Inside each of us, either deeply buried or near the surface, lays our own opinion of ourselves. Dependent on our level of anxiety, insecurity, or confidence for it’s definition, this highly changeable belief can wreck utter destruction on each and every one of us.
What we think of ourselves, ‘self-esteem’ if you want to be fancy, can easily supplant any outside opinion of our strengths and weaknesses because we claim to know ourselves better than others. What we fail to take into consideration is the myriad of events and circumstances that have gone into forming our definitions of self.
Our feelings of self-esteem are based on how we rate ourselves in a variety of categories. These range from our beliefs in our physical appearance, our intelligence, and the status of our current relationships with others to our ability to conduct the tasks of a normal life, personality traits, and the way in which we feel about ourselves as a sexual person.
Now obviously we don’t carry these opinions around with us consciously all the time. Usually they are deep-seated beliefs that only rise to the surface when circumstances dictate. For example, if we have a low opinion of our physical appearance it will affect us most when we are placed in a position where comparisons are unavoidable.
In our society, which places such an emphasis on surface attributes, physical appearance has become of paramount importance. It has long been known that the way we feel about how we look can affect our behaviour in various degrees. The problem is, given our predilection for judging by physical appearance, we tend to place less credence on the other aspects of low self-esteem.
Probably intelligence would rank second after physical attributes, as a means of comparing ourselves unfavourably to others, followed by the other categories in order of personal applicability. But what is of more importance than their place in line is how we form these negative feelings of ourselves in the first place.
I’m not of the belief that we are all born worthless sinners who are meant to suffer a life of pain until we find salvation after death, so as far as I’m concerned we’re not born feeling inadequate. Any and all feelings of insecurity and low self-worth are learned at the hands of others.
For a lot of people the root lies in that charming concept of Original Sin; we’re all born guilty thanks to Adam and Eve and have to be redeemed by a Saviour whether we know it or not. You can’t help but be affected by the fact that it is considered a given that your species is a bunch of philosophically and metaphysically worthless sinners.
The level of guilt created about feeling good will vary dependant on the level of your belief, but in one way or another it will touch all of us who live in a Judeo/Christian society. Many things, like sex and intoxicants–which are done for pleasure–have guilt attached to them through their association with sin. Many people believe there is something inherently bad about feeling good.
If that weren’t enough of an obstacle to have to overcome, there is also the manner in which people treat you as you’re growing up. In a previous post I talked about Schemas and how those coping mechanisms and behavioural tendencies were formed by beliefs developed through your treatment at the hands of others.
If you were sexually, emotionally, or physically abused as a child by any authority figure, you will develop behaviours that are suited to surviving your situation. As these were learned as a child at home, to you it will be normal and how the world works. Until you are given reason to believe otherwise, you will just assume that everybody will treat you in an identical manner.
I would think it’s pretty obvious where I’m going with this, don’t you? The same treatment that formed your behaviour is bound to affect your self-image. Daddy saying you’re bad, raping you, and then telling you how much he loves might just affect how you view yourself.
Obviously, that’s an extreme example, but it doesn’t have to be that extreme. Going through public school as the one everyone picks on, having a mother who doesn’t show any affection or interest in your life, or being too poor to afford the same clothes the other kids in the class are wearing; any or all of those things are going to have an effect on how you view yourself further on down the road.
If you are susceptible to low self-esteem you will also end up in a vicious circle of comparing yourself unfavourably to others, thus further depreciating your value as a person. Of course it doesn’t help that as you’ve grown into adulthood there is a constant bombardment of advertising reminding you of how inferior you are; that you should really consider losing those extra pounds and unsightly lines, and contemplate vaginal reconstruction or penis enhancements.
In fact, a good chunk of our economy is dependant on people’s insecurities, and most of our advertising is focused on taking advantage of and even encouraging those feelings. If everyone felt good about themselves, who would buy ninety percent of the crap sold in the stores today?
It’s a pretty sick little world we live in when we’re encouraged to belittle ourselves from the moment we’re born to the day we die. You want an easy test for yourself to gauge the level of your self-esteem? See how well you accept a compliment about anything. Do you dismiss it as flattery? Do you look for an ulterior motive? Do you have any trouble at all accepting it?
If you could answer yes to any of the above, you might want to ask yourself why.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve yourself; to increase your education, to change your hairstyle so that you feel more attractive, or to improve your skills in the workplace. But if you feel like you are less deserving of compliments, or less deserving of love, or just less deserving period because you lack education or an appropriate hairstyle, then there is something wrong.
It has taken me years to learn how to accept a compliment, and it’s still a new sensation to feel deserving of the sentiments expressed by people when they say something nice about my work or me. I figure it will probably take a while to get used to it after years of hearing the opposite or worse.
I’ll let you in on a secret though; nothing does more for your self-esteem than enjoying being praised, so once you’ve managed that step, the battle’s half over. The next time someone says something nice to you, instead of brushing it off or denying it or what your habit has been until now, try saying thank you and see what happens.
First of all, it’s only polite; think of the other person’s feelings. Secondly, the less often you deny that you deserve a compliment, the easier it will be for you to accept that you deserve it. Think of it this way if you like: it was the opinions of other people who made you think you were of little worth in the first place, right? Well it’s the same thing now, just in reverse. If other people were right in the first instance, they must still be right now that they are complimenting you. I know it’s not a good thing to put your happiness in the hands of others, but I think in this instance you’re all right.
At the very least, think of it as recompense for anybody that used to put you down, and your proof that they were wrong. Once you begin accepting that, it won’t matter so much what other people think of how you look or think.
It’s not an easy thing to overcome years of conditioning and memories, but once you start accepting the fact that you deserve praise, you’ll find it getting easier. Good luck, you deserve it.