I was desperate, angry and hurting. At 17 I was in my first real long term relationship, yet I felt hopelessly alone.
Life was just too much to bear and so late one night I found myself sobbing and searching my girlfriend’s kitchen cupboards for just the right knife to bring an end to it all. I was distraught, however I couldn’t find a pen and paper to write a note and the thought of my girlfriend or parents blaming themselves, for what I believed was my escape, probably saved my life that night.
Looking back, this was the starting point of a 10-year journey towards healthy self-esteem. I believe self-esteem to be one of the most misunderstood and misused terms in psychology.
The face of compromised (or unhealthy) self-esteem is often thought of as depression or ‘weakness’. This is not true or useful. In fact, many people who are considered highly successful, often celebrated for their talents, creativity and dynamism, also struggle with compromised self-esteem.
• Do you second guess yourself way too much?
• Do you have an internal critic that has too much power?
• Do you get anxious when things are going right?
• Do you worry that people are going to find out that you aren’t that talented, skilled or clever?
• Do you use arrogance and bravado to feel better about yourself?
• Do you use perfectionism to drive your work ethic even if it makes life difficult for you?
• Do you make the needs of others so important that there is no space to look after your own needs?
• Do you spend too much time worrying about what other people may think of you or how they may judge you?
If you’ve said yes to one or more of these questions you are probably one of the many talented people who have compromised self-esteem.
Where Does Self-Esteem Come From?
What helped kick-start my understanding of self-esteem was the Neuro-Semantics distinction that describes the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence and introduced me to the concept of the difference between being and doing.
Self-esteem – is the sum of your beliefs about who you are as a person – your self-worth as a human being. It is a value which is therefore not attributed to anything you do, offer, contribute or achieve. It can be changed and improved.
Self-confidence – is directly linked to your human doing – what you do. It is your automatic and personal assessment of how likely your are to be successful – given a specific situation or task.
Many people fall into the trap of trying to get their value through what they do: their job, status, car, girlfriend, money, reputation, being right, being liked, being clever, being better than others, being cool, being successful. However, having this type of conditional self-esteem can be very limiting and destructive. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can have and experience your self-worth without any conditions, without having to have, do or achieve anything.
How to Have Healthy Self-Esteem
So how do you have healthy self-esteem, especially if many of our beliefs about our self-worth have been with us for most of our lives and some of those beliefs are out of our conscious awareness? One way is through a technique called Scanning.
Through research I identified 10 core beliefs that create healthy self-esteem.
Believing you are okay no matter what, is one of those beliefs.
Here is an abbreviated form of Scanning that you can try out yourself, and even though this is a simplified version you can use it to make a positive impact in your life today:
- Think about then write down the answer to ‘What would it mean for you if you could fully and completely have and experience that you are okay no matter what?’
- And having that (that answer) what would that mean to you?
- And having that (that answer) what would that mean to you? Repeat this step until you are smiling or feel you are filled with positive energy.
- Imagine your hand is a hand held scanner where you are going to scan into every cell in your body this positive energy (from answering the ‘what would it mean to you’ questions. Face your palm towards your face with your elbow pointing to your right (if right-handed) or to your left (if left-handed) and slowly scan down from the top of your head to your feet. This should take you about 30 seconds.
- If you find a wobble, or a pocket of energy that responds somewhere in your body as a block, this is some belief that is locked in the body that doesn’t quite agree with ‘I am okay no matter what’. To translate that body feedback into something you can work with, ask yourself, ‘What is this about?’ and wait 60 seconds for a slow answer to emerge.
- If the answer is a negative belief, you can start to release it by saying to yourself, ‘I give myself full permission to let go of as much of this as I can for today.’
- Scan from the top of your head to your toes and back up again, and work with any wobbles you find, one at a time, until there are none left.
There are further steps for what to do if the answer reveals that you require some action or the answer is a mixture of positive and negative beliefs. For the sake of brevity, I have just mapped out the most powerful step of beginning to let go of negative beliefs trapped in your body. If you just follow this simple process regularly your life will start to improve.
For me the idea that we are born with healthy self-esteem was reinforced recently when I became a father and held my daughter Robyn for the first time. It was clear to me in that moment she was pure love; a clean slate who didn’t know anything about limiting beliefs or negative judgements. After birth, life happens and somewhere along the way almost all of us lose that sense of unconditional self-worth – now we have a way to claim it back!