the practice of self-esteem

Submitted by la miller on 16 April, 2009 - 13:50

As I’ve move my mind into thinking of myself as a writer, I’ve had to square up with my self-esteem issues. These, of course, come up in other places, in relationships, at jobs, traveling, etc., but since I’m writing this for public consumption, I guess I’m approaching it from the point of view of accepting myself as a writer. These are a few of my thoughts, written quickly this morning. They may be incomplete, and I’m sure there are typos, but I wanted to get something down about this.

In writing for me, low self-esteem is either thinking no one is interesting in what I’m writing or not being able to honestly express what I’m really thinking in a piece. If I let either of these things get in the way, my writing suffers. I know it. So, how do I get over it?

Our culture and upbringing are rich with experiences that push down or rob our feelings that we are worth something. I think it’s important to examine those reasons in our lives, so we have an understanding of these negative dynamics. But understanding what was done, doesn’t mean that one’s self-esteem is going to rebound on its own.

From my personal observations of self, I’ve seen my just how habitual my negative thoughts of self are. If anything, I’m more responsible for my low self-esteem than anyone else. I’ve re-enforced these feeling of being worthless time and time again. It’s a bad habit, kind of like cigarette smoking.

So how does one stop? Simple resolve to be different isn’t enough. I’m looking at trained behavior—well-worn neural pathways. It’s a rut of self-loathing and to get on a different road means work, dedication, time and probably some faith. It takes practice to develop healthy and balanced self-esteem.

Any serious cellist, soccer player or yogini can tell you about practice. If you’ve never practiced anything before, the not-so-obvious part of doing something over and over again is that you are actually paying close attention to what you are doing. To practice well, you have an engaged observing consciousness keeping track of what’s happening. It’s a cool presence, even in a heated moment. And I’m guessing the consciousness is attending to different things based on what is being practiced, but in all cases a consciousness is present as a monitor.

Does that make sense? In order for practice to be beneficial, you’ve got to be aware enough of what you’re doing to make adjustments and notice how the adjustment feels so that it is what becomes “natural.” As a writer, I’m always considering whether the words I’m using truly represent the concept or feeling I’m attempting to communicate. Precision, whether as a writer, musician or athlete, takes awareness.

What we’re all practicing is technique. Getting back to low self-esteem, for those of us habituated to it, we need awareness and techniques to practice becoming the confident and well grounded people that we want to be. And we need to be accepting of where we’re starting from and not blame ourselves for the wounds and pains and doubts. We could think of it as our karma or just how things, but once we see clearly what’s going on and accept it without heaping any self-abuse on the situation, we can start to practice.

I’m not going to talk about techniques just now. But many are out there or you could develop your own. What I want to conclude with are thoughts about dedication. Changing how you feel about yourself takes time. Few people quit smoking one time. Similarly, few people stop feeling unworthy all at once. Instead you watch yourself, notice those feelings and use your techniques to go in a different direction. Or if you know of certain situations that always re-enforce low self-esteem, maybe avoid them until your stronger. Like a smoker avoiding a bar.

The hard part for me is that the low and rutted road is so familiar. Sometimes all I want is to curl up in my misery, because I’ve done it so many times before. That’s when I need to be most aware and most willing to apply my techniques and to have faith that it does make a difference. And if I can’t will myself to do it, then I accept that I’m not there yet. And I don’t make it worse by thinking I’m weak or completely broken. I’m a human, flawed, but like all humans I’m adaptable. I can change.

I might be fighting this battle, willing myself to change, for the rest of my life. I’ve noticed that I don’t like that idea. I think I have a hard time with it because I’m so used to instant gratification and escapist distractions. I bristle at the thought that something will be hard work over a long time. So, I’ve got to work on changing my feelings about that too, and those feelings are definitely tied into self-esteem.

Below all this is the question of motivation. Why would someone want to change how she feels about herself? I’ve had to answer this question for myself before starting to make progress on changing my self-esteem. For me, there is a spiritual aspect to what motivates me. And I think that’s where I draw the strength of will to continue to practice and to have faith. Inspiration is something I’m only beginning to understand, but I like it.

I guess my point today is changing low self-esteem to a healthy and balanced esteem for oneself is work. Like losing weigh or developing body strength, it takes time and consistent effort. Nobody likes hearing that. So to have the dedication to engage in the process, we need to be clear on our motivation and be able to draw inspiration from it.

Did it take me all those words to get to that last paragraph? Well, here’s to thinking out loud.