Self Esteem and How to Get It

Self help books and touchy feely therapists suck.It takes willingness to recognize your worth and build on it. It’s more comfortable to maintain status quo than it is to change. Unless you’re hell bent to do it, it’s just another nice idea.

I find it pointless to talk much about self esteem other than to develop concrete strategies for folks wanting to increase it. You can’t buy the stuff and you can’t think your way into having it. Self respect is the key to self improvement. Between now and the time you feel better about yourself, use the Golden Rule in reverse; treat yourself with the same respect and integrity that you show others.

Acquiring self esteem is not a matter of arriving once and for all at some emotional state. It’s about having a life based on the belief that one is “good enough.” It’s about being acceptable, loveable, and likeable. These aren’t simply things we do; they are extensions of who we are. Those of us in Recovery are very good at getting people to appreciate us for our actions. What we really want is to be appreciated for who we are.

Most of us are trying to build on a shaky foundation. We were neither taught nor made to feel that we were “good enough.” Ask yourself, “Who am I trying to be good enough for?” If the answer is someone other than yourself, stop. If self esteem and self acceptance in your adulthood depends on what someone else believes or how they treat you, then your happiness is contingent upon something that you cannot control (huge set up). Acceptance and love shouldn’t have to be earned and it’s exhausting to maintain if you do.

Here’s a better question, “What do I have to do to be able to approve of myself?” That’s a hard one to answer but it’s worth wrestling with. Keep it simple. What about you is unacceptable? Whatever it is, is it something that defines your worth? Does it make you less deserving?

No. It doesn’t. Doing bad things, having bad habits or making bad choices does not make one a bad person. It makes one human. F@cking up does not make one a f@ck up. Getting knocked down does not define us. Getting up does.

It’s all in how you look at it. Stop and take a look at how you look at you. Perspective works like this: When we look at others, we see the whole person. When we look in a mirror we see only our faults.

This is why we need to enlist the support and to internalize the truth of good/healthy people. They see the whole of us, and they love us…warts and all.

If there are things you want to change about yourself then great!  Keep It Simple and focus on what you can do and not what you can’t control. What do you want to add and what do you want to remove?

Counselors usually ask these three questions:

-          What are your strengths (things you’re proud of/good at whether qualities or   abilities)

-          What are your weaknesses? (things you are insecure/feel poorly about)

-          What do you most want to change?

Folks groan when I ask the first question, as if speaking well of oneself is a hardship or an act of arrogance. The second question is met with a laundry list and the third question is met with the thing that makes a therapist mentally face palm themselves: “I just want to be happy.”

Oh. Is that all? Ok…what do you need to be happy? “I don’t know.” Ok, why are you unhappy? “Because I’ve never been good enough.” For who? “My family and a lot of other people.”

In my office hangs a cartoon of Freud saying, “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure that you are not in fact just surrounded by assholes.” I encourage folks to look very closely at what they learned and then to consider how healthy & happy the folks were that taught them their worth. (Misery loves company.)

Here’s one of my favorite things about being an adult – I get to CHOOSE my own truth,  beliefs, actions, attitude, opinions, relationships, and whether or not I’ll eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and call it dinner. I learned a lot of things about me that turned out not to be true. Now that I choose my own truth, no one other than I gets to define me.

Folks often tell me, “I don’t want to care what other people think of me.”  That’s unattainable, but the more secure we become in who we are, the less what others say or think or do negatively impacts us.

Get to know you. Chances are you’re better than you think.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in assisting people in recovery (whether from drugs, alcohol, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles and improve their quality of life.