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The Positive Approach - Lesson 12


Self-Esteem

By Peter Shepherd

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Self-esteem is a way of being, thinking, feeling and acting that implies that you accept, trust and believe in yourself. When you accept yourself, you can live comfortably with both your personal strengths and weaknesses, without undue self-criticism. When you respect yourself, you acknowledge your own dignity and value as a unique human being. You treat yourself well, in much the same way that you would treat someone else who you respect. Self-trust means that your desires, beliefs, behaviors and feelings are consistent enough to give you an inner sense of continuity and coherence, despite changes and challenges in your circumstances. To believe in yourself means that you feel you deserve to succeed and - on the basis of past demonstrated competence and current resources - you have confidence that you can fulfill your deepest personal needs, aspirations and goals.

A fundamental truth about self-esteem is that it needs to come from within. When self-esteem is low, the deficiency creates a feeling of emptiness that you may try to fill by latching on - often compulsively - to something or someone that provides a temporary sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. When this becomes desperate, repetitive or automatic, you have an addiction. Frequently this attachment substitutes for healthy human relationships. It may also substitute a feeling of control or power for a more lasting sense of inner confidence and strength.

What difference does self-esteem make?
When we are high in self-esteem we feel good about ourselves. We feel in control of our life and are flexible and resourceful. We are able to make choices about how we run our life. We enjoy the challenges that life makes and are ready to take life head on. We feel powerful, creative and confident that we can 'make things happen' in our life.

We can realize our own potential by integrating all our abilities in a balanced and harmonious way. To each experience we bring our whole self and we integrate all our faculties. This 'holistic' approach describes us as existing simultaneously at the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical levels, and we bring all of these aspects to each of our experiences. For example, in meeting a new person, you bring the spiritual experience of your inner awareness, your connection with the life force that is you and your creative resources. Your mental energy brings understanding, empathy, perception and communication. Your emotional energy is expressed as feelings about what is going on and your physical energy enables you to actively participate.

As we all know, experiences can be subjectively good or bad. A good experience occurs when one has been creative - spiritual, mental, emotional and physical energies have been expressed in a balanced way - and this enhances self-esteem. You feel at ease and are able to 'make things happen'. You express choice and create the experience and so feel in control of your destiny. You feel good!

A bad experience, in which one has suffered in some way, tends to reduce self-esteem. If you feel you have no choice, if you feel 'trampled on' or a victim, you feel uncomfortable and out of control in your life. Things 'just happen' to you (or don't). So you feel bad.

When we respond to particular circumstances we can do so from a state of creative consciousness or from a state of victim consciousness. If you operate from a state of creative consciousness you are valuing yourself for what you are, right now, and not just for what you do or have done. Your sense of worth does not depend on having a high-profile job or having expensive possessions or being clever. Self worth has nothing to do with job status or IQ or never getting things wrong. In other words you are not worth less if you can't do something or things go badly wrong. This idea of intrinsic self worth is the strength on which true self-esteem is based. Demonstrated competence and praise enhances self-esteem but this needs to be based on an underlying foundation, where incompetence and criticism does not detract from intrinsic self worth.

This view of the world is one that allows for the creative experience of choice. We are free to initiate change and so can enjoy an action-based lifestyle in which we are able to communicate our needs clearly. Such behavior then reinforces our self-esteem.

Without a sense of intrinsic self worth you have a limited world view that provides you with little or no choice. This creates a reactive lifestyle in which you are always looking for the approval of others before you can act. Such a fear-based lifestyle results in unclear communication and consequent feelings of resentment, anger and blame. Hence the victim's lack of self-esteem is reinforced.

Improving Your Self-Esteem
Maybe you know how to 'look inside', feel relaxed and resourceful, but don't know how to bring this experience into material reality. In other words you can connect with your inner self but can't so easily act upon this connection - you can imagine and be inspired but can't put this into effect.

Perhaps you can act in a fairly spontaneous way but do not feel there is any more to your life than that which appears before your eyes. In this case you are finding it difficult to connect to your real goals and aspirations.

You may be very emotionally aware and sensitive to other people's feelings. If so, you are in touch with your feelings but does this gift work for you? Can you put your emotions into perspective so that you are able to think clearly and act appropriately?

Perhaps you are very good at understanding ideas and thinking rationally but your thoughts stay in your head and you aren't able to act upon on them. Or perhaps you find it difficult to express your feelings clearly about those issues.

Proper balance of self-connection, thought, feeling and action is the key to living creatively and with full consciousness.

The next lesson will help...

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Next Lesson: 13. Creating Self-Esteem
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