How do you see yourself?
Beulah, an older woman born in the South, cleans other people’s houses. She has little money, no car, and few possessions. Beulah is radiant. With sparkling eyes, she confides in me. “I’m rich. Can you believe it? I have seven pairs of shoes, one for each day of the week!” Beulah, who now lives in the South Bronx, surrounded by vacant lots and burned-out buildings, feels wealthy.
Her affluence doesn’t come from a big house. It comes from an inner sense of contentment that’s not dependent on the ups and downs of the stock market. It arises from a stable, positive view of herself. She is a deeply rooted tree that bends with the wind. Her branches are rich with foliage. Active in her church and community and busy with her grandchildren, Beulah’s yardstick for self-esteem comes from her many acts of loving kindness.
Self-esteem is a fundamental psychological requirement for well-being. While personality and temperament are primarily constitutional, self-respect, in part, comes from internalizing the positive views that others have towards us. Children and adults can’t change their basic character or disposition. They can learn to feel good about themselves.
Low self-esteem can arise from several sources. Critical family members, who are stingy with praise, can produce adults with little self-regard. These adults self-worth depends on the appreciation they receive from friends, family and co-workers. They feel like a leaf in the wind, pulled and pushed by their need for approval. In order to feel worthwhile, they need to be liked by everyone.
Lack of self-respect can also come from feeling unsuccessful. Accomplishment is often culturally defined. Adults who aren’t married or in a committed relationship by 30, don’t have children by 35, or haven’t achieved success in the workplace by 40, may feel bad about themselves. Our recent economic downturn has left many unemployed adults feeling bad about themselves.
In adulthood, men and women must develop their own yardsticks for measuring success. Adults must look within to discover their worth. Life brings change. Economic times get better and worse. Friendships may come and go. Children growup and pursue their own dreams. When self-esteem is dependent on the actions of others or world events, individuals are in trouble.
Self-esteem comes from becoming the person that you want to be, rather than who others think you should be. Reflection and self-examination enables adults to separate their values and goals from family and social expectations. Actions which speed men and women down their own freely chosen roads build a healthy sense of self.
Most of us want to feel better about ourselves. Looking within does help clarify goals and values. But this alone is not enough. Action is required. Deeds that are consistent with personal values, beliefs, and goals bring self-esteem. Courageous endeavors, acts of loving kindness, and helping one self and others improves self-regard.
What helps you keep proper perspective?