self esteem in one area and not in others
My mother always told me I could do anything and I attribute my ability to go outside my comfort zone and try something new to my mother’s belief in me. She always made me feel as if she really believed it.
My father who while very loving was a perfectionist. His way of protecting me was to try to help me ‘be perfect’. One of the statements that Dad regularly made is etched in my consciousness, which is, “No decent man will ever love you if…..” and the long list of ‘ifs’ ranged from having bad table manners, talking too loudly, to letting a guy kiss you on the first date. The beliefs I took on from Dad became a self fulfilling prophecy. I have always considered myself emotionally healthy but the mixed messages I received made me doubt myself and I was always waiting for the next rejection.
We all need to break free from the tribe
The tribe is made up of family, friends, co-workers, church and the media.
When we are bonded to the tribe all our choices are influenced by what others think of us. And sometimes keeping up appearances saps so much of our energy that there’s rarely enough left over for the things that are really important to us.
The problem is that once it has become a habit to act in a certain way it’s often hard to recognise when we are being influenced by others.
I know my Dad meant well and his comments were said to help me be accepted by others, as Dad always worried about what other people thought, what he didn’t realise was the damage those comments did to my self esteem. It took me a while to learn this lesson but I did eventually.
Now it’s one thing to know what we should do and another to do it, so what I did was say to myself constantly, ‘What I think about me is more important than what anyone else thinks about me’. Every time I felt embarrassed, hurt, worried about what other people thought I would repeat this affirmation over and over to myself. And while it took awhile it worked because I became mindful, I had time to think about how I wanted to react.
I decided who I wanted to be
My life changed dramatically when I consciously chose to be a kind, loving, generous person. I sometimes feel as if I say the same things over and over but this one change had the greatest impact on my life, more than anything else I have ever done.
Of course there were times when I forgot but as I focused on being kind, loving and generous every day, over time I became a nicer person. You cannot help but elevate your self esteem when you like the person you are.
I made amends
I started reflecting on all of the people in my life who hurt me, annoyed me and started forgiving, I also forgave myself for all of the stupid mistakes I had made and there were quite a few.
I thought about the times when I had acted in a way that I wasn’t proud of and I wrote to a few people apologising for my behavior. This exercise made me feel good about me.
My intention is to feel good about myself all of the time because I know that’s the foundation for building a happy life. So I reflect daily and ask myself, ‘Does this choice make me feel good about me?”
That’s it. Stop worrying about what other people think. Act in a way that makes you feel good about you, forgive and make amends. Such a simple formula but one that is guaranteed to build your self esteem.