People tend to think of self-esteem almost as if it is a product you can buy. Perhaps it is because of all the advertising which shows people smiling and feeling good when they use the products. Or, they think of it as a condition, like needing more iron in their diet or getting more rest.
Self-esteem is the result or outcome of one’s relationship with one’s self. It is a by-product of how a person treats him or herself.
Children are not born having a relationship with self. It starts with their relationship with others. Parents do things to them and with them. Babies and toddlers respond and react to the ways in which they are handled and cared for. Over time they develop a relationship with self from how they are treated by others. The quality of those interactions is a major factor in determining the quality of relationship a child develops with himself.
Children are not born loving themselves. They learn they are loveable (or not) by the experiences of being loved by those that look after them. At first, love comes externally. If they feel loveable, over time children internalize the love they experience and in this way they learn to love themselves.
Billy knew he was loved. As a baby, his mother’s eyes lit-up when she saw him. She talked to him a lot. She was always affectionate with him and took very good care of him.
His father smiled at him frequently. He spent time with him: playing roughhousing, sports and games. He taught him many things about the world and the way it worked. If Billy had any questions or problems, he knew he could always go to either parent. They stood up for him whenever they thought he needed support and gave him constant guidance. His parents did not have much money, yet they created a safe fun environment.
Billy felt loved, valued, understood, protected, and accepted. He felt cherished, just because he existed. He felt he belonged in his family. He felt good about himself, confident in himself and his abilities. To him, the world was an amazing place.
Sammy was not sure if he was loved or not. He had a sad mother. She took care of him, but she rarely smiled at him. She often did not look at him directly as she cared for him. She was impatient, yelling a lot. She was seldom affectionate, and she seemed to resent the time she spent with him. She read a lot. Sometimes she was okay, even telling him she loved him. But Sammy did not feel loved.
Dad was away half the time, and when he was home he was tired and distracted. He did not have time or energy for Sammy. When he heard his parents arguing, it was always about him. He felt like it was his fault, that he was bad, but he wasn’t sure how. The family had money, and it seemed to Sammy that money is what mattered, not him.
Sammy did not feel loved or valued. He felt he was a burden on his mother and father. He tried to be as good as he could to please his parents, but it rarely worked. He didn’t really feel he belonged to this family, more like he was visiting and it would soon end. He did not feel good about himself. He was unsure of how to be and how to act. The world was a scary place that he had to figure out on his own.
Each child comes to conclusions about themselves from their experiences of interactions with parents and others in their childhood. These conclusions may be accurate or inaccurate. Children do not even realize they come to conclusions; they are just living their lives. Some adults report specific memories of decisions they deliberately made as a young child. But most of the time, these conclusions are made without realizing it, get buried in the subconscious and operate out of awareness.
When a child has felt loved, valued and connected to the significant people in his life, he is more likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have high self- esteem. Conversely, when a child experiences lack of love and belonging, he is less likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have low self-esteem.
With care and concern,
Many people want to do the right thing. Perhaps even more people focus on trying not to do the wrong thing.
The problem is, it is not always easy to know what the right thing is. People disagree on what is right and what is wrong. What is right in one culture is wrong in another culture. For example in some cultures it is considered disrespectful to be late and in others it is considered rude to be on time. What is right for one person may not not be right for another. Times change. What is right at one point in time may not be right at another point in time. Frequently, we get new information that teaches us what we used to think was right is now proven to be wrong.
Also, being in the right is not always a good thing. For example, if you’re on the highway and get injured or killed in an accident, it does you no good if you are in the right and the other driver is in the wrong.
If you’re not going to think in terms of what is right and what is wrong, then how do you think?
Instead of asking if this is right or wrong, ask different questions,
Is this productive or not productive?
Is this healthy or unhealthy?
Is this helpful or unhelpful?
Will this make me happy or unhappy?
Is what I’m doing working or not working?
Is this constructive or not constructive?
Will this make things better or make things worse?
Is this respectful or disrespectful?
By asking different questions, it becomes clearer what to do or not do.
