Learning to Build Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is a precious, yet easily elusive tool to cultivate in one’s mind. You think you firmly possess it until moments of challenge or ridicule occur and your ego seems to implode in on itself. In those moments, you realize that your self-image was only ever hanging by a meager thread. Self-esteem has certainly eluded me most of my life. For years I never took the time to understand and achieve it through careful introspection and diligence. That is, until now.

            My self-image has always been loosely hidden behind a thin veil of false confidence and imagined archetypal identities. I don’t think much of myself when I really take the time to deliberate and gaze inwardly to the inner machinations of who I think I am. I have tried my best to suppress this inner monologue of self contempt but I can always feel it boil up to the surface when faced with challenge or ridicule from others. It’s then that I realize how fragile my self-image is, how it can so easily be tarnished by seemingly small situations or words.

            I suppose if I am going to overcome these feelings of inadequacy and see myself in a new, more empowered light, I need to understand why my lack of self-confidence has originated and festered. I have thought for some time about the roots of my self-esteem issues and I have narrowed them down to three main causes that seem relevant to fixate on now.

The first cause is my experience growing up in school and around peers. Growing up for me was difficult. I didn’t adjust well socially and I always felt awkward and distanced from others. I noticed a distinct change in my personality when I began taking Adderall for my A.D.H.D. around the sixth grade. I was much more quiet, withdrawn, and reserved. I didn’t have many friends and I was a noticeably shy child and teenager, which caused feelings of inadequacy to emanate. These feelings of inadequacy when compared to others made me feel a growing sense of isolation. Because of this, I concluded in my teenage years that something must be deeply wrong with me. My dad and uncle, who I was around frequently, had played multiple sports and were highly involved in their schools. The idea that I should follow in their footsteps was not overtly suggested as much as subtlety suggested, but still, it was suggested nonetheless. By comparison, I wasn’t in any school clubs, I didn’t play any sports, and I didn’t seem to be well liked among my school peers. As an introvert, my interests lied elsewhere it seemed.

I think growing up this way reinforced this notion that I was “other” and different, like being an alien dropped onto earth and forced to communicate and collaborate with the inhabitants. I think this caused me to harbor a secret resentment towards myself. I didn’t see myself as simply introverted and I didn’t value that I was different. I saw it as a weakness, as a sign that I must not measure up to the standards of society. Why couldn’t I just be well liked and accepted?

Having grown up now, I see the value in being introverted. I see the value in being different and going against the grain. I don’t think one should be liked by everyone. I think that is a vapid goal that causes one to conform to the whims of everyone around them. That makes for a miserable, inauthentic, and self-depreciating existence, yet the irony is that I seemed to need and continue to seek the validation of others. I thrive on it and when I don’t have it, it causes me to seriously doubt myself. It’s like I have intellectually matured out of these old beliefs about conformity and fitting in, yet emotionally I am still seeking out that which I had lacked most of my life growing up: acceptance from others.

This is a convoluted contradiction within myself that I am working to overcome in the present moment. I want to be liked by everyone from an emotional standpoint but from an intellectual standpoint I know that it isn’t achievable or actually desirable in reality. I am working to construct a different reality for myself where validation, love, and acceptance comes from within myself, first and foremost.

Self-validation and unconditional love for oneself is where it has to start and where it ends. Temporary validation from others is like a shot of liquor for the soul, it may be temporarily intoxicating, but in the long-term there is little to no nourishment from it and seeking it out regularly will only serve as a detriment to one’s health. I want to drink from the nourishing, sustaining fountain of self-love. I want to bathe in the fountain of self-acceptance. I want to reinforce the notion that I am perfect just the way I am, as with everything else in nature. What I perceived as weakness in childhood can now be looked upon as a strength, as uniqueness, as something that sets me apart from everyone else. There is no other place in the universe like me and I should embrace that idea for all that is worth! I have qualities to offer this world that only I can manifest, and that is a refreshing notion!

