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Chapter 2 Self-Esteem

I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.  – Groucho Marx


Wow, this is such an important chapter, I can’t believe I didn’t put it first. But we had to talk about invulnerability to keep you alive and relatively whole before we could talk about self-esteem and it’s co-conspirator, self-confidence.  

First I’d like to be clear about the distinction between self-esteem and self-confidence, as it can be confusing. Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself, e.g., do you regard yourself as a worthwhile or good person, deserving of others’ love and respect. Self-confidence is how you feel about yourself with respect to certain specific characteristics e.g., your looks, your intelligence, your athletic ability, your acting or musical ability, etc. An extreme lack of self-confidence can be somewhat life-impacting by keeping you from trying things that you believe, whether accurately or not, that you’re not good at. If your lack of self-confidence is strong enough and pervasive enough that you feel that you’re not good at anything, it can leak into the area of self-esteem. And a lack of self-esteem is what can really get you into trouble by causing you to do things that you’ll regret later. Your reason for doing those things is to get some much needed approval and respect, whether or not that approval and respect is real or only perceived, lasting or only temporary. That’s really important, so I’m going to repeat it: 

A lack of self-esteem can really get you into trouble by causing you to do things that you’ll regret later, just to get some much needed approval and respect.

Although self-esteem is an incredibly important subject for people of any age, for teenagers it’s off the charts important. Low self-esteem is responsible for many of the bad decisions that teenagers make. So how does somebody with low self-esteem overcome it and make good decisions and have a good life?

Well, physical health is basic to good self-esteem. So clearly, you should eat well, get plenty of rest, and work out aerobically regularly. Work out at least three-four times/week for general good health and six-seven times/week to also achieve and maintain good weight. Doing just this will give you a glow that will help smooth out the highs and lows associated with being a teenager. Without it, everything will be harder. But, it’s not the total solution, just something basic that you can build on.

If you have good self-esteem, you will:

·       be comfortable with yourself – who you are and where you’re at in a wide variety of situations,

·       think well of yourself and feel that others should also, although the approval of others is not what drives you,

·       know what makes you happy and go for it,

·    never be unnecessarily cruel or unkind as these are generally traits of someone who needs to put others down in order to feel better about himself.

If your self-esteem is low, there may be quite a bit to overcome, for instance:

·     You may have emotional baggage from bad things that happened to you or are still happening to you. Since you’re not old enough or mature enough to know your true self worth yet, you may have formed a low opinion of yourself based on what others were telling you, or worse, from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. This stuff is very hard to overcome. If you’re currently being subjected to any of this, you need to get help immediately. Start by talking with your school guidance counselor. The conversation will be confidential, same as if you were talking to a doctor. She should be able to put you in touch with people that can intervene for you. Then you’re going to have to work really hard to overcome your abuse caused issues. Professional help from a terrific therapist may be needed. Besides that, I’ll tell you the same thing the psychiatrist tells the genius kid in the movie, Good Will Hunting: “It’s not your fault.” Realizing that it’s not your fault can be the beginning of understanding which is necessary before positive change can occur. The next step is to get past whose fault it is to what you’re going to do to fix it. It’s much easier said than done, but absolutely necessary before you can move on and have a great life.

·       You may have real physical issues or chemical imbalances, e.g., learning differences, that should be addressed by professional counseling and possibly medication. 

·     You may have an eating disorder as a result of being inundated with cultural stereotypes of what's currently considered attractive. Again, professional help is needed.

***

“If we are incapable of finding peace in ourselves, it is pointless to search elsewhere.” Francois de la Rochefoucauld

Get yourself together, become whole and happy, before you do anything else. This is job #1 for all teenagers.

But how do you become whole and happy if you’re not? Well this is a tough one, and my simplistic answer is this: be confident and fulfilled. So what’s that mean and how do you get there?

“It doesn't matter how many times they knock you down. What matters is how many times you can get up.” – David Ortiz a.k.a. “Big Papi”

If you’re not confident in your abilities, get out there and try. Try things that you’re good at and those you’re not good at. Fear failure much less than not trying. Mark Cuban, self-made billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks pro basketball team, says he was fired from more jobs than most people have held. And he was very rich at a very young age, and he seems like a pretty happy guy these days – and it’s not just the money.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Don’t worry so much about what other people think. Be true to yourself. Follow your heart.

"If you truly expect to realize your dreams, abandon the need for blanket approval. If conforming to everyone else's expectations is the number one goal, you have sacrificed your uniqueness and, therefore your excellence." – Hope Solo, Keeper, 2008 Gold Medal Winning U.S. Women's Soccer Team

My take is that happiness should be our goal. Think about what you want, what you like to do, what makes you happy, how you want to spend your time. I mean really think about it. The answer is often not simple or obvious so spend some time on this and be brutally honest with yourself. Write down your results – that helps make it more real. Answers like: “I want to spend more time scuba diving.” “I want to learn to fly.” “I’d like to paint, or play music, or act, or whatever…” are what we’re looking for here, i.e., specific things that involve you – not you and someone else.

