- Mental Health»
Building Self-Esteem: How I Learned to Accept My Mistakes & Shortcomings
Once upon a time, I was an annoying know-it-all who never admitted being wrong even if it was so obvious even a cat would know. (Well, maybe not but you get my point.) Not exactly a fairy tale, huh? And yet I lived the first two decades of my life in that unpleasant state. Why was I like that? To be honest I had no idea anything was wrong at that time. I was living life in a state of unawareness, going through the motions of life and yet not really grasping the full significance of it. Now after years of self-reflection, I am finally able to pinpoint the cause of my past negative attitude and behavior: low self-worth and low self-esteem. Allow me to explain.
Low Self-Worth & Low Self-Esteem
Self-worth is defined as “the sense of one’s own value or worth as a person”. When a person has low self-worth, he does not believe that he is worthy of love, respect, trust, etc. He cannot see his own value and at the extreme feels like his existence on Earth is pointless. Most of the time this lack of appreciation of the self is in the unconscious level, meaning, the person is not aware of it.
Self-esteem is defined as “a confidence in oneself, a satisfaction of what one is and the self respect that that confidence brings”. When a person has low self-esteem, he does not truly believe that he can accomplish anything to be proud about. Basically, low self-worth leads to low self-esteem.
Symptoms of Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem has many symptoms, being an annoying know-it-all is just one of them. Here are some of the other symptoms that manifested in me:
- I was quick to find fault in others, not realizing that what I hated the most about them was what I hated the most about myself.
- I was always blaming outside circumstances as the cause of my problems, playing the victim.
- I saw the world as full of people who did not care about me and so I convinced myself that I didn’t care about them either.
- I was numb. I did not feel emotion at times when I knew I should have felt worry, grief, sadness or even happiness.
- I was very competitive, always needing to be “right” and demanding to have my own way most of the time.
- I constantly compared myself to others, and felt inferior as a result.
- I was in denial of reality and daydreamed every opportunity I got.
Looking back now, I realize that I was (unconsciously) desperately trying to prove my worth as a person, hence the strong need to be always right and to know it all. Whenever people criticized me for whatever reason even though it was valid, all I could hear was “You can’t even do this right? You really are worthless.” And so my coping mechanism was to shut it all off and put up an impenetrable wall around me.
So how did I build self-esteem and learn to accept my mistakes and shortcomings? In my case, it started with me understanding why it was that I had low self-worth and low self-esteem in the first place. At the top of my list were:
- Our mother left us when I was about three years old. I was too young to remember anything, but this knowledge of being abandoned could have borne the unconscious belief that we were not worthy of her love.
- As a child, I suffered an experience which according to the rules of society was shameful, therefore I grew up unconsciously believing I was tainted.
- Growing up, I don’t remember ever hearing the words “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” or other words of affirmation from anyone.
After identifying the root of my low self-worth, I realized that it did not matter anymore. I learned to accept that my past does not define my future. And I learned to love myself. Now I am able to say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake” or “I’m sorry I was wrong”. I am more forgiving of myself, and as a result have become more forgiving of others.
Exercises to Build Self-Worth & Self-Esteem
Here’s a simple exercise to build self-worth. It’s from an ancient Hawaiian practice called Ho’oponopono. Look at yourself in the mirror, gently pat your chest and repeatedly say out loud to yourself “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.” The first time I did this, I actually felt a lump forming in my chest and I felt like crying. That is how powerful those four simple sentences are.
Another way to build self-esteem is to feed your mind with positive affirmations to replace the old negative beliefs about the self. Say the affirmations out loud every day until it resonates with every fiber in your being. This is one of my favorites: