The core of personal power is self-esteem. Real self-esteem is not the image you convey to those around you, but what you are really feeling inside. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for faking it until you make it as the saying goes. But what you want is to get to a place where you have an unshakeable inner foundation of personal satisfaction.
Self-esteem, self- concept and self-attitude all refer to this same inner foundation of how you feel about yourself. As with so many other aspects of why we think, act and feel the way we do, self-esteem was developed during our earliest experiences as an infant and toddler then shaped further by subsequent experiences. If these experiences were nurturing and enriching, the product is an individual with a good self-concept and what we would see outwardly as self-esteem. If these earliest experiences were hurtful or neglectful, the product is a lifelong battle with low self-esteem that is typically accompanied by anxiety and depression.
As the brain is wired during these early experiences, the wiring that would be used to have a more favorable perception of the self and the world are discarded by the brain in its effort to be efficient and not have lots of stuff in there that isn’t being used. This is the same process that happens with our ability to learn a language, for example. Babies are born with the ability to learn any language on the planet or all of them. They can differentiate all sounds. However, when they begin to only hear one or two languages, say English and Spanish, the brain discards the neurons needed to detect and imitate the sounds needed for Japanese or Swahili. You can learn these languages later in life but it will be much more difficult. This is the same process of neuronal pruning that alters our perception of ourselves in one direction or another. If you are fortunate enough to have an environment that encouraged you to feel good about yourself you are more likely to make friends easily, handle social situations more adeptly, be more successful in your career and accumulate achievements that are meaningful to you.
If you drew the self-esteem short straw by virtue of an early environment over which you had absolutely no control, the news is less favorable than for your luckier peers, but not hopeless by far. You can improve your attitude about yourself and may already have done so. You may have figured out that therapy, exercise, meditation, visualization, spiritual studies or other interventions have a positive impact on self-esteem. Having a good support system is also very important. Know who your role models are. You can achieve a better self-concept, and the first step is consciously deciding to feel better about yourself and believing that it’s possible. You may be fighting early programming, but determination will prevail. Use the tools that work for you. I’m living proof that it works. I grew up with no father and a mum who unconsciously decided to carry on the tradition of abuse in our family that she learned from her father. I was an only child so I got the brunt of all of her unhappiness, which was in the form of abuse when I wasn’t being ignored entirely. My self-concept was rock solid that I was never good enough. If that doesn’t say low self-esteem, nothing does.
I had the good fortune of a life-changing event in my early 20’s that made me realize I wanted to have a different outlook on myself and the world. I went into therapy. I had always exercised as a way to deal with the sometimes unbearable stress- first through dance and gymnastics, and later with running and high impact exercise regimens. I eventually added spiritual studies, meditation and visualization. To this day, I experience triggers that reinvigorate my old “low self-esteem” programming, but now I know what works to get myself out of it quickly. I can’t keep it from happening all together, but I don’t stay in that state for any length of time. And more importantly, I no longer believe that I’m not good enough. My view of the world is that I am good enough and I have an important place here. My foundation is rock solid- not completely unshakeable, but not breakable either.
This is possible for everyone who wants to feel better. You cannot feel better, however, about the world and the opportunities it holds for you if you do not first feel better about yourself. Figure out which tools resonate with you and start with one or two. Identify your role models and keep company with them any way you can whether it’s reading their work, through social media or some other way. Know who your support system is- those who understand you and will be there for you in ways that are healthy and uplifting. I challenge you to be the “you” that you dare to dream about. Endless opportunities exist for you. You matter. I care about you and many others do too. As you care more about yourself, the world rises up to meet you where you are. I promise.
Feel better, feel good, feel great. Everyday matters.