Freeing Yourself from the Grip of Low Self-Esteem

self-esteem-wordleTo further our exploration of developing authentic self-esteem, I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Self-Esteem Workshop, a live, interactive videoconference, beginning Tuesday, August 13th.

In my previous articles in this series on self-esteem, we’ve considered how low self-worth surfaces as an array of psychological, emotional, and relationship challenges, and then we looked at how we misunderstand what we actually mean by self-esteem, seeking it in futile ways. We’ll now turn our attention to how we can free ourselves from the debilitating grip of self-denigrating beliefs and thoughts that script those lives tragically limited by low self-esteem.

I often assist my therapy clients in surfacing and articulating their core beliefs about themselves. Subtle or overt messages or treatment, typically in childhood, set up and mold our sense of self. Those who struggle with their self-worth have invariably secured negative imprints of themselves. These themes may play out in one’s head as “I’m not lovable,” or  “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not smart enough,” or simply ”I’m a loser.” Once we internalize these messages, we integrate these beliefs deeply in our psyche. The beliefs become self-fulfilling. Our potential as human beings collapses and narrows as our limiting beliefs of self become our truth. And we act out our lives correspondingly. Read more

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Low Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis

low self esteem

According to the National Institute of Health, one in every two Americans will ultimately be diagnosed with some form of mental illness. What’s behind this staggering rate of malaise? Aside from the psychiatric/pharmaceutical collusion that tends to overly pathologize normal life challenges and transmute them into mental illness, I’d offer that the primary culprit is low self-esteem. Yet the DSM – the psychiatric bible for diagnosis – offers no diagnosis of self-esteem. My experience informs me that marginal self-worth manifests through an array of dysfunction, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, ADHD, codependence, failed relationships and, even more tragically, lives lived out in mediocrity.

We focus on the more specific diagnosable illnesses that result from marginal self-worth because we have medications that treat them, notwithstanding their questionable results. But there is no pill to offer someone with low self-worth, so there’s no revenue to be generated. Moreover, as a culture, our intellectual proclivity is to focus on the symptom and disregard the underlying and perhaps complex circumstances that contribute to the devolving of a human life. This is due to our drive to over simplify and seek quick solutions to the very complex tapestry of a human life.

 

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Stuck in a Groove

For those of us old enough to remember vinyl records, we might recall that when there was a scratch on the album, the needle would sometimes get stuck in the groove. The same sound or lyrics would keep repeating. In the groove, the tone arm couldn’t find its way into the next groove. This is exactly what happens with our thoughts. They tend to keep reiterating the same messages, time and again. When they do so, we summon old memories and feelings and we become stymied in trying to change.

The replay of old thoughts and feelings indicates that we aren’t truly present. The past is not dead in these circumstances, but alive and kicking in the present as we continue to replicate the past. This is such a wasteful way to live our lives as we move from moment to moment – wanting for change – but not understanding how to achieve it. The continuous repetition of old thoughts and feelings robs us of new experience. As well, it deprives us of the discovery of new ways of being. The groove is where fear reigns supreme. Coming out of the groove is where self-actualization appears.

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What Is a Mistake?

My previous post, “The Problem with Perfection,” unraveled some of the mythology and beliefs about notions of perfection that limit and impede many people’s lives. They come from misinformed beliefs that detour, if not ruin lives. The concept of mistakes is the next step in our consideration of a life well lived.

The anxiety about making mistakes is very much rooted in the old paradigm of being as opposed to becoming. This worldview has us see ourselves as fixed and static, not as flowing and changing. This perspective roots us in the fear of making mistakes. The process of becoming is forgiving. In the flow of becoming we are no longer mired in the hardship of fear, insecurity or the notions of mistakes.

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What Informs Your Belief?

