By Suzanne E. Harrill
We evolve daily as we explore our life and
build awareness, getting to know ourselves better, face our
fears, change habits, and make conscious choices to better our
lives. We do many things to evolve: read self-help books,
gathering information to improve our lives; talk to friends
about our problems, receiving support to solve them; or go to
a group or individual psychotherapy, gathering insights from
others outside of our frame of reference. Some of us, on the
fast track, do all of the above and more.
For many, there comes a time when change
slows down and it is difficult to progress at the same fast
clip we’ve been accustomed to while changing patterns,
beliefs, and behaviors.
One of the most skipped steps in the
healing process is learning to love yourself. It requires
recognizing and addressing the negative feelings you have
about yourself. If you want to improve the quality of your
life, you, at some point, must improve how your feel about
yourself. Why? Because self-esteem, how warm and loving your
feel about yourself, is the foundation of your life.
Read the following paragraph and notice the
degree of truth for you. You may feel the statements are true,
somewhat true, or false. If they are not true for you, begin
the healing process by saying these affirmations often to
yourself. This will repattern your inner belief structure over
time to give you a different experience of life.
I am a valuable, worthwhile person. I
deserve love, respect, good relationships, health, and work
that uses my abilities. I am capable of living peacefully with
others, able to communicate well, to problem-solve, and to
resolve conflict. I forgive myself for not being perfect and
learn from my mistakes. As I take positive risks to change
within, I notice my outer world changes. I enjoy my life, feel
good, and I love the person that I am.
Take a moment to reflect and answer the
following questions. How does this paragraph of positive
statements make you feel? What are some things that affect or
have affected your feelings of self-worth both positively and
negatively? Where in your life do you notice feelings of low
self-esteem? high self-esteem?
When you do not feel worthy of love,
support, help, friendship, and good relationships, to name a
few, it sabotages your progress into being a fully functioning
adult. Happiness, self-empowerment, satisfaction in work, good
relationships, and success are all built on a foundation of
No matter what your challenges are in life,
know that you are a valuable, worthwhile human being who
deserves love, respect, and happiness. If living your life has
been based on false assumptions, it may now be time to change
your beliefs about yourself to a new level of truth. Then you
can experience different results in your life, such as inner
peace and self-acceptance. You may, for example, have
struggled with depression or a physical illness and forgotten
that who you are, is not your illness. So many of us were
taught to base our self-esteem on what we do and not who we
Self-esteem is a term that gets bandied
around a lot these days. The downside is that self-esteem has
become a cliché, an easy label, and therefore easy to ignore.
The upside is that almost everyone knows the meaning and
importance of self-esteem and that building inner resources
improves such things as outer confidence.
Let us look at high self-esteem and low
self-esteem so we can get a better understanding of where we
are headed and what gets in our way.
High self-esteem is a quiet, comfortable
feeling of total acceptance and love for yourself — as you
are. It is respecting and valuing yourself as a worthwhile
human being, honestly seeing your good and not-so-good
qualities, and taking care of and nurturing yourself so you
can become all that you are capable of being. High self-esteem
is characterized by congruence between inner states (beliefs,
feelings, attitudes) and outer states (behavior,
relationships, health). When you know and love yourself, you
automatically reflect this to others. (The way you treat
others is how you treat yourself).
Signs of High Self-Esteem:
Having an internal locus of control;
getting "okayness" from within, not from others.
Taking care of yourself — physically,
emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Maintaining a balance between extremes
of thought, feeling, and behavior; when out-of-balance,
taking action to correct.
Learning from mistakes and being able
to say, "I made a mistake, I’m sorry."
Managing your life responsibly.
Honoring individual differences among
Listening to other points of view.
Taking responsibility for your own
perceptions and reactions; not projecting onto others.
Having the ability to listen to your
wise inner self (your intuition), and to act on this
self-confidence, and self-acceptance.
Knowing your own strengths and
Choosing continuous self-improvement
and taking positive risks.
Balancing being and doing.
Feeling warm and loving towards
Giving and receiving love easily, with
no strings attached.
In twenty years as a counselor, I’ve
repeatedly witnessed the emotional turmoil, spiritual
paralysis, and personal tragedy that can come from deep-seated
problems with self-esteem. People with low self-esteem present
themselves to the world in a variety of ways. I’ve learned
to recognize the signs. Among the most common are extremes in
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Some people with low self-esteem are
overachievers who believe that a high IQ, physical beauty,
winning at sports, or being Number One assures emotional
well-being. They are often motivated by feelings of
inferiority that propel them to seek validation of worth
(their own and others) in outer manifestations, like money,
power and praise. Others make a practice of devoting all of
their time and energy to family and friends and none to
themselves. Often they are "giving" for the wrong
reasons, with hidden agendas and expectations. Still others
believe that they can only earn love by doing something. They
evaluate their worthiness based on what they do, not on who
they are. Finally, many base their self-worth on the opinions
of other people or on outside indicators, much like the
erratic swings of the stock market.
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
Self-blame, self-criticism, or
constantly putting others down through guilt, blame,
shame, or faultfinding.
Over- or under-achieving, eating,
working, doing, etc.
Playing the victim, rationalizing that
outside circumstances are the cause of your problems.
Not taking responsibility for your own
life, turning power over to another to make decisions for
you, then feeling victimized if the results are not to
Taking undo responsibility for the
lives of others; dominating and making decisions for them.
Fear of change and reluctance to take
risks, or too much change, taking dangerous, unwise risks.
Constant negativity or being so
optimistic that reality is denied.
Reacting to others with extreme emotion
or no emotion.
Boastful, overbearing behavior around
others, or inability to maintain integrity during
Demanding to be "right,"
needing to have agreement or have your own way most of the
time, or constantly acquiescing to the will and opinions
Constantly comparing yourself to
others, and thereby feeling inferior or superior.
Black-white, either-or thinking; e.g.,
believing that a person is either good or bad based on
rigid standards of good and bad behavior.
Having pervasive, deep-seated feelings
of fear, terror, or panic.
Speaking with lots of
"could-haves," and "yes-buts."
Interpreting the hurtful words or
actions of others as proof of your unworthiness.
Since self-esteem is the foundation of your
life, how do you proceed if it is not strong? If you do not
like parts of your life, you have the power to rebuild that
foundation. Begin with your beliefs about yourself; update all
that are false or that fail to support your growth and highest
good. Remember, you alone have the power to change your inner
world. As you gradually accept the truth of these new beliefs,
your feelings about yourself will improve. This in turn will
affect your actions, accomplishments, and relationships and
you will experience more love, joy, abundance, and
satisfaction in life. Yes, you will still have your challenges
in life, we all do; however, you will view them differently.
I would like to mention here the importance
of accepting, at some level, that you are of value because
God, or Life (use your own spiritual language) has called you
into creation. The mere fact that you were born affirms that
you are important, needed, and loved for who you are, no
matter what you have been told or what you think.
It is helpful to summarize by using an
acorn analogy to help you love and accept yourself. You are
like an acorn that at each stage of its growth cycle does its
best to become a giant oak tree. The acorn can only grow to
the degree that it is nurtured by sunlight, rainwater, and
nutrients from the soil. But, even if its early life is less
than ideal, its growth will accelerate at any time proper
nutrients become available. You, too, have done the best you
can under the unique conditions that have shaped your life
thus far. With additional nurturing, self-awareness, and
self-acceptance — just watch yourself grow!