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 how 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’.
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, 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 said was, “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 meant I was always waiting for the next rejection. So these are the steps I followed to build my self esteem.
1. 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 we establish a habit of responding 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.
Now it’s one thing to know what we should do and another to do it, so I consciously chose an affirmation to help me and whenever I felt embarrassed, hurt, or worried about other people’s opinions I would say, ‘What I think about me is more important than what anyone else thinks about me’.
2. Decide who you want to be
My life changed dramatically when I consciously chose to be a kind, loving, generous person. 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 yourself.
3. Make amends
I started reflecting on all of the people in my life who hurt or 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 ways I wasn’t proud of and I wrote to a few people apologising for my behaviour. This exercise made me feel good about me.
4. Establish the habit of asking yourself questions
I reflect daily and when faced with a choice I’m not sure about I 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.