Note: This is the 3rd post in a series of posts about the 7 Laws of Living a Life on Your Terms. Links to the first two posts are at the bottom of the post.
Where do you spend the most time looking for self-respect, within yourself, or outside of yourself?
Don’t lie! Really think about it. Really think about the last time you were by yourself and you did something, or you thought something that made you look yourself in the mirror and say, “You’re awesome.”
It’s so rare that we look inside of ourselves for self-confidence. We’re always looking every where else.
We want people to tell us that we’re good, we want them to validate our feelings and our existence.
When they don’t, our self esteem suffers, when they do, we feel like Gods. It’s a temporary high equivalent to that of a meth-head feeling invincible…until the high wears off and you have to go out looking for your next fix or boost of self-esteem.
It sounds something like this:
If only I could get a promotion…
If only I were more attractive then…
If only I could get a bigger apartment then…
If only I had 23404 56 MILLION subscribers to my blog, then…
Does that sound familiar? I know that it does. I know that, at some point, you’ve felt this way.
Well let’s put an end to that shit shall we?
To let anyone or anything else have an effect on how you feel about your self is a god damn crime against humanity.
And by humanity I mean yourself.
Because that’s what I’m talking about.
It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about you except for you. You have to live with yourself every single day. You have to love yourself.
You have to take responsibility for yourself.
And that means that you have to find value inside of yourself, because depending on things that are outside of your control is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.
It’s dangerous to your mental health. If it gets bad enough, it’s dangerous to your physical health.
I can’t have my readers dropping like flies because they decided they would put their entire self-worth into someone else’s hands. It’s bad for business.
So we’re going to fix this, right here, right now.
To do this, I have to start at the beginning.
Groovy. Let’s do it.
What is self-esteem?
The answer to the question ‘what is self-esteem’ is completely different from the answer to the question ‘what does self esteem look like?’.
Self-esteem is made up of your self-confidence and your self-respect.
Self-confidence, meaning that you’re confident in your ability to think, learn, decide, and respond to change.
Self-respect, meaning that you think success, achievement, fulfillment, and happiness are what you naturally deserve.
The judgment you make on yourself, which manifests itself as your self-esteem, has everything to do with what you value, what your goals will be, who you’ll sleep with, and who your friends are.
Self-esteem isn’t a juvenile concept people came up with to help kids and teenagers make it through public school and puberty.
It’s critical to having a happy and successful life.
What do I mean by a successful life?
Well, for example, the more resilient you are (the more self-esteem you have), the more you fight through adversity, the more creative the work you produce, the better relationships you have, the more respectful you are, the more self-respect you have, the more joy you experience in the simple fact of just being alive, and the more successful you are in life.
In my opinion, your self esteem is the most important asset you have, and it should be treated that way. It should be strengthened and nurtured constantly.
If you’ve struggled with self-esteem and self-confidence like I have, you’re going to want to hear this.
You are an intelligent and competent human being. You are worthy of a happy life. You deserve good things. You have the ability to succeed. And if you don’t believe in every single one of those statements, I beg you to stay with me to the end.
In short, self-esteem is the reflection of how we feel about our competence and worth as a person.
IMPORTANT: Having self-esteem doesn’t mean just feeling great about yourself at the moment. Those feelings are temporary. You may continue to feel great about yourself until something bad happens. How you handle adversity tells you much more about your self-esteem than how you feel on a day-to-day basis in average situations. The more solid your self-esteem is, the better you are at coping with adversity; the faster you recover; and the more energy you have when you start over. Setbacks don’t stop people with high self-esteem.
Do you have high self-esteem? Are you sure?
Before you walk away brushing dirt off of your shoulders, lets make sure that your self-esteem is grounded in reality and it’s not invested in any false values. Let’s also make sure that you’re not in denial or delusional.
You may not know that you have low self-esteem. I know it sounds weird, but I’ve found MANY people who weren’t aware that they had low self-esteem.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Do I have a history of being in destructive relationships? – Men/Women with high self-esteem do not want to be with Women/Men that have low self-esteem (dependence, jealousy, etc.)
- Do confident people threaten me? – Confident people make less confident people feel as if the confident person is personally insulting them.
- Do I treat others well? – People with low self-esteem sometimes try to make themselves feel better by putting others down.
- Do I expect others to treat me well? – If you have high self-esteem, you expect to be treated with respect and you won’t tolerate anything less.
