Sense of Self and Self Esteem are often used interchangeably yet are not exactly the same thing and one does not ensure or insinuate the other. You may have a strong sense of self but if it is not a positive and/or healthy one it does not necessarily guarantee a good sense of self-esteem. Knowing who you are and what you want may not necessarily mean you value yourself or believe you deserve to be, do or have what you could be, do or have. What dictates your belief about yourself and what you deserve or not in this world, is what shapes, maintains, grows or destroys your sense of self-esteem.
How you feel about yourself is dictated by how you think about yourself and how you think about yourself is the direct result of your early learning and experiences. Rather tricky if you consider for a moment that what you may have learned and/or experienced may not after all be valid nor true. Imagine the magnitude of the consequence of this, visualizing the millions of people who go around the world at this very moment having an X,Y,Z belief about themselves that may have nothing to do with reality or possibility.
Lets look at the positive aspect of this now, which is that we can indeed question all these accepted, given labels and characterizations which have become our beliefs about ourselves and change them into ones that may better serve our best interest. Even though it is said that people do not change and this is partly true in that people do not change if they do not want to or see a reason to change, the truth is that people can and do change under the right circumstances and with the right motivation and incentives.
The thing is we believe those stories we tell ourselves about ourselves because we believe the people and experiences that shaped them in the first place. Yet what about if it isn’t true or it is partly true? What if we have not even gotten to discover our true nature and potential? What if we have just gotten comfortable in our given belief system and are too afraid to question it? Yes, it would require work, exploration, test and trial, failure and lessons learned, but wouldn’t it be worthwhile in the long run? If rigidity lends to a perceived sense of stability, flexibility lends to a sense of freedom, the choice is ours. Shall we stay stuck or shall we move on further and explore our potential and possibilities?
Many of us with traumatic childhoods and less than positive early environments and circumstances may not want to revisit our painful or unpleasant past and opt to leave it behind and focus on the present. That is all very well, yet if this strategy prevents us from becoming aware of what makes us tick and react the way we do in this world, we deny ourselves the chance and possibility to ever finding out why we act the way we do and how we could change less than desirable behaviour patterns and habits into ones that would be much more beneficial for our happiness, success and wellbeing.
Denial and rejection of reality and what is, does not usually bring the best results, and if so they are certainly only temporary. Knowing what has shaped who we believe we are and why we behave the way we do is key to earning our freedom and our chance to a better and improved future. If we keep repeating dysfunctional patterns of behavior, it is almost a mathematical certainty that we are going to remain stuck in a vicious cycle of dysfunction and poor results, feel miserable, bitter, disappointed and disheartened. Whereas if we would be willing and prepared to withstand a temporary discomfort by revisiting our past examining and discovering what were the dysfunctional patterns and how these were shaped and why, that could be our ticket to our possible better future.
If for example your early home environment and circumstances have caused you to feel invisible, rejected and unimportant, insignificant, powerless and helpless and you have suffered bullying at school because of it, chances are that this same pattern would repeat itself later on in your adult life at work, your social and intimate relationships.
If you keep on reacting from the same basis and feeling of poor sense of self and low self-esteem, you are undoubtedly going to repeat the same defeating behaviour patterns, no matter how much you think this is not the case. Your defensiveness, sarcasm and anger will not help you break the vicious cycle, on the contrary these defensive tactics will keep causing and attracting the same negative reactions from the world around you. Similarly even though on another note, your avoidance, silence and retreat will not save you from further bullying or becoming a victim or hurt yet once again.
As long as –because of your past experiences and learning- you do not meet the world on an equal basis, one of an assertive and healthy sense of self-esteem, the world will keep reacting to you in a manner that will reinforce and perpetuate your dysfunctional behavior patterns and beliefs. It cannot be said more simply yet more truly than that. Unfortunately or fortunately –depending on how you look at it- this is a fact of nature.
In the wild, animals know how to recognize which animals are weaker or feel weaker of afraid than them and they will attack. No matter how much a wounded lion may growl, the other animals know that it is all noise but cannot deliver. On the other hand no matter how tiny and weak a prospective victim may look like if it behaves in a fearless and confident manner, the predators will be less likely to attack it.
