Earlier today, during my usual Saturday morning reflection on the previous week, I became aware of the fact that the bulk of my time had been spent helping to heal people's fragile sense of self. From perfectionistic clients, who berated themselves for not meeting their unrealistically high standards, to loved ones who repeatedly put themselves down, it seems that all I was doing was teaching those around me about the importance of self approval and self compassion. When did it become the norm for us to be so hard on ourselves? To be so self-critical?
I will freely admit that I have been known to be guided by my own inner critic in the past. And that sometimes, just sometimes, my inner critic tries to weasel her way back to her perennial perch. It takes a lot of self-work to not get hooked on her unrelenting musings. So the question is, how does one build the all important muscles of self-esteem and self approval?
Some people will live their entire lives having extremely low self-esteem. They will never get to feel the joy that a healthy sense of self approval gives. Self-esteem is one’s own view of himself. It highlights the beauty of the person in the context of the world. Self-esteem is not seeing oneself as the best person in the whole world. Instead, it is an appreciation of the self as it is - as I like to say, warts and all. A healthy self-esteem is not characterized by overflowing overconfidence nor is it the lack of it.
What are the seven steps toward self approval and a healthier self-esteem?
1. Being Happy for who you are
People with a healthy self-esteem are people who view themselves as unique yet beautiful. Having a healthy self-esteem will make a person take the notions of the world regarding what’s beautiful or what’s not in a good light. He takes them into consideration, but the ultimate basis for his views is his own belief. A person may not be as good-looking or as talented as other people, but he can be as content as he can be under the circumstances.
2. Unafraid to take challenges
A healthy self-esteem will lead to self-confidence. People with healthy self-esteem are comfortable in trying out new things because they are not afraid to make mistakes, or make fools of themselves once in a while. They are aware that there is no perfect person, and that everybody makes mistakes, so there’s no reason for them to hide their weaknesses. Let me repeat the critical part of that previous sentence: there is no perfect person. We are not machines or robots; we are human beings. As multi-dimensional human beings, it's natural for us to have flaws, and to make mistakes, and to fail sometimes. A person with a low self-esteem would blame and put himself down continuously for the mistakes that he commits. So stop striving for perfection. Being unafraid of committing mistakes is an important part of self approval and self-compassion.
3. No need to prove oneself to others
People with healthy self-esteem don't feel driven to prove themselves to other people just to find self-worth, or to feel accepted. Doing so would likely make them feel restless in an effort to impress others. Such people often equate success with self-worth and finding true happiness. But there is more to life than getting a perfect score, shooting every basket and proving yourself to an unappreciative boss or critical parent.
4. See the beauty in you
Self-esteem starts from self approval; and self approval is built through seeing one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Mindfully observing one’s perceived strengths and weaknesses can be a useful tool in becoming a happier person and having a better feeling towards oneself.
5. Learn to let go
Let go of your mistakes and move on. Let go of your grievances and hurt feelings; they're only serving to make you miserable. Leave the negative things behind, and bring the lessons along the journey that is you life's path. If you dwell on a mistake too much, it would eventually burn every ounce of self-esteem left in you. So, let it go!
6. Learn to stop comparing
Stop comparing yourself to others. You are who you are and let others be themselves. Self compassion begins by learning to be empathic human beings. Learn to embrace others' imperfections; remember, they're human beings too.
7. Teach your inner voice
You know which voice I'm talking about... That little voice inside your head which usually lowers one’s self-esteem by dwelling on his faults and weaknesses. Speak to yourself in a positive tone. Always use positive remarks and try to leave out the destructive criticisms. One technique I recently recommended to a client is to imagine embracing that little voice with an over-abundance of love and kindness. "Thank you, little voice, for being so vocal and outspoken today. It shows me that you care about me, and I love you for that, and I am grateful to you." It's pretty amazing how this little trick of acknowledging our inner voice works to soothe the inner critic's source of anxiety. We all want to be acknowledged! Even our Inner Critics! So stop fighting with your inner voice, and try instead to greet her with kindness - she is, after all, a part of you.