- Do I seek demanding goals, or do I prefer the comfort of the known? – People with low self-esteem are weaker, less resilient, unable to cope, and unable to handle life’s problems, and they remain convinced of the fact that they just can’t handle life. They spend most of their time trying to avoid the pain and suffering of failure because they think that if they come into contact with them, they’ll be defeated.
- Am I motivated by fear? – ie. Being motivated by not getting yelled at by your boss vs. being motivated by being praised by your boss.
- Do I have feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and self doubt?
- Do I use fear to try to control others? – For example, do you threaten to be disappointed in someone, or be mad at someone if they don’t do what you want them to do?
- Are you afraid of nothing in particular but everything in general?
- Is your purpose the pursuit of your own happiness and the fulfillment of your own potential, or is it compliance with the wants and expectations of others? – Do you do things only because your family/parents/friends/society wants you to?
- Is your basic concern with your own approval or with the approval of others? – Will you sacrifice your own values to gain the approval of others?
- Do you rely on your own mind or on the minds of your parents or professors, leaders or internet gurus? – Do you avoid making important decisions by defaulting on the opinion of others that are more ‘qualified’ or do you express your opinion regardless of what others think?
- Are you defensive when someone points out a mistake you made?
- Are you terrified of admitting to your mistakes?
Self Esteem vs. Delusional Over-Confidence
I need to distinguish between the self-esteem you get by understanding yourself and self-esteem you get by deluding yourself.
I had a very interesting Twitter conversation with a peer of mine which reminded me that so many people still equate self-esteem with megalomania and irrationality, and/or conceit.
So, true to ALOYT form, I have created an handy infographic for you to better convey my message. (It isn’t a flow chart this time!!)
I am obviously exaggerating some situations when it comes to low self-esteem and delusional over-confidence, but I just wanted to make it very clear. Do you ever fall into the right-most category? Are you sure?
This is more subtle than delusional over-confidence. You are developing pseudo self-esteem when you try to compensate for your low self-esteem by attaching your worth to something else. It’s kind of like a defense mechanism for self esteem. (Thanks go to Nathaniel Branden for introducing me to this term.)
These aren’t as obvious as just ‘the desire to feel popular.’ They can be hard to recognize, and you may be suffering from one of them without even realizing it.
Here are some examples of pseudo self-esteem:
- The girl obsessed with being popular, who’s compelled to win the affection of everyone she meets, who uses the fact that she’s ‘universally liked’ as the sole means of determining her worth as a person.
- The guy who doesn’t ever form a concrete opinion about anything and who’s always ‘in the middle’, but seeks to compensate by making himself an expert concerning other people’s opinions about everything.
- The man’s man who spends most of his time chasing after women, and who actually gets more pleasure from retelling his conquests to his guy friends than he does from the act of sex itself.
- The man who’s inherited a fortune but feels guilty because he’s done nothing to earn it. He doesn’t know what to do with it, so he gives it away to every cause (usually publicly) using the ‘ideal’ of altruism and the vision of himself as a humanitarian as his main source of self-worth, while keeping his pseudo-self-esteem alive using the common belief that charity is somehow a moral substitute for competence and courage. He is trying to buy love and he wants to have a sense of moral superiority (“I’m more giving and considerate than you’ll ever be and if I weren’t so humble I’d tell you so.”)
What Real Self-Esteem Looks Like
Finally, we can talk about the real thing now that we’ve gotten all of that other crap out of the way.
Apparently I’ve become fond of infographics, and here’s another one. Remember that this is what self-esteem looks like, it’s not how to get self-esteem, and it’s not the definition of self-esteem.
(Not a flowchart again!)
Notice that a lot of the behaviors above have to do with communicating with others.
That’s because when you have high self-esteem, you are more open and honest because you think that your thoughts have value.
When you have low self-esteem, your communication starts to become more squirrely, dishonest, or just plain inappropriate, because you’re not sure that you have the right to your thoughts or even if your thoughts matter.
Even something as small as how we communicate with people depends on how developed our self-esteem is.
Important: Self-esteem is not the same thing as pride. Pride implies that something already happened. After all, you have to have something to be proud of! Self-esteem applies more to the statement ‘I can do this’ while pride applies to the statement ‘I did this.’
Developing Your Self Esteem So That It Can Withstand a Direct Hit From a Nuclear Warhead
Self-esteem is not a finite resource.
It’s not a permanent state of mind.
It’s a value that you need to maintain every day of your life.
It’s also something that you can’t lose forever.
Maybe you had bad experiences when you were a child. Maybe your parents weren’t very supportive. Maybe you were picked on.
I know that some of that is true for me. And I suffered with low self-esteem for a long time because of it.
