The ravages of low self-esteem

Low self-esteem creates a cavity of inadequacy and neediness where self-doubt, comparison and fear flourish and fester.  It becomes a feeding frenzy of never enough – never good enough, skinny enough, clever enough, successful enough, pretty enough, ripped enough etc.  Its appetite is insatiable and demands to be fed relentlessly and so we heed its demand and stuff it with more – more work, food, exercise, alcohol, drugs, retail therapy, social media, starvation – but still the cavity exists and the cycle starts all over again.  Depression, despair and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness is the result.  Worldwide, experts tell us depression and anxiety is on the increase and so is the use of medication to still and numb this hollowness. 

Taking the leap

Jumping off this cycle takes courage and dropping to the bottom of the cavity where eventually nothing works to quieten or dull this excruciating pain.  The journey up from here is long, arduous, marked by setbacks but oh so worth it.  Slowly, teeny bit by teeny bit the remnants if your shattered self can be pieced back together again until wholeness becomes a possibility.  This realisation is hard to describe and at first even harder to trust.  You wait tentatively testing if you can trust this new feeling of self-acceptance and self-compassion.  The rough edges become smoother as you start to meet yourself without judgement and criticism.  Phew!  This is real – it really is possible.  But like any addiction, and I believe self-loathing is a version of addiction, it takes acute awareness and consistent loving attention and intention to continue to live from this space.  Slowly the realisation dawns that we matter and are good enough, not in comparison or competition to anybody else but as an equal.  When this happens we are free to be ourselves; we can stop fighting, defending or trying to prove our worth – every single aspect of our lives benefits.  All the energy and effort we were using to feed the monster we can now direct outward to love, support, nurture and uplift others and the world around us.  This really is possible – I have lived with myself in this pit of despair and can look back with tenderness to that version of myself who simply didn’t know better.  I am now able to acknowledge the gift in my struggle and because of it, am better equipped to help others on this journey of self-discovery and personal mastery.  My struggle has provided my life with purpose and meaning.    

There is no quick fix or pill we can swallow for these lasting results, and there are also days where regression will happen.  Sometimes it envelops you like a cold dark mist and other times it whacks you out of the blue – expect it and make friends with it.  We all have our triggers; it is to know what our triggers are and pre-empt them if possible, and if not, to sit it out, taking comfort in having the tools to bring your ‘self’ back to your ‘self’.   It does require discipline and taking responsibility as well as a gritty determination that you are worth fighting for!  The process of building self-esteem really challenges us to examine the relationship with ourselves.  It requires that we make friends with the fantasy of perfection and coerces us into inhabiting a space of unconditional acceptance to live side-by-side with the essence of who we are, instead of being arch enemies with ourselves.   

A process – the realisation that I create my own reality

This presents us with an unique challenge, one that we will not find the answer to outside of ourselves; rather over time, we find the source by going inward to that hidden, foreign and unchartered territory of self-exploration.  When we deliberately choose this path the realisation dawns on us slowly that how we experience and respond to our outer world (i.e. our version of reality), mirrors the opinion of and relationship we hold with ourselves.  We are the creator and originator of our thoughts that sprout our choices and actions.  Who else could be?  Realising this is like having a blindfold lifted from our eyes.  This realisation can be scary at first but also hugely exciting.  Many beliefs we hold about ourselves have their origins in untrue assumptions that took root based on “opinions” (not facts) of mostly well-meaning adults when we were very young; too young to have our own opinion of ourselves. 

Life is neutral

Life outside of ourselves is neutral – it is devoid of meaning, pregnant with opportunity for us to interpret it either as a gift or a grudge.  Simplistically, life takes on unique meaning for each of us when we filter what is on the outside of us, through our senses and then our mind pulls it altogether referencing our experiences, beliefs, thoughts and feelings.  This becomes our story, our reality, our version of what is real for us.  But is it really ‘real’?  For the creator of this reality, it is.  But if it was really ‘real’ wouldn’t there only be one interpretation of reality?  My experience is that there are as many different version of reality as there are people on earth – this is what makes us all so different and diverse.  We have the freedom to choose our version of reality!    

How does it begin?

Someone who has grown up in a largely critical, punitive, unforgiving or neglectful environment is likely to believe they are unworthy and undeserving; their internal self-talk will reaffirm this view.  Their interpretation of the world will differ vastly from someone who has been fortunate enough to have experienced the benefits of growing up in a nurturing, loving, attentive and secure environment.  These children will see and interpret the world through loving eyes of unconditional acceptance, value and worth.  Don Miguel explains this so eloquently in the following quote – “Everything I believe about myself is because I learned it.  Every judgement is just an opinion, a point of view, and that point of view wasn’t there when I was born.”

Being free but imprisoned

Are you being held prisoner to crippling inaccurate opinions that were not yours in the first place?  Have you taken these opinions on as your own and now wear them as your labels, never stepping back to challenge the accuracy of them?  Has this thinking dulled you into a hypnotic state of existence wondering what your life is all about?  Nancy Kline asserts that “the quality of everything human beings do, everything – everything – depends on the quality of the thinking we do first” and our thinking is influenced and coloured directly by the relationship we have with ourselves. 

My invitation to you

If you would like to kick start your own journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-compassion, I would love to hear from you.  I have walked this path and know what is possible when you decide enough is enough and take a stand for yourself! 

The time will come

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other’s welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life. 

Derek Walcott

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