Battling Ourselves: Self-Esteem

We claim we live to better our lives, right? Don’t we? Many of us do at least. Healthy foods, exercises, mental challenges to keep us young all dot our days but it doesn’t seem to quite cover all our bases. Thinking we’ve neglected the never talked about “mental health”, we may work to incorporate meditation, mindfulness practice, stress management and sometimes, more exercise. But still, we feel less than wonderful. Why?

Because we have passed over a very important aspect of ourselves that is vital to our happiness: our self-esteem.

I know, the thing everyone is talking about. “Be careful! Negative self-esteem can ruin various aspects of your life.” “It’s important to love yourself.” “Accept yourself.” If you hate yourself, you might become depressed.”

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Well! Thanks guys for pointing all of that out but how can I fix this? How can I avoid thinking badly of myself? *crickets*

Really, though there are some people giving advice. However, much of the advice is general or doesn’t look to remedy the point of the issue, just cover it up.

“Exercise and get in shape.” So, change my image and put a band-aid on the self-esteem problem until I relapse or have a midlife crisis and suddenly hate myself?

“Don’t compare yourself to others.” This one isn’t all bad but next to impossible to stop doing. This also won’t immediately fix it. I’ve learned to compare myself to others in a healthy way (a story for a different time).

“Tell your inner critic to be quiet.” When I did that he laughed into his megaphone.

Honestly, there are decent pieces of advice floating around out there but, as aforementioned, they are too general to help pinpoint the issue. Often, we get stuck falling back into a bad spot of self-esteem problems because we only smacked a band-aid on it or didn’t find every moment we bring ourselves down or are brought down. The advice might work well if we’re already practicing other self-love tactics. We already have more power over ourselves then and can more easily command our minds.

But I want to start smaller.

I want to look at Tag, the teeny, tiny, tagalong.

mosquito-23189_960_720.pngThis is Tag.

He seems innocent enough, a little doofy, not super smart. Don’t let looks deceive you! This little guy has a comfortable home at the end of a positive statement. Except, he sucks out the positivity by added a few words to the sentence.  He turns an accomplishment into a pit in our stomach. Tag invalidates our sentences. He invalidates us. By now, you must be throttling the computer screen wondering what I’m talking about.

All right, you’ve waited long enough. Let’s see Tag in action.

“I’m pretty strong, for a girl.”

“She’s in good shape, for her age.

“He’s pretty nice, for a guy.

“He’s really smart, for a car guy.

“I’m in great shape, considering I took off time for an injury.

Sound familiar? It better because I’m sure we have either used them or heard them sometime over our years here. I’ve found that they’re very common. I even use them, but I’m stopping. After I realized the harm they do, the culture they encourage, and the negativity they bring, I could not keep using them.

First off, wordiness is no friend of mine. That was what initially caught my eye. Let’s look at the wordiness of it.

“He’s really smart.” Fantastic! That’s all we need to say.

Let’s do another.

“I’m in great shape.” Awesome! What’s your secret?

But we don’t cut the sentences there, do we? That means they serve a purpose. Break it down more!

“I’m in great shape” But wait, maybe they think I’m not. I took time off to heal and I probably lost a lot of fitness. Maybe I’m not in good shape at all. They’ll think I’m cocky and arrogant. “Considering the time I took off.”

NOW we see Tag in all his glory. He’s just the culmination of the negative voices Buzz brings to us. Don’t take my use of the word “just” to mean Tag isn’t that bad. Tag gets to be pretty damaging.

These tagalong words destroy us and prevent us from having a healthy self-esteem. What these extra words do is detrimental to our psyche. They accomplish this in three different ways.

  1. We lower our self-worth.
  2. We do not own our actions.
  3. We pass it along to others.

The first one is the most obvious and it goes along with number two (lucky us). We are not owning our statement. Maybe we don’t want to seem arrogant. Maybe we are taught that we need to undermine our success because we cannot feel too good about ourselves. Our self-worth shouldn’t be too high. Whatever the case may be, we sabotage our self-worth. It’s taking a success (I ran fast!) and throwing it away (considering I’m tired).

If that is not bad enough, our brain adopts this as an acceptable way of thinking and before we know it, we are constantly telling ourselves that we are not anything special.

The second point is arguably more dangerous than the first. A progression from the simple, degrading phrase it gives us an out from hard work. I’ve mentioned I’m a runner in the past and something I initially struggled with (and periodically still do) was the voice giving me permission to quit.

It sounds like this, “Three miles isn’t bad. Not when I’m this tired.” I had meant to run four, but hey, three was close enough and the voice is right. I am tired. I did not sleep well last night. And I gave up, all because of the “not when”.

This phrase, and any variant of it, does nothing good.

It gave me permission to quit. And it didn’t stay on the track. It spread and spread until I realized I was not owning up to what I had done, or hadn’t done.

I had not ran to my goal. I had not finished my yoga tape. I had not edited my paper. I had gone off my diet by eating that cookie.

The excuses tacked on to the end allowed me to look the other way. Dangerous if you ask me.

The third and final form of destruction is that we force feed it to others. We might not even mean harm by it, but it happens anyway. Zoom in on it a bit.

“Wow, you look great! For just having had a baby.” You look good, but not that good. You have more work to do.cat-1937001_960_720.jpg

That’s the look you’ll get, and I’ll be mean for a second. You probably deserve it. If I said it, I’d deserve it too! It’s not kind. You’re diminishing all the work that they have done and lowered their self-worth, their confidence, their pride. Whatever you want to call it, that little Tag at the end of a positive statement is sucking the positivity out of the statement like a mosquito sucks blood.


Now that you know all about Tag, what exactly are you supposed to do to fix it?

Lucky for you, I’d never explain a problem if I didn’t figure out a way to remedy it.

Three ways for three problems:

  1. Cut out the last phrase.
  2. Own your actions.
  3. Rephrase without Tag.

Simple as that. Not even too complex!

When dealing with yourself, don’t include that last chunk. Go on and say you’re pretty (age doesn’t matter), or smart (neither does profession), or strong (equality rocks). You deserve it. Don’t negate your accomplishments. Let everyone else do that (kidding, but they’ll try).

This one isn’t fun. Own your actions. Tag might make you feel better like you’ve done something you haven’t’. He might even mask that you are not adapting your image to your new self (comparing yourself to 20-year-old you). Even if it makes you feel better, don’t use it. It is harming you.

It hurts a little to own up to what you’re doing, accept you might not be capable of doing what you used to, and being honest with yourself. But at least you are not lying to yourself. Hey, it might even motivate you to work harder and reach new, healthier heights.

The last one is two-fold. When speaking with someone else, don’t include Tag. That’s the easy way (and it is easy). There’s a different way too for you creative souls out there. Completely rephrase it.

“Wow, you look great! For just having had a baby.”

Try changing it to:

“Wow! You look great. I would have never known you just gave birth, you must have worked so hard.”

VALIDATE them. That’s the important part of this rephrase.

Part two of this: what do you do when you encounter someone saying this to you?

Politely rephrase it.

Buzz the bee tip no. 6: You do not have to accept their negativity.

Don’t just rephrase it, rephrase it with confidence.

“You look great for your age.”

“Yeah! I do look great!”

You deserve respect, so command it.

Ultimately that’s what this is about, respect. Command respect from yourself, from others. Tag is a little guy and easy to get rid of. So you get rid of him!

And start respecting YOU.

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