I’ll acknowledge that, as long as you acknowledge that you’re an adult now, and that you have the power to decide against what standard you will measure yourself.
You are not a victim anymore. You have to believe that.
You have to strengthen the belief that you are capable and that you deserve to be happy.
You must be committed to your right to exist .
You have a right to exist for yourself.
Your life doesn’t belong to anyone else and you aren’t here to live up to someone else’s expectations.
I know it can be scary, but from now on, you’re either going to stay on this Earth and live up to your own expectations, or you can choose a slow death.
If you choose life, and if you want to be in love with your life, with your possibilities for growth and experiencing joy, then read on my friend.
There are a lot of things you can do to develop your self esteem and there are also a lot of methods you can use to go about doing it.
Before you do any of these things or implement any of these methods, you’re more likely to fail if you don’t have the right mindset and the right foundations in place.
For example, one way to strengthen your confidence is to truly love yourself. But before you can do that, you have to know and understand yourself.
For me, self-awareness means knowing and being aware of anything that concerns our needs, wants, feelings, values, goals, capabilities, behavior, and our state of mind.
This means acting based on your own values, and not the values of others.
It means understanding your true needs, and not the artificial needs you came up with because society told you that you needed to buy a house and get married.
It means understanding that you don’t want kids and you think that kids are just horrible, instead taking on a ‘family man’ state of mind because it’s what’s admired.
How can I become more self-aware?
First of all, let me say that I was really tempted to do a flow chart for this part but I resisted!
- Start becoming more conscious of your feelings and emotions. Don’t do that thing where you shut down your feelings because you ‘know’ them to be inappropriate. When you feel something, ride it out.
- Really feel it and try to understand why you feel that way. Experience it. Is it out of anger, fear, spite, loneliness, etc. Are you really angry at that person/situation or are you projecting repressed anger? Name the feeling.
- Then, instead of making a knee-jerk assumption that it’s right or wrong (based on what you’ve been conditioned to believe all of your life), decide on how you feel about it by comparing it to your values. If it aligns with your values, it’s right to feel that way, if it doesn’t, then it’s wrong to feel that way.
- It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel it, it means that you need to accept that you feel a certain way for a certain reason and figure out how to correct it.
Remember that this takes work! You really have to focus, because you there’s more in your brain than what you are actively aware of. There are all kinds of levels of awareness and you need to concentrate to get down to that repressed level.
Note: This also works for specific actions, thoughts, and chronic behaviors.
There’s a huge difference between thinking and understanding, and seeking to understand on your own.
Trying to understand, forming your own opinions, and making your own decisions are all common attributes of people with high self-esteem. They see value in their thoughts and they are confident in their ability to deduce, produce, and form intelligent opinions.
If you have trouble doing this, now is the time to start. Think of it like this:
You have just as much right to be on this Earth as everyone else. Meaning that your thoughts and opinions have just as much worth as anyone else’s thoughts and opinions.
Don’t avoid active thinking just because you’re afraid to be wrong. Being wrong says nothing about your intelligence or worth as a human being. It just means that you had the courage to go at it on your own.
When you think through the minds of others, you take away a crucial piece of yourself, which is your independence. Then you start thinking like this:
Who am I to know? How should I know? Who am I to have an opinion?
Excuse me? You’re a freaking person with a brain. That’s who you are. That’s why you should have an opinion. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn from people, but don’t refuse to discover for yourself as well.
When your behavior matches your internal convictions and beliefs, you have achieved personal integrity.
When we do things that conflict with our beliefs, things that we know are wrong, our opinion of ourselves plummet. We lost a little respect for ourselves. We begin to feel unhappy. And eventually we stop believing in ourselves because we’re frauds.
Not surprisingly, integrity is also a huge factor in happiness, and I talk about it in detail in The Unbeatable Guide to a Happy Life.
It’s not hard to imagine that happiness is not possible without self-esteem and vice-versa.
For me, this means understanding who we are right now at this moment in time.
What we like about ourselves at this moment in time.
What we don’t like, and which of these things we would like to change. If it can be changed, how I’m going to work to change it, and if it can’t, how am I going to work to accept it or deal with it.
If you’re about to get on stage and make a speech and you’re terrified, then don’t tell yourself that you’re not terrified or to stop being terrified. Now you’re at war with yourself. Just accept the fact that you’re terrified.
Don’t block it out. Be present in that moment of terror and acknowledge it. Talk to that terror until you find out where it’s coming from and you find that it doesn’t hold water and it’s not relevant to this moment.