With care and concern,
For years I knew of yoga but I did not learn about it. I thought it was just about stretching and nothing more. I like action so it had no appeal for me. About five years ago I decided to try it. There was a yoga studio below my office and it couldn’t be more convenient.
The first few sessions I found very tedious. I kept looking at the clock on the wall – only 5 minutes have gone by. My mind was full of chatter. I continued and looked at the clock again – only two minutes had gone by. However, I kept paying attention to the instructor, listening to her voice directing me to my body.
It took about five sessions of listening to the instructor and paying attention to my body before something happened. Then, unexpectedly, in one session I felt a shift. I started to yawn and continued to yawn throughout the session. I experienced time differently. Time seemed to expand, and yet go by quickly. Time ceased to matter. The chatter in my mind stopped. My body was the focus in a way I’d never experienced before. At the end of the session I fell asleep and the instructor woke me up by gently shaking my leg. I felt refreshed and restored.
Now when I do yoga I know that to get the experience of yoga, I focus on my body. Sometimes it takes me longer than others to make the shift. But I know when it happens because I start to yawn and the sense of time changes.
I realized from this experience that yoga is a state of being. By focusing on my body in the moment, I shifted from one part of my brain (thinking brain) to a different part (sensing brain). I achieved the state of yoga through my body. Once I experienced this state of being, I gained a whole new understanding and respect for yoga.
With care and concern,
The first time I ever experienced exhaustion was after having my first baby. I had no idea what exhaustion felt like. I had had a difficult birth, spent 8 days in the hospital, and when I got home I just expected myself to carry on as I had before the birth. One afternoon a neighbour came over to visit and see the new baby. She asked me how I was, and I responded that I was fine. We talked some more, and she asked me again how I was. Again, I responded that I was fine. The third time she asked me I started to cry and couldn’t stop. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I got her to leave, and then I thought I’d go grocery shopping because I knew that out in public I’d stop crying. Well, I had difficulty paying the cashier for the groceries because the tears were rolling down my face and I could not talk. She couldn’t give me my change fast enough. Once I got home I had to acknowledge that something was wrong with me, and it took me a while to realize it was exhaustion.
Because of that experience, I learned that my body gives me signals about my level of fatigue. But because I had never been exhausted before, I did not recognize the signals. Even if I had noticed them, I would not have known what to do about it.
What I learned about myself. When I’m somewhat tired my left eyelid twitches, and when I’m very tired, I get a specific type of nausea. These two signals now guide me on when I need to rest. The eyelid twitch is a ‘heads-up’ to plan to get some rest soon, and the nausea is strong message I need to rest ASAP. I have learned to respect these signals and act on them. It prevents me from getting to the state of exhaustion again.
Pay attention to the sensations in your body and learn what they mean.
With care and concern,
Yesterday I had my regular bi-weekly full body massage. I knew it would feel good but knowing it would feel good and the experience of feeling good are two different things. It’s like, “Aaaaaaah that’s what I’ve been missing.”, but didn’t know it.
I often need massage because I have some injury from tennis, looking after my grandson or some other activity. But the best massages are when I’m fully fit and healthy. After several years my massage therapist knows my body better than I do. It’s nice having someone know your body so well. He knows where I carry my tension and works it out of my body when I didn’t even know it was there. He knows where I’ve had injuries and makes extra focus on those areas.
I enjoy deep tissue massage. Not everybody does. I like the strong pressure on my skin and muscles even when it sometimes hurts. The lighter massage feels pleasant but it does not impact me the way deep tissue does.
Yesterday, as my massage therapist was working on my lower leg, I was reminded of the experience of making passionate love in the past. I did not feel sexually aroused. The strong pressure on my skin and muscles made me feel – it is difficult to put into words – alive, present, impacted and loved. I did not feel loved by my massage therapist – of course we have a good report– it was the pressure he was applying that reminded me of feeling loved during passionate love-making in the past when I was touched that intensely. It felt good to remember.
