Mind Over Sports

Paths To Building Your Own Self-Esteem

Posted on: March 12, 2007

Here now are some steps you can take to build your feelings of self-worth. As you’ll recall, there are four basic paths to follow:

The first is one over which you have no control. It began the day you were born and has a powerful impact on the way you think, on beliefs you may have and actions you take in your life to get from point A to point B. It has far-reaching consequences not only for you but also for your children or spouse. Of course, I’m referring to the basic self-esteem you get from being raised in an environment rich with love and nurturing. Unfortunately, many high-risk children who are products of dysfunctional families are not getting the care and attention and the results show up clearly every day in drug abuse and crime statistics.

Now, some of you may be saying to yourself: “See, I’m messed up because my parents didn’t give me enough love.” Or, “I’m the way I am because there was so much turmoil in my family life at home.” For those of you who are chained to the past, one point very clear: You can change. You may not be able to change someone else, but you can certainly change yourself. You can create your own positive experiences, or you can live your life blaming others and not taking responsibility for your own actions. Every behavior has a purpose. If you’re not willing to let go of the past, you need to take a long hard look at: Why? And the reason may well be that you’re getting something from holding on to those issues rather than acknowledging them, resolving your feelings about them, and then moving off them. There’s a payoff for everything we do, or we wouldn’t do it.

This may sound cruel to some people who may have been abused as children, but if they are still holding onto the issue, say 30 years later, they need to look at: “Why?” But it does require that they change their belief system.

There are two types of self-esteem. There is basic self-esteem and there is situational self-esteem. Basic self-esteem is the kind just discussed. It comes from being loved and nurtured and having someone who genuinely cares about you. Situational self-esteem reflects daily up-and-down feelings we have about ourselves as we go through life. People who live their lives without the basic foundation of love and nurturing are those most susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, most susceptible to joining cults, and most susceptible to developing life-threatening illnesses.

Caring parents produce healthier adults. A national publication reported on a 35-year study that followed 87 Harvard College men into middle age. The study found that the perception of being loved by their parents when they were 20 produced the healthiest men at age 55. The study concluded the perception of being loved and cared for at a younger age may lower stress hormones and improve immune functions setting the stage for a healthier adulthood.

Now there are those who maintain if you don’t have basic self-esteem by the age of two, then you’ll never develop it. But basic self-esteem can be created at any age. All it requires is someone who cares about you and loves you. It can be a spouse, a coach, a teacher, or even a friend. Someone who will provide the nurturing and create the environment so you can change your life and create new directions for yourself.

Once when working with parolees from a state prison, one woman — a former inmate — questioned my statement that to build self-image requires someone in your life to love you and care about you. She seemed to have made the decision to straighten out her life alone, and was well on the way to making a positive contribution to society. She had a seven-year-old son she loved dearly, and who loved her. I’m sure having her own child, someone who loved her unconditionally, also contributed to her sense of self-worth.

Nonetheless she told me that all through her life she really never had anyone who loved her or cared about her — that she had made her own progress without anyone else’s influence.

But when we discussed her past in detail, she revealed that at one point in her life — after she had been released from prison — she had met another woman who subsequently became her close friend. In fact, it was the closest friendship she had ever had, someone she was able to confide in and share her innermost feelings. Her friend was someone who she genuinely cared about. And loved.

But three months after they met, her friend was killed in an automobile accident.

Her point was, since she had only known this woman for three months, how could her friend have had a lasting effect on her self-esteem? I asked her if she ever thought about her friend and she said “yes, quite often.” She had so cherished the relationship — as brief as it was — that her friend’s memory was always with her, always in her heart. Even though her relationship with her friend was brief, it was also powerful. And that the relationship had not ended with death, but rather, had only changed. The relationship was transformed. We sometimes think that when someone in our life becomes deceased, that our relationship with them discontinues . . . but it’s not true. That’s why, in a 12-step program, for instance, participants are required to write a letter to someone with whom they have unresolved issues . . . even if that person is dead.

One last point: if you have basic self-esteem, you have the ability to bounce back from hard times. For example, let’s say you were formerly the owner of a successful business but you experienced bad luck and were now on the verge of bankruptcy. You know you must take action to survive. If you have basic self-esteem, you will do whatever is necessary. You will take on any kind of menial job, because you have the ego strength to do it. Some people with low-self-images may have difficulty doing this, if much of their esteem is associated with the kind of work they do. But for people with the basic foundation, this is not an issue. And as soon as they begin working at the menial job, powerful forces take over, and their lives begin to change for the better. Also, when we experience difficult times in our own lives, it makes us more compassionate regarding the plight of others.

The second effective path to high self-esteem is the path of honesty. Total honesty. Total truthfulness. The more honest you are, the better you feel about yourself.

Many of us tend to withhold in our lives. We withhold our emotions and our feelings, keeping them deep inside. This withholding process, as pointed out before, is a form of lying that demeans us and lowers our self-image. As our self-image drops our performance level drops and we create psychological baggage affecting our ability to focus and process information. And, since “we see things as we are,” as our self-esteem declines we become negative, developing negative beliefs and thoughts that produce negative actions and events in our lives.

However, when we don’t withhold, when we are honest and truthful with our feelings and emotions, we develop a positive self-image, resulting in positive beliefs and thoughts that create positive actions and positive events.

The negative self-image cycle can be broken and reconstructed into a positive self-image cycle. But it requires work and time, love and caring. We need not become locked into any behavior pattern forever. We can alter our lives with a strong personal commitment to change.

The third effective path to high self-esteem is the path of bringing unresolved issues to completion. If issues in our lives are allowed to hang over our heads like a dark cloud, they too will create psychological baggage that affects our focus.

Remember, to dump that baggage it is not necessary to have totally resolved an issue. You need only to begin taking those first steps toward resolution. For example, if you owe someone a thousand dollars, as you begin to pay off the loan — even just a few dollars at a time — that action will have a positive effect on your sense of self-worth.

The fourth effective path to high self-esteem is the path of doing for others. It’s been said that “volunteering may be helpful to your health.” This is true. Volunteering produces increased feelings of self-worth, and as our self-image becomes more positive we are more likely to deal with issues in our lives, thus reducing stress, and lower stress levels keep our immune system stronger.

Now, before I get into an in-depth discussion of how these four basic paths can be applied in your life, it’s important to understand the power and impact that placebos and beliefs have on our health.

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