You can’t change a feeling you refuse to acknowledge. Your feelings aren’t your enemies, they’re your friends. But that doesn’t mean that friends can’t sometimes be wrong.
Accept the fact that what you think, feel, and do are all real expressions of yourself at the moment in time they happen.
If you don’t give yourself the right to experience you feelings, wants, needs, desires, the things you suffer over, then you are disowning yourself, repressing yourself.
But just because you accept it, doesn’t mean you have to approve of it. You don’t have to approve of it, but you do have to believe that it’s true.
Refusing to believe you are a certain way does nothing but keep you that way. How can you change if you refuse to accept that you’re an alcoholic, or that you’re a jealous partner.
If you can accept that you are who you are, you feel what you feel, that you have done what you have done – if you can accept it whether you like all of it or not – then you can accept yourself. Tweet this
How can you begin accepting yourself right now?
Questions to get you started:
- What emotions do you have trouble accepting? Just name one for now.
- One thing that you’ve done in the past that you don’t want to accept.
- A thought you have over and over again buy you push it out of your mind.
- Something about your body you don’t want to accept.
Then consider how it would feel to stop disowning yourself:
- If you were more accepting of your body [fill in the blank].
- If you were more accepting of your actions [fill in the blank].
- If you were more accepting of your feelings [fill in the blank].
- The scary think about accepting myself is [fill in the blank].
- The best thing about accepting myself is [fill in the blank].
This really helps. I’ve done it. And I know that not liking yourself can be a great way to excuse yourself from responsibility, or a great way to head off insults because you get to insult yourself first.
It’s also hard to do because you start to feel silly saying super nice things to yourself all of the time. Are you conceded? What if I’m wrong and others don’t think that I’m as awesome as I think I am?
For get them. You are as awesome as you think you are.
This is intellectual independence given a concrete shape or form. Whether it’s auditory or written.
Self-assertiveness is when you make your opinions and judgments known.
In it’s most basic form, being assertive is having the ability to calmly say yes, or no without feeling guilty.
If someone wants you to take them to the airport at 4:00AM and you have a really important meeting at 7:00 that you still need to prepare for, then you say no. Without guilt. Because landing that client is more important than taking that acquaintance to the airport.
Let the masses call you selfish. Who cares? They’re right. You’re unwilling to doom the rest of your career to take that person to the airport. That’s selfish and you have every right to be so. What right do they have to ask you to sacrifice your career so that they don’t have to pay for a Taxi?
On the other hand, if your partner is going into emergency surgery, you are going to have to say no to that meeting and tell them you need to reschedule. Yea they might be inconvenienced, but your partner is more important and you don’t feel guilty for that.
Here are some more examples of self-assertion:
- Quitting your job and pursuing your ambition even when your partner thinks it’s childish.
- Expressing an idea even when it’s unpopular (like my idea of selfishness being a virtue and altruism being a vice.)
- Sticking up for ourselves when we’re being ridiculed for our beliefs.
- Letting someone love us even though we’re terrified of getting hurt.
Every time you do one of those things, you are saying that you have a right to your life and a right to exist by your own expectations and no one else can claim control over whats yours.
Say it out loud for me will you?
I have a right to exist by my own expectations and I belong to no one but myself. Tweet this
I’m not saying that you have a right to belligerently force your unsolicited views and opinons on everyone and anyone whether they want to hear it or not.
I’m saying that you have a right to live by your own expectations and you can’t let anyone, anyone, take that away from you.
I’m going to keep the ending really short since this post is becoming so long it’s indecent and embarrassing.
All of the above is really really hard. Unless you were born into a world with parents that always asked you to express your individual thoughts and they always honored your tiny little opinions and they always listened to you, then you’re just naturally going to have a hard time.
Would you like to be around someone who was constantly disrespecting you?
Then why would you keep disrespecting yourself?
No don’t tell me that it’s ok because it’s you. It doesn’t matter who it is. It’s not ok.
It’s not ok for anyone to treat anyone else with disrespect.
Unfortunately, we have the hardest time treating ourselves well, and although that’s tragic, it’s not beyond help.
You can live in a state of mind in which you like yourself, you understand yourself, you never betray yourself, you’re honest with yourself, and you glow with confidence and you wake up every day excited because it’s another day in your life, filled with possibilities.
It’s another day you can create memories, stories, learn, discover, laugh, love, and it’s beatuiful. And it’s all yours. All of it belongs to you.
Your life is counting on you, your soul is counting on your, your spirit is counting on you to treat it well. Act accordingly.