How To Build Self Esteem
Most people in my outpatient psychology practice come at this question from
the other side; namely, why is my self esteem so crummy? The answer to both
questions is the same.
Self Esteem is the product of years of accumulated imagery, feelings and
general messages about you, gleaned from myriads of sources, starting with
your parents and expanding outwards through contact with others in your life
over increasing time. The sum total of those psychological phenomena,
I call an "epiphenomenona." That's just a long word to describe how zillions
of mental and emotional inputs form in our heads, then precipitate into
something more unified.
It's something of a mystery how awareness does this but it happens pretty early
in life, often showing up as very individual responses to stimuli in the first
year or sooner. (Some folks think they can detect differences in personality
while their baby is still in the womb. This needs more studying...) There's
usually no question that we are unique by the time we first say "No" to our parents.
Our self esteem follows from this experience. We begin to compare how we are with
how others are. This gives us a metric to evaluate ourselves.
Even at this early age, we have taken in thousands of bits of information about
ourselves that are coalescing into a self esteem, good or bad. Understanding
this process is crucial to build a self esteem or at least understand why our
self esteem is good or bad.
Also crucial to our understanding is the bond between image (thought) and
impression (feeling). These are somewhat arbitrary labels, but the idea is
that thought gets fused with feeling at very deep, automatic, unconscious levels.
These later surface as crummy feelings when some event triggers a memory (thought
or feeling), which is paired with a good or bad feeling from history..
What usually happens is that something happens in our current lives and we have
an emotional reaction. This comes from the many pairings between the same kind
of events and the associated same kind of feelings we absorbed growing up.
Most of this also is unconscious.
To build a self esteem or just repair one requires the same re-pairing of
different feelings with new thoughts that override the old thoughts that triggered
the old negative feelings. The latter specifically refers to fixing a crummy
self image. To build a positive self esteem requires reworking the old
associations, or putting in new ones, but with a twist.
We can't just think our self esteems into a state of goodness. Nor can we just
wish a crummy self esteem to go away. The reason is that our associated feelings
to the events that formed our self esteems are deep, usually not in awareness.
We feel them when stimulated by current thoughts, but we usually don't know why.
We have to work at identifying the feeling, even when it feels uncomfortable.
We have trained ourselves to ignore much of this part of our psyches.
To fix this, we have to create new feelings.
I have a technique that I developed over the last twenty years that I call the
"Anchor Concept." It's about crafting certain thoughts very strategically so
that they produce laser like feelings that we want-positive, profound and
very deliberate.. We then use this feeling to do the work of changing self
esteem, one crummy feeling at a time. Each of our negative feelings gradually
becomes associated with then absorbed by a different feeling-one we choose in
the present, consciously.
This is the subject of my ebook on The Four Powers of Self Esteem.