During massage I find it difficult to stay focused on the part of my body being touched. I can do it for short times and then my mind goes off to the future or the past. Then I’m brought back to the present by the wonderful pressure on my skin and muscles. I stay with the sensations for awhile. It’s difficult to stay in the moment, but oh so satisfying when I do. I experience a pleasant kind of grogginess at the end of the session. I move slowly.
Humans need to touch and be touched. That’s why we love children and pets because they seek us out for touch and we get our need to touch and be touched by caring for them and playing with them. Couples frequently massage each others’ backs, feet and, of course, other parts. When my sons were teens, giving them occasional back rubs was a way I connected with them and expressed love without them thinking I was being soppy.
It is important to have regular massage treatments if you are not in a current relationship. Skin hunger can build up over time. Without intending to, people who are deprived often act out sexually (especially when alcohol and drugs are involved) and have regrets afterward.
In our current North American life style we often are too much in our heads – thinking thinking thinking – which disconnects us from our bodies. Massage helps us keep connected to our bodies and helps us remain balanced between mind and body in a healthy way.
With care and concern,
I read a fascinating book while on holidays titled, The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. He puts forward research results in easy to read language. As the title indicates, it is about brain plasticity; how the brain, animal and human, can adapt and change in amazing ways.
The one study that stood out for me was the one about monkeys. The researches tracked the neural pathways of a monkey from its brain to each of its five digits on one hand. Then they stitched together two of the digits. After several months, they tracked the neural pathways from the brain to the digits again. This time, the neural pathways of the two fingers stitched together had combined into one pathway. They then unstitched the fingers. After several months they tracked the neural pathways again. Sure enough, the united pathway had separated again, providing separate neural pathways for each digit.
This shows that the brain is constantly adapting to current changes, events and situations.
That gives us humans an idea how our brains change physically and even emotionally. When we make changes in the present our brains adapt.
With care and concern,
Once upon a time there was a woman, (I’ll call Jo) who was suffering from panic attacks. They occasionally happened at work, or in the early morning before she got to work. She said the panic attacks came out of the blue; she never knew when one was going to strike her. She would be sitting at her desk at work and suddenly get a wave of panic so intense she would have to grab onto her desk so she wouldn’t run out the door. The attacks were happening more often and she dreaded the next one. She claimed that her job was not the issue – it wasn’t difficult, just boring. Her main focus was how to manage the panic attacks. Her doctor prescribed some Ativan and referred her for counseling.
Panic attacks seem to occur ‘out of the blue’ but they really don’t. They are like a tidal waves, they rise up, crest and subside. The therapy started with helping her handle the panic attacks by breathing through them. This helped her feel less out of control. Then focus shifted to increasing her awareness of herself. She was so focused on trying to avoid a panic attack that she had lost contact with herself. She was focused on the symptom, not the cause of the symptom.
Her office job was a problem for her. She was not just bored, she was bored to tears. She had a dream of getting a degree in biology so she could teach, but she considered doing that out of the question. She couldn’t afford it.
Work was not the only problem. She and her husband were totally renovating their home and they were having lots of arguments about it. Money was tight and she needed her income. Quitting work was not an option.
As Jo got more in touch with herself, she realized the precursors to the panic attacks. Gradually she became so aware that she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck go up the closer she got to work. She no longer could deny how intolerable her job was.
Jo finally told her husband how unbearable her job was. To her surprise, he understood. Once the renovations were completed, they remortgaged, finding the money needed for her to go to university.
Sometimes people are distracted by the symptoms, which gets in the way of finding the cause. Other times, focusing on the symptoms helps them avoid what they do not want to face. People are often convinced there is no solution (which is occasionally true) so they bury their heads. But usually once they are clear what is causing the problem, they find a solution. Once the cause is identified, even though it may be difficult, appropriate changes can be made. Change is what is needed.
With care and concern,
Once upon a time a man who could no longer function at work. He was severely depressed on permanent disability. He said for years he would get up in the morning, put on his ‘Monkey Suit’ and go to work. Then one morning, after a particularly bad day the day before, he could not get out of bed. “I just could not face putting on my ‘Monkey Suit’ one more time.
