The relationship that you have with yourself is the most important relationship of your life.
How you feel about yourself affects every aspect of your life. Your work, your relationships, your health are all impacted by your feelings about yourself.
Your work suffers because you don’t believe in yourself enough to go after the kind of work that suits you. Maybe your work suffers because your low self-esteem gets in the way of the work relationships that would help you progress in the workplace.
Your relationships suffer in many ways such as your low self-esteem stopping you from taking risks. You’re insecurity inhibits you from being the whole person that you are and so people only get to know a small portion of you.
When you don’t love yourself, you probably don’t take very good care of yourself. Poor sleep habits, eating poorly, allowing yourself to stay in bad relationships or environments.
But the most important thing that is affected by your sense of self is your happiness. We feel happy when we like who we are and we feel miserable when we think we’re no good.
At the end of your life, you don’t want to look back and realize that you ignored the one person who most wanted and needed to love you…and that is yourself.
Therapy can help you rekindle the love that you had for yourself when, as a child, you joyfully crowed, “Look at me. Look at me.” Loving yourself is your natural right. It’s better for you and it’s better for the world. Hating yourself invaded and corrupted your belief system due to your encounter with the world and the ways in which you interpreted those encounters.
Here are some examples of the types of conditioning that destroyed your healthy and natural self-esteem.
You Were Taught to Think Poorly of Yourself
Perhaps you were told overtly or covertly that you were not good enough when you were growing up. If this criticism came from the people that mattered the most to you then it’s not surprising that you would believe their words to be true.
Alternatively, being physically hurt by your loved ones leads to low self-esteem as you believe that you deserved to be hurt or that if you were better you wouldn’t be hurt. Traumas can create shame and the belief that you were somehow responsible for the trauma you experienced.
Additionally, low self-esteem may be inherited from other family members. If your parents feel badly about themselves then you may believe that you don’t deserve to feel good about yourself either. Families have belief systems that are passed down generation after generation in subtle ways. If your family was oppressed in the past, those feelings of being discriminated against and mistreated by the larger society may effect the identity of those family members for generations.
Incidentally, our current society continues to project prejudiced messages about race, wealth, appearance and so on that can teach you to judge yourself by those messages.
By giving you the time and space to explore the roots of your low self-esteem, therapy can help you develop a generous, positive self-image by teaching you to distinguish the teachings from the truth. Greater awareness will allow you to make your own choices about how you feel about yourself, freeing you from the critical messages of the past.
Comparing Yourself to Others
It’s natural to compare ourselves with others. As children, we looked at what others were doing as a way to learn how to do things. As adults, we still benefit from observing teachers or those that have mastered something we’re just starting to learn. There’s nothing wrong with admiring the gifts of another.
However, somewhere along the path of development, the progress and talents of others became ammunition that fed your self-criticism. It became so much easier to see what was great about other people and almost impossible to see what was great about yourself. Perhaps your value system became corrupted…only valuing attributes that you didn’t possess instead of valuing the strengths you did possess. Perhaps you have fallen prey to societal messages valuing the rich over the poor, the young over the old, one race over another.
Additionally, It’s not a fair comparison if you can only see others but can’t see yourself. In reality, you’re not actually seeing other people fully either. Your assessment of yourself is based on assumptions and half-truths. Getting to know yourself and others better can help you develop a more realistic, accepting and complete perspective. Group therapy is especially suited for learning about yourself and others and developing generosity and acceptance for all.
Fear Makes You Betray Yourself
You don’t hate yourself. You hate the fear that stops you from being your true self. In some instances, that anxiety is justified. In a big city like Los Angeles we think there’s more freedom to be who you are, but in some communities, coming out as transgender, for example, could be dangerous. An Orthodox family in Encino could be fractured by a family member choosing a different religion. But in other circumstances, such as telling your friend that you’re upset with them or quitting law school to write poetry, the dangers are less dangerous, yet still upsetting. The fear of conflict, or losing someone’s approval, or being ridiculed or rejected may be enough to make you choose to deny and repress your true feelings and desires.
When you live your life acting in ways that you think will make others accept you, suppressing the parts of your personality that you fear might be rejected, some core part of you may experience this false persona as a deep betrayal of your true self. Holding your true feelings inside and being angry with yourself for it can lead to explosive anger, self-loathing and depression.
You wish you had the courage to be yourself and just let the world have it’s opinions about you. But it’s hard to take that risk, especially if you’ve been hiding yourself for a long time. Individual therapy and group therapy, in particular, provide the opportunity to express your true feelings with others, building up your confidence to show yourself in your personal life.