The second reason I feel I have grown to have self-esteem problems is the ways in which I was raised by my parents and subsequently, the ways in which I caved into their upbringing. Now this isn’t to say that my parents were bad parents, nothing could be further from the truth. They have given me love and support all of my life and I am indebted to them for most of the opportunities I have had in my life. I don’t want to implant the false notion that they intentionally gave me these issues out of malice or ill intent. I also don’t want to diminish my own responsibility in this whole matter for not challenging or questioning their methods and so easily giving in to them. I surely bare a large portion of the responsibility.

Having said that, I have to say that there is an aspect to their upbringing that helped solidify a self-image that I fell short of expectations. Growing up, I was what one would stereotypically refer to as a “momma’s boy” although it was both my parents involved in this. I was pampered and spoiled, everything was done for me and provided for me growing up. I was not allowed to fall and pick myself back up, to learn from my mistakes and become autonomous. There was not a harmonious balance in rearing me, in supporting me but also allowing me to venture out, to live independently and authentically. When challenges arose, if I had obligations to fulfill, they did them for me. Looking back, I feel like I didn’t have sufficient chances to be challenged, to succeed or fail, and to learn or grow confidence in these endeavors.

Now, this may sound like I am complaining about having everything handed to me. I am not, I understand how fortunate my upbringing was in a multitude of ways and I am grateful for many aspects of it. Still, not being allowed to work out problems by myself, not encouraging me enough to leave the nest, to jump, to fail and to succeed really had a lasting impact on my self-confidence. Over time, I started to develop the feeling that I wasn’t trusted to handle things by myself, that I was lazy, that I wasn’t reliable to achieve something on my own. It made me lack confidence to venture out, to take chances and risks, and it slowly dampened my encouragement to even try at all.

I consider myself pretty independent now, at least from my parents. I am financially independent and don’t even live in my hometown anymore. I have slowly learned to do things on my own, to problem solve, and to create and seek out new things I am genuinely interested in. Distancing myself from my hometown and my parents physically was a big step. The physical distance from my parents has seemed to nurture the emotional side of our relationship. I have adjusted well in many ways, but I seem to still be lacking in confidence. I question and second-guess myself on many occasions. When I feel like I am being ridiculed, I automatically assume I am in the wrong instead of looking at the situation or the person complexly. Situations and people are complicated and the idea that the problems lie with me and me alone is absurd, yet these absolutist, self-depreciating feelings from my past still make their way up to my conscious mind in various situations.

I still feel like I draw back to that past mindset so many times, even now. And I don’t want to simply blame my parents, they obviously love me and were attempting to do the best they could for me from their own understandings. Their parenting wasn’t perfect but my own persistence in letting them continue to do things for me didn’t help. I certainly could have demanded that they step back and let me figure things out on my own, but I didn’t. So, the whole rearing situation is complicated and multifaceted.

It is up to me now to work on subverting this mindset I have had for so long. It is important for me to understand that I am not a failure, I am not lazy, I am not helpless. I have shown in many ways that I can be autonomous and independent of their influence. I think it’s important to draw back to those feelings of accomplishment and gratitude on a daily basis, to reaffirm a sense of self-sufficiency and acceptance towards my own life and decisions.

Even today, when they try to do things for me that I know I can do on my own, I want to stand up and take full responsibility for those things. I want to slowly build a sense of my own adequacy, of my own competence. And I don’t want to be just good enough, I want to thrive! I want to imagine and actualize what I always knew I could be. An adventurer, a writer, a painter, a lover, a whimsical wonderer, a creator of my own life! It starts with self-esteem, believing in myself and the potentiality of my energy.

The third reason I believe I have further developed self-esteem issues is because of my marriage. I dated for three years before marrying my ex-wife. We were married for a year and then divorced. It was a very challenging time in my life and I had many delusions throughout the whole experience. I wanted to believe we were healthy and that things would work out, but it just wasn’t reality. There were many unhealthy components to the relationship that further dug me into a trench of self-loathing. For one, she did very little to ever validate my emotions when they came up. I was often made to feel weak and for not living up to her ideal standards of masculinity. It was exhausting and defeating.