Same with humans, it is not what you look like physically, but how you feel about yourself that matters. It is the energy you radiate out into the world what the world reacts to. If you do not radiate your energy outwardly and if you do not have a strong enough inner energy, the energy of the world will find no resistance and enter inside you. It is a simple matter of dynamics.
When energy radiates outwardly it presupposes it is created from a strong enough center and it will be less likely to be resisted. This could be an example of a strong enlightened leader whose leadership is well accepted and respected. If on the other hand an energy is pushed by force outwardly without having a strong enough source it will be resisted and pushed back. This is the case of an example of a person with a low sense of self-esteem who acts as a bully, is rigid, dogmatic, defensive and angry.
If you do not believe you are important and strong enough within to be respected, whenever other people treat you in a way that you perceive as demeaning or disrespectful you will inevitably lash out in anger and defensively or aggressively. This will result in people counter reacting to you in a negative defensive, dismissive or attacking manner which in turn will reinforce your original belief and the vicious cycle will repeat itself. You will feel like you have been unjustly treated, victimized or offended and that will further increase your poor sense of self esteem.
In order to break free from this stuck miserable place, you need to do something different. Starting by questioning why in the first place you feel insignificant, unimportant, disrespected, weak and powerless. The answer usually lies behind the question: “When was a time you can remember where you felt this way?” This will open a door to your past and will fire up associated memories with that feeling and sensation of unworthiness, feeling insignificant, unloved, rejected, disrespected as a human being.
Once you open that little door to your past it will be easier to discern the causes, events and patterns that have come to create and shape the beliefs you hold about yourself deep inside your heart. It will become clearer why you keep telling yourself these stories about yourself and the world around you, why you feel the way you feel about yourself and the role or position you hold or not in this world, why you think the way you think about yourself.
With the key to the door of the source of the creation of your self-beliefs, you will be able to unlock the most important associated events and memories that have brought you to believe what you believe about yourself. One important thing to note: You may not believe you hold these beliefs about yourself, you may actually strongly deny it. This is because your rational mind is getting in the way and is labelling these thoughts as absurd. It is your body however that cannot lie, those gut feelings and sensations you experience when faced with someone who pushes your red buttons and causes you to automatically react to those triggers. That is when you know that ‘something has been touched’, that something is an unhealed wound, a vulnerable spot, a dysfunctional programming. That is when you know there is something there that needs to be looked at, addressed, changed, improved and transformed.
· The neglected child that was bullied which overreacts when ignored in the workplace
· The jealous sibling who felt he had to compete for mother’s love who acts like a bully, exhibits greedy behavior and is bulimic
· The shy child who felt invisible, was terrified and bullied who lashes out in adulthood when questioned or confronted
· The child of a large family who felt insignificant and unimportant and pretends nothing affects her and lives in her own little world, rejecting the world and having problems creating intimate relationships
· The abandoned child which feels like the world owes her and behaves in an entitled manner
· The abandoned child which is so scared of further abandonment that cannot get emotionally attached and create healthy relationships
· The child that was always told off as never being able to do anything right who overreacts when told how to do something
· The employee that felt so insignificant and good for nothing that does not dare to ask for a raise at work
· The woman who has grown up to feel weak and vulnerable and does not dare to chase her dreams
· The man who has been abused as a child and has anger management problems
· The daughter of a domineering mother who grows up to live like a bum and be abused by the men in her life
· The narcissist who puts everyone down in order to feel superior and safe
The list is endless, and most of us can identify to a greater or lesser degree with issues related to self-esteem. The important thing is to be open to the possibility we may suffer from poor self-esteem and to be willing to take a look in our past to try and identify the causes of it. Once armed with that knowledge, the route to recovery and to building a healthy sense of self-esteem, realistic, functional and self-empowering beliefs about oneself and our role in this world, we can change our patterns of behavior, practice and hone our new skills and give ourselves a chance to a happier and more fulfilling life.