I work with the most challenging of people. They challenge me daily and I love it because passive approaches to healing don’t work. It’s important to process thoughts and feelings but it’s even more important to consider what we need to change to have a better life. Regardless of what your counselor recommends, ask them, “Ok, so how do I do that?”
My clients often share with me, “I’ve never felt good enough”. Whenever I hear this I immediately ask, “For who?” This is met with either a blank look or a long list. Either way it goes back to childhood. While we cannot change our past, we must consider how lessons learned in our formative years continue to limit us today.
Young children cannot truly understand what self esteem is, and yet they have it. No one sits a child down and tells them how they should feel about themselves. Through experience and defining moments of interaction, the child internalizes (takes to heart) how others view them and feel about them. We infer things based on how we were treated and this is both the basis for our self worth and for how we treat ourselves.
How do we come to believe in ourselves before someone else does? Think back. What were you taught about who you are? Were you encouraged to see yourself as intelligent? Capable? Talented? Hard working? Pretty/handsome? Charming? Were you discouraged from drawing attention to yourself, trying new things, or taking risks? Were you told not to get your hopes up, or encouraged to play small? Children rise and fall based on what is expected of them. For many of us, no matter what we did…it was never good enough.
Children do not know to separate who they are from what they do. The child reasons that if their efforts are bad then they are bad. This is how we learned shame. One of the most important distinctions in life is teaching a child that what they do may be good or bad but that who they are is always good.
No child has ever been given a list of what they do and do not deserve and yet every child has a sense of what they are worthy of and what they are entitled to. The kids who grow up in very healthy families are free to take for granted that they are deserving of happiness and good fortune. Those of us born to unhealthy families learned that anything good would be taken from us sooner or later and so we learned not to receive, not to expect, and not to even ask. This is all the more tragic because worth is not earned. We were born deserving of love and acceptance.
These then are the keys to believing we are good enough and having the life we want: what we believe, expect, feel worthy of, and how we treat ourselves. Grab pen and paper and make this investment in yourself.
– What do the people in my life today believe about the kind of person I am?
– What do I believe?
– What are my strengths (the qualities, traits, and abilities that you’re proud of)
– What are my weaknesses (things I struggle with – separate them into what you can change and what you can’t).
– What do I want to change about my life? (again, separate what is possible from what is not)
– What am I willing to do about it?
– What was expected of me growing up?
– What do people expect from me today?
– What do I expect from me? (What do I have to do to consider my efforts and myself good enough?)
– How do I expect people to treat me today?
– Consider the difference between what you expect of you and what you expect from others.
– What do the people in your life today believe you deserve?
– What do you believe?
Relating to Self
– Be honest – there’s a fine line between being hard on yourself and being a jerk to yourself. Which side of that line do you fall on?
– How do you treat people you care about? Are you kind? Compassionate? Supportive? Accepting?
– Do you allow others to do that for you or are you more of a one way street in which you give but don’t allow others to do for you?
Small steps. Nobody wakes up one day to a better life. Make a choice – settle for less of a life than you can have or start investing in yourself today.