One of the most common problems that people present with when they seek out the services of a therapist or counsellor (either directly, or indirectly, as part-and-parcel of plenty of other issues including depression, social anxiety, stress and more) is that of self-esteem, or confidence.
And the problem lies within the very term: self-esteem.
The dictionary definition of esteem is one of rating, worth, value, opinion and judgement and so, with self-esteem, you are quite literally rating or valuing yourself.
The more things you’ve got going for you; the more success you can evidence; the more trappings you can display, then the higher your confidence levels but, the more you get wrong; the more you cock it up, the more failures you can show, then the lower your confidence levels.
The trouble is we get it right and wrong and we succeed and we fail on a daily basis so, when you play self-esteem’s rating game, your confidence is constantly yo-yoing up and down.
Exhausting isn’t it?
Also, when it comes to confidence issues, most of us are rating ourselves in the overwhelmingly negative. So when things get really bad, the yo-yo stays stuck in ‘down.’
When things go wrong, people give themselves a global rating: failing a driving test means you are a complete failure; getting a few things wrong means you are useless; tuck a couple of failed relationships under your belt and suddenly you’re a total loser; sink into depression and you end up believing you’re completely worthless.
However, one psychologist, Paul Hauck, defines the self as, “every conceivable thing about you that can be rated.”
That definition includes your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and skills (or lack thereof), as well as your achievements, failings, body parts and more – absolutely everything about you from birth until death – everything you have ever done and ever will do.
And when you look at it like that, rating yourself totally negatively based on one or two negative attributes really doesn’t do ‘you’ any justice at all, does it?
If you can evidence any positives in your life, any successes at all, then it simply is not true that you are a total failure, just because you have failed your test; it makes no sense to judge yourself totally (as a loser) just because you failed in one or two relationships and it really does not help you to say that you are totally worthless just because you feel that you haven’t accomplished as much as you would like.
In CBT, we prefer the terms ‘self-worth’ and ‘unconditional self-acceptance.’
Every single human being on this planet is a worthwhile but fallible human being, and every single human being on this planet is a complex organism made up off many, many things; both the good and bad, the successes and the failures and is an on-going story that will contain many, many more successes and failures.
If you fail your test, it simply means you failed your test. If you fail it five times, it only means you failed it five times. You are not a total failure, even if you fail many times as the same thing; you are a worthwhile but fallible human being. You are not a total loser, even if you are unlucky in love; you are a worthwhile but fallible human being.
Human worth is innate, you are born with it, everyone is; and every human being is a fallible human being.
As your worth is innate, your ‘stuff’ does not add to your worth.
Getting it right, your successes and your achievements do not add to your worth. Sure, they are nice things to get, they are feel-good moments in the story of your life, but that do not add to your worth one little bit.
By the same token, getting it wrong does not take away from your worth; it simply proves you’re fallible.
If you learn to base your confidence on your worth, if you accept yourself unconditionally, warts and all; then your confidence levels are going to be stronger and more stable than if you base it purely on your achievements.
Everyone deserves to feel good about themselves, and that includes you.