“It all begins and ends with me.”
It could be the heaviest and most empowering thought that ever came into my mind. In Brave New Mind, I described a life-altering course I began with that very statement. It began with reshaping my body, which led to the idea that I could reshape my mind. Once I developed a realistic, healthy value system the functioned well for me, I noticed a change in myself that I couldn’t immediately explain.
I began to regard myself positively. At first, I had a great concern that I was sliding over to the manic side with delusions of grandeur. In truth, those states were the only time I ever thought highly of myself. But, I realized that those thoughts were reasonable. They reflected a new sense of self as my emotions started resonating with my behaviors.
What is this new feeling of confidence? , I asked myself.
Healthy self-esteem! The one thing that has eluded me throughout my entire life!
It begins with the new definition of values in our own cognitive systems. When these values begin to impact our behaviors positively, we start to generate positive emotions. It revalidates the values, reinforces the behavior, and continues to produce positive emotion. Eventually, it will impact our own image of ourselves. The concept of self is core to our identity. And our identity shapes our thoughts and behaviors. Those thoughts and behaviors affect how we feel about ourselves, or our self-esteem.
Our levels of self-esteem are determined on how we are reflected back to ourselves. Unfortunately, if we look toward external sources to provide that image, we are essentially looking into a funhouse mirror. That is allowing others to define, qualify, and quantify us. By doing that, we are surrendering our own personal leadership. It is up to us to provide our own reflections based on a healthy perceived self versus our actual selves. The closer the images become, the more complete we will begin to feel. Having a stable identity as defined by ourselves through our value systems is a solid foundation for building healthy self-esteem.
I am a person, just like everyone else.
By asserting the right to exist, we are asserting that we are people with value no more or no less than anyone else. There is no measurement of the value a person carries. A life is a life, despite how it is being lived. And all lives are valuable and sacred.
My thoughts and feelings are real to me and have significant value.
As previously mentioned, I grew up with societal attitudes that devalued certain thoughts and emotions, especially when they were expressed by children. I recall a number of dismissive phrases such as, “Stop being so dramatic”, “You’re just going through a phase”, “Grow up”, “You’ll get over it”, “You’re too young to understand”, “Nobody wants to hear you complain”, “You have no idea what you’re talking about”.
It was at that point that I started to allow people to dictate my thoughts and regard for myself. My self-esteem hinged on how others regarded me, and the tangible achievements I had made. I became a work-horse, eager to plow on until it became the death of me. It was all so I could feel good about myself. Truthfully, I rarely had positive feelings about myself. And when I did, it was so short lived because hoards of people existed whose sole mission was to take me down.
Self-esteem comes from self-respect. When we respect ourselves, we automatically instill worth into our existence. Asserting our own independent validation of our expressions is our way of staking our claim to ourselves. It is the very place that we take the reins of our identity and our self-esteem.
My needs come first.
I remember when my son, Beast, was a newborn. I would go weeks at a time without showering. I found myself skipping meals, because I didn’t have enough time or energy to prepare them. Sometimes, I would be too afraid to sleep. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to wake up when he needed me. Every moment of every single day revolved around my son.
I thought that compromising my own needs was the definition of a good mother. Societal and familial values place so much emphasis on self-sacrifice as a requirement to be a “good” person. If we didn’t constantly put others ahead of ourselves, then we were selfish and “bad” people.
Eventually, I developed a martyr complex and found myself extremely resentful toward the people around that were supposed to be helping and supporting me. Why weren’t they putting me before themselves? And I started to demonize them in my own images of them.
On an airplane, the emergency procedures instructor a person to secure their own mask before securing others. The same principle is applicable in our lives. Before we can be expected to assist and care for others, we must first take care of ourselves. We cannot expect another passenger to assist us, when we aren’t assisting ourselves.
During my period of hibernation, I became what I would have normally considered to be shamefully indulgent. But, I felt no guilt. I just couldn’t, because I had been running on empty for so long. Eventually, I started to regenerate all of the strength and energy that I had depleted over many years as a “good” wife and a mother.
I came to the best conclusion – I am actually a more productive, helpful, and kind person when my needs are fulfilled. Maslow was right after all. And the only person I should ever count on to fulfill my needs is me.
Every day, I make accomplishments.
My son has autism spectrum disorder. He has delays in many developmental domains. As a parent, watching him struggle to develop new skills is overwhelming difficult, especially when I witness his peers completing the same tasks with ease. Worse, I can see that he sees it too.
It has made me appreciate his achievements even more. Even the smallest accomplishment is monumental! Because, I have come to realize that there is no standard of measurement of “success” or “failure”. There is only progress.
I generalized it even farther to myself. Disorder or not, everyone is unique. Every perceived “setback” I’ve encountered was actually progress in an unexpected direction. “Failure”, as Thomas Edison would put it, is finding another way that something won’t work (paraphrased). And that is accomplishment in itself.
So, at the end of every day, I take a minute to celebrate my completion of another day of my life. It’s not about taking stock of how well I did, or “survival”. It’s the celebration of my life and everything and everyone in it, just as it is.
My weaknesses are not flaws and don’t have to hinder me.
Everyone learns in their own way at their own pace. While some people might find significant progress in one aspect of their lives, they are likely lacking in another. No one is highly skilled at everything. Everyone had their weaknesses and their strengths.
And sometimes, as martial arts have taught me, a weakness might actually turn out to have an advantage. I am a lot smaller than the greater majority of the class. I am also not quite as strong. In some respects, it could put me in a significant disadvantage in a sparring match.
But, that’s not necessarily true. Being smaller makes me quicker and more agile. My balance is a little better, so it’s harder for me to get knocked down. Even if I do, it’s easier for me to get back up. Once I started to develop a more positive spin, I realized how to refine those talents into advantages. I might never be bigger and stronger, but I can still put a 6 foot, 180lb man on the floor.
I am not a perfect person. Today, I am the best me.
The values “As long as I’m trying, I’m succeeding”, “Regular and constant practice are the keys to mastering anything”, and “As long as I’m acting purposefully, I cannot be acting recklessly” in combination instill the sense that we are constantly and deliberately practicing being the best us as individuals. It eliminates unrealistic goals and enforces individuality. Through that process, we are encouraged to improve ourselves based on our own value system.
There are no such things as “perfection”, “failure”, or being a “good” or “bad” person. We cannot be “better” or “worse” than anyone else. Those are all illusions, faulty concepts designed to deceive us into resigning our personal leadership to another. It is up to us to take ourselves back!
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Transcendence and Belongingness, Part 1 (jeremiahstanghini.com)
- Self-esteem Can Determine Your Performance (richcross13.wordpress.com)
- Focus on Your Self-Esteem (seymoursolutions.wordpress.com)
- Reciprocity, Self-Esteem and Positional Intensity (therapyandstuff.com)
- Self Confidence (samtreatmentdepression.com)
- The Seven Habits of Highly Emotionally Healthy People (psychologytoday.com)
- 9 Steps to Improving Self-esteem (seapublication.wordpress.com)
- Top 10 Reasons Maslow Had It Right (managingmindspaces.wordpress.com)
- Does Self-Esteem Function as an Emotional Immune System? (psychologytoday.com)