By Ritu Bhatia January 2004 Self-esteem is about paying attention to our feelings, trusting how we feel about situations and people, and accepting responsibility for ourselves. Those with a healthy sense of self are better equipped to handle and deal successfully with life’s crises Honour your own SelfMeditate on your own SelfWorship your own SelfKneel to your own SelfUnderstand your own SelfYour God dwells within you as you.—Swami Muktananda How you look, the kind of person you are, what you think others think of you, how much you think others like you—these are all connected with how you feel about yourself. Most of us have been taught to base our self-worth on accomplishments, skills, our physical appearance, financial success, and so on. So when we are suddenly knocked by life, through loss of money, or a relationship we are dependent on, or skills from an injury, our self-confidence is challenged. Those who feel powerful even in the face of adversity are rare and inspiring. Actor Christopher Reeve who leads an active life dedicated to charity despite being paralysed by a spinal cord injury, and bicyclist Lance Armstrong who bounced back from cancer to win the Tour de France three years in a row, are two such individuals, with selves and spirits that transcend their physical conditions. While your self-regard may be influenced by your interaction with others and your experiences in the world, in the final analysis, it’s in your hands. Psychologists say that people’s self-esteem is based on two things: the ability to evaluate themselves realistically, as well as their core belief that they can handle the problems life has presented them with. Feeling good about yourself is about the most powerful tool you have to help you navigate your way on the journey of life. Each one of us is born with the capacity to win at life. Living at full potential—being a winner—has much to do with recognising your own uniqueness and that of others. Self-esteem has to do with authenticity—knowing, being and becoming a credible and responsible person. If you are comfortable with yourself, you don’t need to put on a performance, maintain pretences and manipulate others. Respect yourselfDeveloping real self-worth has to do with treating yourself with the same respect, generosity and kindness you would grant anyone you loved deeply. Good feelings for yourself enable you to live in the present, maintain a zest for life, and enjoy work, play, food, people, sex, and your own accomplishments without feeling guilty. You are not afraid to do your own thinking and do not play ‘helpless’ or blame others for your failures; on the contrary, you assume responsibility for your own life. As novelist Toni Morrison aptly puts it: “It’s about always feeling that nobody was the boss of me.” For me, the journey to developing self-love and respect has been a long one, since I was conditioned to believe that other people were more important than me. Only in the past decade have I learned to draw boundaries, give myself the attention I need, listen to my own voice and most importantly, trust it. Self-esteem for me has been about paying attention to my feelings, which I tended to ignore earlier. Ever since I started trusting how I felt about situations and people, I have made much better choices. A big part of my process has been about accepting responsibility for these. Self-esteem also has to do with being able to trust what our hearts are telling us. It’s about trusting your instincts, believes Anita Anand, hypnotherapist. “I believe taking risks is central to the development of self-esteem,” she says, attributing her comfort in her own skin to the support she received from her parents while she was growing up. “My father was a very loving person and while he did protest about some of my choices, he never actively stood in the way,” she says. Grabbing the moment often required a leap of confidence from Anita Anand. “To take the initial step in following a dream, often without knowing what the next step will be, has been my way!” she exclaims. “And the way doors have opened for me has been amazing.” Many selves“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” —The Buddha We all have different notions about ourselves. Some aspects of our self-concept remain stable, other aspects change from moment to moment. Ultimately, the self is what you define it to be. “There is no one self,” explains family therapist Reena Nath. “And neither is self-esteem a single entity. An individual has a different esteem in each area of his or her life.” Self-esteem may be high in the area of work if you are successful and low in the area of parenting, if you feel you aren’t doing well. Reena stresses that there is always movement too. “A child may do very well in his maths class one year only to find that he is at the bottom of the class the following year, and of course his idea of himself as being a good math student will also change.” One thing is certain, however. Deriving your sense of self from a number of activities and connections increases your chances of sustaining that good feeling. If your joy comes from gardening, mothering, being a member of a book club, and part of an aerobics class, you can always turn to one or the other to maintain your happiness. Know your strengthsIt’s all about the stories we tell about ourselves, and excavating the strengths we possess. “Self-esteem isn’t about feeling good all the time,” declares Reena Nath. “It’s not a jug you fill up that stays full. Life throws things at you. Relationships and jobs get lost. You get knocked around. It’s natural to feel sad and anxious.” This is where narratives come in for her. “These are the ideas you construct about yourself depending on your own perceptions, which become your stories. People select their own stories and when life poses new challenges they need to resurrect themselves and dig out different stories.” According to noted Optimism Researcher Dr Martin Seligman, knowing your signature strengths and building your life around them is one of the surest ways to build esteem. These signature strengths are with us from birth, stay with us, but may get repressed or even devalued. They are always there, and often pop up and call our name. When adversity strikes, they just need to be beckoned. Make dreams happenSelf-esteem soars when you discover what you love to do and find a way to offer it to others. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey believes that what gives a person worth is what they can give back. “Knowing who you are and what you are about, where you fit into the universe and feeling good about it,” is how she puts it. One of the preconditions to making a dream happen is to befriend, protect and nurture your spirit. This means paying attention to your real needs, treating yourself kindly and standing up for yourself even if that displeases the people around you. An intact soul is needed to support the healthy development of the life you were meant to have. Success comes from taking that first small step. Then another, and another, till they all combine to make one giant leap. Everything big comes from pushing the boundaries of the possible, and then allowing the energy of the universe to lead you. Live constructivelyThe worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with yourself. —Mark TwainNo matter what you feel about yourself or what happened in your past, it is possible to transform your life by doing what needs to be done right now. Do this by acting in a manner that reaffirms your self-worth, and improves your own view of yourself. While self-esteem is thought to be something you need to have before you can succeed, Dr David K. Reynolds says that it is actually the other way round. He thinks that people who lack self-esteem lack it because they haven’t taken enough risks and haven’t succeeded enough. His liberating ‘lifeway’ is called ‘Constructive Living’, and has been built from Japanese therapies, Morita and Naikan. In Morita therapy, the principle is: Be scared to death—and do what you have to do. Practically, this translates as: instead of talking for hours to a therapist about how awful you feel about being jobless, go out and look for jobs. Make calls that you are frightened to make. Take action! Often, the experience of action will lift your self-esteem automatically. “Reality-esteem,” says Reynolds, “is a more solid basis for living than self-esteem.” While our feelings for ourselves naturally fluctuate depending upon the situations we are in, reality continues to sustain us. Disarm your inner criticLove is the power which produces love. —Erich Fromm‘‘Not good enough,’’ whispers that voice in most of us. How do we quell it and allow the strength to take over instead? We have to be able to love ourselves to be able to love others. Our self-esteem and self-image are developed by how we talk to ourselves. Changing your internal dialogue is one way of bringing more love into your life. Everyone has an inner critic. Our past experiences are active and alive in our daily life in the form of an inner voice. Memories of times we felt bad or wrong are a part of our psyches and provide the substance for the inner critical voice. We also have a good inner voice that determines how we feel. If we pause and listen to this enough, we feel good. If the inner critic has the upper hand, however, he will wound our sense of self and make it harder to feel competent and happy in the world. Secrecy is one of the greatest strengths of this inner critic. If
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