I found the whole experience utterly disheartening and devastating. I was made to feel small and insignificant. It was an un-nurturing environment that caused me to repress my emotions, my feelings of insecurity, and ultimately myself. I found myself once again with overwhelming feelings of deplorable contempt and inadequacy. I hated who I was and I worked hard to change it. I was becoming more and more jaded and inauthentic and I repressed my emotions to such an extent that for a long period, I never really felt anything at all, other than anger and self-loathing.

Looking back, I realize that I experienced an abundance of trauma during that time period. Trauma that I am still working through today. I had completely lost sight of myself and was only a facsimile of an idea that she had for me. I had completely let her consume me, engulf me into something far from the home of my spirit. I was lost, stranded in a desert of failed expectations and forced identity that she had created for me. It was misery, and it contributed heavily to my lack of confidence. In fact, my already established confidence issues going into the relationship is what helped contribute to me folding into her demands so easily.

After tossing these experiences over in my mind, I have concluded that these three main reasons are a great starting place in understanding why I feel the way I do about myself. I felt separated from others, isolated in a world where I felt I did not meet other’s expectations. I was made to believe I couldn’t or shouldn’t do things on my own by having everything done for me and not putting forth the effort myself to overcome this gravity. I had a toxic relationship with someone who didn’t validate my emotions and was relentlessly condescending with not meeting expectations of manhood.

Again, I don’t want to give the impression that I am putting all the blame on other people. I take full responsibility in not putting forth enough effort in many of these situations, in not standing up for myself and understanding my potential. I am slowly understanding my potential now and I want to do everything I can to overcome these barriers I have laid out for myself over the years.

So as a result, these experiences have led to certain patterns of behavior I recognize now as insidiously limiting. These patterns include putting personal limitations on myself, making excuses for why I can’t or shouldn’t do something, letting other people do things for me that I can do or that would be a learning experience, lacking confidence to try new things, assuming I am automatically in the wrong when an argument or disagreement comes up, and distracting myself from feelings of inadequacy through unproductive or damaging means (drinking, smoking, endless cell phone distractions, etc).

These patterns of behavior are destructive and unhelpful. I have personal goals I want to seek out, I have places I want to explore, things I want to create and these thought patterns are barriers to actualizing a life I am proud of and one that is personally fulfilling. So now that I recognize what I have experienced and how it has shaped my patterns of thinking, I am working to destroy those patterns and to create new ones in their place.

For starters, I am starting to believe in myself now! I am grateful for this life and the opportunity and ability that comes with it. I am slowly realizing the boundless nature of my potential. I am slowly becoming appreciative of my uniqueness, and the fact that there is no other point in the universe like me. I have things to share and to create that only I am capable of, and that notion is powerful and empowering!

Going forward, I want to recognize moments of accomplishment, however small, even if the goal is to cook a healthy meal, to exercise, to sit down and scribble down a page or two of my thoughts. Anything little like that can be used as a moment of encouragement that can jettison me into a higher plane of consciousness where I am inspired and energized. Any moments where I am autonomous, I want to praise myself, love myself, and utilize it as proof to myself that I am capable, and not bound to the thoughts and emotions of the past.

I want to put my life in a context of understanding and compassion. I want to use the notions of time to serve me to the best of their ability. I want to know my past so that I can understand the development of my thought and emotional patterns. I want to be wholly in the present and take full advantage of each precious moment, transforming my energy from potential to kinetic. I want to image and viscerally feel a future where I am inspired, creative, and fulfilled! I want to meditate each day and carefully craft these ideas in my mind, body, and soul. I want to feel the power of my being and my potential. And then, I want to go out and be it! This energy I possess is precious and only I stand in my way from exerting my energy in all of its glory, from being utterly, entirely, and unapologetically me.

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