While I was in the midst of delivering a somewhat provocative talk on the subject of change, a gentleman in the audience indicated that he had a question. As he began to speak, it was evident from both his tone and his question that he was challenging the material that I was sharing. Simply stated, his core belief was that people don’t change, and he suggested that I was being an idealist. Little could he have imagined that I welcome the charge of idealism, for this is what inspires us to higher levels – and so I caught him by surprise when I thanked him for the compliment.

Nevertheless, his tone remained quite charged as he continued to assert his position. My presentation was evidently offending his beliefs. I noticed my reaction arising and felt a surging desire to prove him wrong and reveal the flaw in his thinking. Thankfully, I didn’t attach to my reaction. I witnessed the emotion and came into a space that permitted a more authentic response. In the space of a few nanoseconds I quieted myself and felt a question arising from within. It emerged from a deeper place and it took form in the words, “May I ask what informs your belief?”

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Getting Past the Right or Wrong Impasse

In the previous post we looked at how dominant the motif of seeking to be right is in our culture. It is one of the most singular influences on our behavior and our relations. Now we’ll turn our attention to understanding just how this prevailing compulsion to be correct came into being.

The way that we see reality is very influenced by what is known as Aristotelian thinking. Aristotle’s philosophy held that things were or were not, is or is not. This duality very much filters how we picture reality operating. This is known as either/or thinking. It structures our beliefs into a very simple posture. We therefore know of something only by including its opposite.

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Why Is it so Important to Be Right?

One of the most prevalent – and damaging – themes in our culture is the need to be right. It’s one of those essential memes that we take for granted. It is so deeply embedded in our belief system and in our collective psyche that we never even pause to consider it. It would really serve us to inquire why it is so compelling. Before we begin to look at that, let’s just reflect on how it impacts our lives.

From the more personal and mundane battle over who said what in the midst of an argument to the larger issues of politics, religion, abortion, health care, gun control or climate change, being right is mandated. It quickens our pulse, causes us to shout and can sever relationships. It is the raison d’etre for most acts of hatred, violence and warfare. Read more

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Does Familiarity Breed Contempt?

The expression “familiarity breeds contempt” is all too familiar. Yet, as the case with many common sayings, we might benefit from taking a look at whether or not it truly makes sense. When we don’t examine these beliefs they tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. Ordinarily, the expression “familiarity breeds contempt” refers to what often happens in long-standing relationships and marriages. Regrettably, over time too may relationships begin to see their happiness wither. Yet, the question remains: is it actually familiarity that causes this disappointment?

We might consider whether it’s familiarity that’s the culprit or whether something else is provoking the contempt. At times, familiarity may in fact pave the way for greater intimacy and love. After all, when the relationship begins and we open to emotional intimacy, we set the stage for falling in love. If a soft kiss, an appreciative hug or the simple feeling of being cared for becomes familiar, then familiarity in fact evokes and sustains love. In loving relationships that embrace emotional support and respect, familiarity produces a wonderful life. What we become accustomed to should become the focus of our attention. Read more

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What is a mistake?

Most people try to avoid making mistakes. In fact, many people experience considerable stress and anxiety around avoiding mistakes. We may labor and fret over this fear, which tends to block and paralyze us. Surprisingly, we don’t typically pause and consider exactly what we mean by this word–mistake.

Generally, a mistake is a decision, action or lack of action that we come to regret. We label this a mistake because it may cause us pain, struggle or loss. Most often, it takes us well out of our comfort zone and introduces uncertainty. We typically don’t care for the consequences that have befallen us and this is what we refer to as a mistake. The irony is that these occurrences we try to avoid are often exactly what we need to experience.
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Keep it Vibrating

Vibrating ConcreteA Recent New York Times science article informed that if concrete is kept vibrating, it won’t become set and retains a liquid form. This concept intrigued me and I considered that perhaps the same might occur with our thinking. Keeping our thinking in the process of vibrating would suggest, metaphorically that we wouldn’t fall prey to dogma or “concretizing” our beliefs. Moreover, our learning would be in a perpetual condition of evolving.

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