Does your critic or negative inner voice attack and judge you? Do you find yourself avoiding activities or situations that you believe might bring about the pain of self-rejection or failure? Do you lack self-confidence in your abilities to do some things? Do you feel less worthy when you compare yourself to others?
The capacity for humans to judge and reject parts of themselves can be enormously painful. To avoid negative judgments and self-rejection, we erect barriers of self-defense in our mind. Our self-imposed barriers allow us to feel safe but unfortunately limit our ability to enjoy a fulfilling life – to be open with others, express our sexuality, be the center of attention, listen to criticism, accept failure, ask for help, accept challenges or change, take the initiative to solve relationship problems as well as personal problems.
The way you feel about yourself and perceive yourself can be positively changed. Your self- esteem is simply your awareness of yourself; to be able to form an identity and attach a value to it. It is the total acceptance of yourself and how you feel about yourself in relation to others. It is the absence of judgment toward yourself and others. Developing positive self-esteem is the foundation on which you build your whole life. The following are some suggestions on how to strengthen your self-concept which I learned from an impressive book written by Matthew McKay, PhD. and Patrick Fanning, Self Esteem: A proven program of cognitive techniques for assessing, improving, and maintaining your self-esteem. In Part 1 we reviewed the importance of developing a healthy awareness. In part 2 we will discuss healthy ways to think about yourself.
Developing four healthy ways to think about yourself
1) Compassion is your most effective weapon for disarming your critic. When compassion relates to self-esteem it inspires you to be kind to yourself. When you make a mistake, you forgive yourself. You speak to yourself with words that show understanding and acceptance of yourself. When you talk compassionately toward yourself, you can wash away feelings of hurt and rejection. The following are three basic skills in learning how to be compassionate toward yourself:
- Understanding is the ability to know what you are most likely to do in a given situation and why you react that way.
- Acceptance is the acknowledgement of the facts. You suspend all value judgment.
- Forgiveness flows out of understanding and acceptance. You must let go of the past and reaffirm your self-respect.
When you understand you are doing the best you can, it becomes possible to accept everything you do without judgment. When you can forgive yourself, and let go of your mistakes, you can better accept your worth.
2) Develop values that are unique and important to you. Your beliefs and values have power because they spring from your deepest needs. Your beliefs and values are generated by your need to be loved and approved by your parents, your need to feel approval from your peers, and your need for emotional well-being and safety. When your values are rigid (the author calls them “your shoulds”) your critic uses them to make you feel worthless. Your critic is constantly comparing you to your rules and ideals of perfection; since you can never live up to the high standards of your rigid values, your critic has endless reasons to attack you as worthless. Also keep in mind that the rules and values you grew up with do not apply to you; they are someone else’s rules and values. To begin developing a more healthy attitude about yourself, initiate the following guidelines:
a) When you recognize “a should” as being used by your critic to undermine your self-worth, you must cut it out of your self-talk with a strong rebuttal statement.
b) Proceed to develop new and healthy values of which you can take ownership because you have decided they fit into your unique life.
c) Develop values that are realistic and flexible; realistic values promote behavior that leads to a positive outcome. Healthy values are life enhancing; they encourage you to do what is nourishing and supportive.
3) Reframe your attitude toward mistakes. As you grew up your parents corrected your mistakes. As you became older, you took over the job of criticizing yourself. The real mistake is allowing your pathological critic to point out mistakes as evidence of your worthlessness.
To establish healthy ways to think about yourself, you must alter your self-talk to believe making or avoiding mistakes has nothing to do with your self-worth; your worth is rooted in the unconditional acceptance of yourself. The key is to possess the ability to reframe your mistakes as a natural and valuable occurrence of life. Mistakes are nothing more than opportunities for learning; it is impossible to learn without errors, mistakes, and failures. It helps not to label your mistakes as bad, but more accurately as unwise choices and opportunities to learn.
4) Detach your worth from the words and actions of others. Negative opinions voiced by others towards us is damaging to a person with weak self-esteem; it gives their pathological critic ammunition. You must realize individuals can only see and criticize what is within the reality of their own minds. If you determine the criticism is inaccurate, you can point out the error. If the criticism is accurate, all you have to do is acknowledge it. Individuals with strong self-esteem are not boosted by praise or diminished by criticism. To advance healthy thoughts about yourself, you must learn to detach your self-worth from what other people think. Other people’s actions, opinions, and words do not determine who you really are. Your worth will always come from inside of you, not from the voices or actions outside of you.
We can all become who we want to be. We must start by developing healthy ways to think about ourselves. We must learn to be kind to ourselves; we must generate healthy values that are nourishing and supportive; we must realize our mistakes are blessings that enable us to learn and grow; and we must disconnect our own worth from what other people may say or think about us.
This topic is a three part series. Part 3 next week will teach how to develop the building blocks for a stronger self-worth.
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