Loving the Past, Present and Future You: Your Guide to Improving Self-Esteem
We often hear how it important it is to have high self-esteem. Yet, hearing about it and understanding how to achieve high self-esteem are very different. As a therapist, I’m often amazed at the incredible people I meet who admit they do not like themselves. I want to share with you what works in improving self-esteem, as I have seen it help so many others achieve their goal of loving themselves. This three part blog series will teach you to change the way you see yourself in the past, present, and future.
Positive psychology teaches us that the way we view our world affects 90% of our happiness. Only 10% of our happiness is determined by our actual environment. While living in Mendoza, Argentina I found this principle to be true. The people there have no middle class. You are either extremely wealthy or extremely poor. I found that the poor people were very happy even though they were living in mud brick houses, without cars, and eating the same few simple meals everyday. People in Argentina may even be happier because they are less focused on wealth, prominence, and power. Instead they are focused on relaxing, spending time with family, and enjoying life. They have much less than we do yet they are quite happy.
If you have a poor view of yourself the solution is to change your perception and then change your behavior. If we won’t allow ourselves to be happy until we achieve a goal, then we never really become happy. The reason for this is because when we achieve a goal we set a new goal and start working towards that goal. If we are only happy when we achieve a goal we only experience a brief moment of happiness. For example, if I think to myself, “I won’t be happy until I get a good job,” then the day will come when I will get a good job and inevitably someone will have a better job. At this point I might think to myself, “I have to get a better job.” The problem with this logic is that there will always be someone with a better job. We cannot put off happiness until we achieve our goals. Instead we must choose to be happy in the present while working on our goals
PART 1: Embracing our Past Self
1. We must accept our past for what it is. It does not matter what we may have done in our past, good or bad, it’s a part of who we are. If we are judging ourselves or feeling guilt or shame because of our past, then we are not allowing ourselves to progress and improve in the present. If you want to love yourself, you must accept what you have done and experiences you have had. We must only focus on what we can control and we cannot control the past. We can only view it as an opportunity to to learn from the experience and use it to become a better person.
2. We must forgive ourselves and others. Forgiveness is freedom and healing. When someone offends us or hurts us, naturally we want to retaliate; or at the very least hold a grudge. However, if we cannot forgive we hold on to all that hate, shame, fear, or anger. These feelings will eventually consume us and change our world view to a negative one. In the end this only hurts us further.
Elizabeth Smart once said, talking about the man who abducted and raped her, “Forgiveness is something you do for yourself. If I hold on to my anger for them [kidnappers], it takes away a part of my soul.” Now, forgiving someone and letting them back into your life are two completely different things. You may forgive someone and never see them again and they may never know you have forgiven them. Forgiveness is also a choice we have to make multiple times. We do not simply say, “I have forgiven you” and then everything is fine. Instead we must choose every time to forgive knowing that it will allow us to heal.
Forgiveness analogy: Being offended is like someone having stabbed you with a knife. You have two choices; take the knife out and allow yourself to heal, or leave the knife in. If you leave the knife in, it will become infected and eventually the infection will consume you and take your life. However, if you remove the knife you can allow your body to heal. There may always be a scar, but you will not become consumed by infection. Removing the knife is like forgiveness because it keeps us from continuing to be hurt. Leaving the knife in is like holding a grudge. Eventually the pain, grief, anger, or resentment will consume you. The person who hurt you may not deserve your forgiveness, but you deserve to forgive them.
3. We must forgive ourselves. If it is important for us to heal by forgiving others, how much more important would it be to forgive ourselves? When we are the ones who have offended or hurt ourselves, it is imperative that we learn to forgive. If we cannot forgive ourselves then the hate, anger, and resentment we hold towards ourselves will keep us from loving ourselves. Ultimately, this keeps us from improving and becoming a better person.
What's the next step? Check back next week for Part 2 of this series.