Self-esteem as our autoimmune system

One way to look at self-esteem is to think of it as something we do!! Many of us walk around feeling more or less OK until something happens to trigger off our doubts about ourselves. Perhaps something we are building does not work, a friend criticizes us, or a lover acts cold. Suddenly we are struck down, much in the same fashion as we are when we are attacked by an overload of germs, biogens that produce illness. Suddenly these germs start to grow and multiply in the fertile soil of our doubt about ourselves, turning “I made a mistake” into the self-esteem dis-ease of “I am worthless”. The body, when attacked by physical biogen, must make anti-bodies to fight off the dis-ease that is growing in our bodies.  Similarly our minds must make antibodies to fight off the self-esteem dis-ease which has struck our psyches. Uncountered, our messages to ourselves of self-doubt, self hate, and self-devaluing can create a self-esteem dis-ease can last for hour, days, weeks (or even a life-time).

How do we produce antibodies, antigens specific to the toxic self-doubt? We have to do something.  We have to tell ourselves something different, something affirming, something validating. We must produce antigens that sound like, “I’m lovable”, “I’m good enough”  “Many people find me a pleasure”, “I have a right to my needs”,  “They are my feelings”, “I will decide for myself” etc. Each of us must create the specific antibody with the psychological immune system (the mind and heart) to fight the specific doubt that has been triggered and which is now making you ill. When you can actively counter your doubts with deliberate self-talk that precisely cancels the negative self-talk, then you have a strong and healthy psychological auto-immune system. Then you can do something each time a bug strikes you. When we do not know how, do not know the right thing to say, or do not even realize that we are having a bout of self-esteem sickness, we become swamped by our self-defeating doubt. So pay attention to your doubts.  Find out what you have been telling yourself. Consider out what you can say to yourself to counter your downward self-esteem spirals, then say this early, frequently, and loudly inside your head. If you need to, say it out loud to everyone. But do not let little insults, frustrations, confusions, criticisms, and moments of non-coordination make you sick. If you think you have psychological AIDS, then get some help to learn how to boost your psychological immune system. People can learn how to do this. People with high self-esteem have learned to ward off events that prick their self-esteem within seconds of the event and they almost never become sick with doubt. We all can learn to do this because, in truth and in reality, we are all lovable and we are all good enough. We first have to find this out for ourselves.

Developing our sense of self

One of the things we have to do to develop our sense of self and greater self-esteem, is to accept who we actually are, as opposed to who we are trying to fool ourselves or other people into thinking we are. This means experimenting, trying on different hats and finding out which one feels comfortable, exploring new activities to see which ones we enjoy and are suited for, taking chances, opening ourselves up — a step at a time — to the things we may have feared trying before. It means allowing ourselves successes as well as failures, seeing mistakes and crisis as opportunities to learn and grow. For many of us it means abandoning the belief that the alternative to being perfect is being awful.

Another thing that contributes to low self-esteem is having a feeling and at the same time having a rule against it. What happens is that you end up feeling defective because you’re feeling the wrong thing.  This is the time when you should look to see what your early messages were, not only from your parents, grandparents, siblings, and teachers but also from society as a whole.

~ Donald W. Adams, Ph.D.

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