Strengthening our self-esteem means examining the old scripts our families and society have handed us, or that we created ourselves under their influence. That means learning to let go of some of the old scripts we’ve lived by, and write new ones that suit us better. We must learn to value ourselves, and try to be valued for who we truly are, and not the false fronts we present because of who we think we “should” be. This means dropping our focus on what we are “too much” or “not enough” of and focusing instead on what is our authentic truth, what we really do want to be and do: shooting for (and keeping steadily focused on) positive goals instead of avoiding negative ones, giving ourselves credit when we do things that give us pleasure or bring us closer to our goals, and turning off that infernal judge and critic inside our heads who so often sound remarkably like Mom or Dad, Gramma or Grampa, Sis or Big Brother.
It also means creating environments, in friendships as well as in our intimate relationships, in which we will get positive feedback. When we get a lot of criticism or negative feedback as children, we tend to be drawn to situations in which we continue to get it–because we tend to be most comfortable with familiar patterns, even if they aren’t inherently nurturing. We need to take responsibility for behavior that elicits validation. We have to change the way we feel about ourselves inside, but we also need to be drawn to more positive situations in which people will validate us, appreciate us, and tend to give us positive feedback no matter how bad we feel about ourselves at any given moment time. (This is not to say that we should avoid criticism, but that we should learn to focus less on avoiding criticism and more on getting — even if it means asking for — positive “strokes.”)
Developing self-esteem for many of us means learning that it’s okay to try to get what we need or want. And usually this means developing new communication skills. If we didn’t learn how to assert ourselves–and that means learning to distinguish between assertion (acting on our own behalf) and aggression (acting against someone else), now is the time to learn it.
First we must decide what we really want, then we must learn to ask for it. We must learn to express our desires directly instead of playing on our partner’s guilt feelings or compulsion to rescue us. We must learn to recognize our manipulations–and not let it happen. We must learn not to say “yes” or “maybe” when we want to say “no”. We may assert ourselves so meekly, apologetically, or passively that others either don’t hear us or don’t take us seriously, or we may wait so long to assert ourselves that we do it aggressively and with hostility, so that either it backfires and we don’t get what we want anyway, or we get it but we pay a high price (and later tell ourselves it isn’t worth it).
As you learn and use communication and nurturing tools, you will find an increase in your confidence and sense of self-worth, as well as an increase in your appreciation of your partner’s worth and uniqueness.
~ Lori Heyman Gordon