He had all the symptoms of severe depression: no energy, sad all the time, lost confidence in himself, lack of interest in anything, felt flat or numb, felt like a failure, felt like he was being punished, highly critical of himself, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, thoughts of suicide, difficulty making the smallest decisions, highly irritable, difficulty concentrating, very pessimistic about his future and total loss of interest in sex.
He stayed at home and did nothing. He would stay up late at night and into the early hours playing video games or watching TV. That time of the night he felt no expectations, from himself or others, to be working. Also, he had time to himself as the rest of his family slept. Then he would sleep late in the mornings or nap in the afternoons. His doctor had referred him for therapy and finally, after six months, he went.
In therapy he talked about how he had never liked his work because it did not fit who he was. He had to act like someone else to be able to do it. He thought about changing careers but was not sure what he wanted to do. He got caught up in the usual phases of life and needed to earn a living to support his family. He felt trapped, so just kept on going – that is until he could no longer do it. His life was at a crossroads.
As he talked over many sessions, it became clear to me that he was very angry on some level, although he did not sound angry or act angry. He said he did not feel angry. I believed him. I knew he was out of touch with his own emotions. Every time he put on his ‘Monkey Suit’ he had to disconnect from himself and what he felt.
One day I gave him some homework. I suggested that he make a ‘bat’ out of newspaper – roll up a newspaper, wrap duct tape around it. Then find a place in his home where he could hit with the ‘bat’. I told him the ‘rules’ of doing attacking type motions.
When he came to the next session he looked different. His face had changed. He was animated. He told me what he’d done. He said he made five of the newspaper bats and took them down to his basement. He hit on a pole with each ‘bat’ until it was in shreds. He said after all 5 ‘bats’ were in shreds he lay in an exhausted heap on top of them. He had accessed his rage and channeled it onto the pole.
As a result, he came alive, reconnecting to his emotions. His emotions let him know what he liked and what he did not like. Gradually he started making changes. Over the next weeks and months he found a new meaning for his life which gave him direction. This led to a new career which was congruent with who he was as a person. No more “Monkey Suit’!
Sometimes, when we over ride our wants and needs, when we procrastinate in taking action to make the changes we need to make, our body shuts down and forces us to take stock.
With care and concern,
Once upon a time, a man whom I will call Charles, was deeply distressed. He had recently changed jobs and was confused about the decision he had made.
Charles had enjoyed the work at his previous job and was very successful at it. He and his boss occasionally disagreed on how to handle situations yet they usually worked things out. One day they had a particularly bad argument about one account. Charles was livid.
Charles was very personable, connecting easily with others in his field. As a result, over the years, he had received a couple of serious offers from other people to come and work for them. He was pleased about these offers but had not been interested in taking any action on either of them.
When Charles had this huge argument with his boss, he decided to look into one of the offers that particularly interested him. He got the job and gave notice at his current work.
At the time Charles came for therapy he had been in his new job for three weeks. Although he liked the work, he found it lonely. He worked on his own. He missed the work at his previous job and the people he worked with.
Through therapy, Charles realized his main motivation to change his job had been to get back at his boss. He felt his boss did not respect or appreciate him. His hurt shifted into anger, which acted like an engine, driving him to want to prove a point to his boss. He realized his hurt and anger had distorted his thinking.
Also, he realized how important the people he worked with were to him and how camaraderie in the work place mattered to him. Working with people he respected and enjoyed was part of what made him tick.
He deeply regretted his impulsive decision. He said that if he had been more aware of what was going on for him, he would have handled the situation with his boss differently.
The Job Decision Quiz is designed to help people in situations like Charles, avoid making decisions they regret. Sorting through the statements helps individuals identify factors important to them. It helps them clarify their priorities about work and the work environment. It also can point out where a person might be stuck or blocked in their decision-making. All this can keep thinking straight.
The best decisions evolve from knowing oneself clearly.
With care and concern,