I recently found out that I created my own self-esteem! Then I learned how to re-create my impressions of past events and banish negative mental images: it changed my life.
Self-esteem was a problem for me as far back as I can remember. I know now that I wasn’t bad, stupid, incompetent, unworthy, or any of the other negative descriptions I pinned on myself, and neither were you. Healthy self-esteem isn’t something we’re born with, like brown hair or blue eyes; it is an attitude that is learned and developed over time, and our interactions with people—especially our parents—teach us to evaluate our own self worth.
Parents will inevitably complain about their children’s behavior; after all, children have limited self control—they make mistakes, and push boundaries. Yet, even while feeling upset by their children’s conduct, parents need to remember to correct and criticize the behavior, not the child. The behavior might have been bad, not the person, but the child might take the criticism personally, believing themselves to be stupid or incompetent, rather than recognizing that it was the behavior being corrected.
All personal beliefs about ourselves are created inside our own minds, and we create the meaning of events in our childhood by our own interpretation of them.
We create the meanings of events, and those meanings create our beliefs about ourselves. Those beliefs about ourselves create our self-esteem. All of us create our own sense of worth (or confidence) by the meanings and significance we attribute to events in our lives. You can improve your self-esteem and re-create your life by changing the meanings and beliefs you ascribed to experiences you had as a child.
Improve Your Self-Esteem
There are four steps to changing your self-esteem for the better:
- Learn to recognize the negative statements you believe about yourself.
- Discover the events in your life that led you to acquire these opinions.
- Formulate alternative interpretations for those events.
- Relive the events using the new positive interpretations.
What behaviors do you criticize yourself about the most? Answering that question will help you discern negative self-beliefs. Then, think how your beliefs about yourself affect your behavior.
For example, I used to berate myself about not speaking up and giving my opinion or ideas during office meetings or even in casual conversations with a group of friends. I was afraid of sounding stupid or incompetent and feared that people would think exactly the same thing about my remarks. I didn’t really think that I was stupid—I just thought that everyone else was better and more important, so, my belief was that I wasn’t good enough or important.
Discover the events in your life that led you to acquire these opinions.
Look back to your early childhood for occasions where your negative self-beliefs were formed as a consequence of your hurt feelings. Since most of your early interactions with others were with your parents, that is a good place to start.This does not put blame on your parents; they were doing the best they could. Besides, you were the one who created those meanings, not your parents.
Formulate alternative interpretations for those events.
Write another version and put a different spin on those events by looking at the four W’s: Who, What, When, and Where.
Who was involved?
In retrospect, your parents were almost certainly the ones involved in those situations simply because the majority of your childhood was spent in their company. Perhaps pointing out faults with people or things was a personality trait that your mom and dad shared. If that’s why they routinely found fault with you, then their nit-picking was more a reflection of their own limitations, not yours. Understand that their criticism had nothing to do with whether you were good enough or not and that other people’s opinions would not have been as judgmental.
What were they unhappy about?
Your parents didn’t approve of your behavior at times, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t love you. Making mistakes is part of learning and growing; every human makes them. Recognize that there is no correlation between the occasional blunders you made and your worthiness as a person.
When did these events happen?
More than likely, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since those events occurred. Realize that you have grown and learned a lot since then. Your knack for overcoming difficulties and rising above the challenges that life throws at you has improved considerably.
Where did the events happen?
These incidents probably happened at home; after all, that was where you spent most of your early childhood. Remind yourself that the experiences that triggered your negative self-talk might have occurred at home only, not in other surroundings.
Develop at least four positive interpretations for each of the pivotal life events that you discover.
Re-live the events using the new positive interpretations.
With each incident, re-live it and replace your original meaning with the new positive interpretations. Realize that your parents’ shortcomings cannot limit your beliefs, self-reliance, or ability to succeed. You were—and are—good, smart, competent, and worthy.
If you truly re-live those past events, replacing the negative with positive meanings, you will feel so much better about yourself. That’s how you re-create and improve your self-esteem.