Some Tips On Self Esteem
"The great angst of modern life is this: No matter how hard we try, no matter how successful we are, no matter how good a parent, worker, or spouse we are--its never enough. There is always someone richer, thinner, smarter, or more powerful than we are, someone who makes us feel like a failure in comparison. And failure of any kind is unacceptable. What to do?"
Mindful magazine Dec 2014
American culture teaches us that we have to prove ourselves, we must "do" to be worthy. No wonder so many people are stressed. We have internalized the belief that we are what we do, and there is always more to do; something is wrong with anyone who doesn't want more, and who isn't striving. But this belief is like being on a hamster wheel, we are running to get somewhere and be someone.
Many of us assume that at some point we will feel "good enough" if we just strive and work enough. Nothing wrong with accomplishment, of course, but it won't give us genuine self esteem, because anything that is accomplished can be lost, and when that happens, there goes our good feelings about ourselves. Empty nest, conflict, divorce, old age, illness, job loss, some of these are inevitable.
Self esteem has to be an "inside job". Many people are very critical of themselves, others, circumstances or all three. Being able to critique or assess people and circumstances is an important human capacity, but it often gets too dominant in the form of too much judgment/criticism. Therapists often call this the "inner critic". It is a commom belief that without this inner critic's harsh comments we would be lazy and therefore fail. Being a failure is very bad and means we are unworthy, says our society. Ideally we need to feel we are "good enough" no matter the exterior circumstances.
A big help in this direction is taming the inner critic. There are two paths to accomplishing this. First, we must recognize that we are inherantly "good enough". I often use a simple technique called EMDR to assist clients to recognize they can let go of their belief of unworthiness, because it is just a false belief. This false belief is often not conscious, and no one can simply talk themself out of it. (See link on EMDR for an explanation of this technique).
Second, we must become more aware of our negative self talk. Most of us are so used to it that we hardly notice how pervasive and debilitating it is. This awareness is often called mindfulness. There are many simple techniques for managing one's overactive inner dialogue. When we don't know how to manage our inner self talk, a simple thought can snowball into huge anxiety, anger, or sadness etc. For example, I am disappointed that something has not occured. That is a simple human experience. But it can grow to despair if I dwell on it. For example, "that thing did not happen because so and so doesn't really care like I thought she did. I have been wrong about her all along. I have to do something about this, but what? Maybe I should............." Now that simple disappointment has snowballed into something so much more complicated, and my pain has become suffering. (Pain is inevitable, suffering is not.) I teach clients how to be aware of and manage their inner dialogue.