  As much as possible fill your life with the things that you’re passionate about. I know a lot of life is spent fulfilling our basic needs, and I’m not saying that’s not important. That’s basic and necessary. But if that’s all or mostly all you’ve got in your life, it’s not good.

Make it a huge priority to arrange your life so it will allow you to indulge  your passions. You’ll be happier and more confident, and hopefully whole unto yourself. If you’re not nurturing your life’s passions, you cannot be OK. This is so not trivial!

“Real freedom is having nothing. I was freer when I didn’t have a cent.” – Mike Tyson

You’ve also got to understand at a deep visceral level that your physical possessions are not you. Your goal should be that if someone stripped away your physical possessions, there’d still be a whole, healthy person left shining from beneath all the stuff. It’s a major extension of “money can’t buy happiness.” (Note though, that not having enough money to pay the bills will almost certainly buy misery.) Work on yourself until you feel you can be happy without a lot of stuff and without people. I’m not advocating living like this, I’m advocating being able to live like this. Once you can, you’ll be ready to really live your life happily and successfully.

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

***

People who have low self-esteem, need to find some real things to make them feel good about themselves. Often they find the wrong things, e.g., promiscuous sex for girls or tough and violent behavior for boys. I’m generalizing here as there are certainly plenty of violent girls and promiscuous boys. These are clearly things they must deal with and overcome before being OK and able to move on in life.

A low self-esteem girl is more likely than others to use sex as a way to make herself feel wanted and valued. But she must learn to get her self-esteem from areas other than sex for two reasons:

1.  The increased self-value she gets from a sexual conquest is short lived and not real, i.e., she’s thinking: “If he desires me sexually, then I’m OK.” Never mind that he might have sex with anyone.

2. The self-esteem boost achieved through sexual conquest can’t make her the well-rounded, interesting person she needs to be in order to have a happy life.

There’s more help with getting past a sexual self-esteem addiction and finding some solid personal stuff to feel good about in the chapter on sex. 

For low self-esteem boys who are tough, controlling, or violent, similar thoughts to the two things we had for the girls:

1.  The increased self-value he gets from a physical or power-tripping conquest is short lived and not real.

2.   The self-esteem boost achieved through toughness will not foster any good long-term relationships for him as there’s a whole lot of other things that he needs to have beyond toughness to make him a good life friend or lover for someone.

There’s more on how to get past control and tough guy issues and on to some things to really feel good about, later in this book. 

***

Do you think that Michael Jackson was happy?

·       He had a bunch of people ready to turn his every whim into their mission in life.

·       He was incredibly rich and incredibly thin.

I’m confident that you answered “no” to my question, so don’t take it on faith that being rich, or thin, or famous, or whatever the advertisers and movies and TV are promoting as super desirable is going to make you happy. Being poor sucks and takes all your time. But being rich can be almost as burdensome.

What about having to fit a certain image e.g., the thin, rich, attractive image that 21st century Western culture glorifies? If you feel you don’t fit that image, you could have low self-esteem about that. But not everyone’s vision of beauty is what’s currently glorified. In times past, thin women were considered unattractive and full figured women beautiful. The point is: cultural versions of beauty change with time. Just because Hollywood and folks selling other stuff besides movies are pushing one view of attractiveness today, doesn’t mean it was always that way or will always be that way.

Nevertheless, it’s very difficult, especially for teenagers, to be strong, independent, and confident enough to resist the current view. They’re bound to feel at least somewhat badly about themselves if they don’t fit it or believe they don’t. This image selling happens using the absolute highest tech, totally irresistible marketing techniques. Generations of defenseless males and females have their financial status, self-esteem, and personal happiness negatively impacted by these greed driven image purveyors. To the people who create, perpetuate, and sell this image, I can only say, “It’s your partners, and sons and daughters that you’re affecting too, you know.” As well as, “You should be ashamed of yourselves, you greedy jerks!” Phew, that felt good.

Even within a culture, individuals will have their own ideal of physical beauty. However, some may be afraid to express it if it goes against the current cultural norm, e.g., someone who genuinely likes an overweight person but would be embarrassed to be seen with them. For this, the answer is simple: feel good about yourself and don’t worry what other people think.

“You can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself.” – From the song, "Garden Party" by Ricky Nelson

***

OK, time to talk about the bad treatment we accept from others because we don’t feel good enough about ourselves to reject that kind of treatment.

"I don't take this crap from friends, only from lovers." – Sandy (Teri Garr) to Michael (Dustin Hoffman), from the movie, Tootsie

The point is that if you find yourself putting up with some form of abuse, to try to please the abuser, or so they’ll like you (it could be a parent, sibling, friend, boy/girl friend, etc.), then you’re making a BIG mistake and you need to stop that behavior IMMEDIATELY. If you’re being abused, that relationship is destructive to you, and you need change it immediately – if it’s a friend or boy/girl friend, end the relationship, if it’s a parent or sibling, seek help. 

Feeling better, now that we're through,

Feeling better, 'cause I'm over you.

I've learned my lesson, it left a scar.

Now I see how you really are.

You're no good, you're no good, you're no good,

Baby, you're no good.

        From the song, “You’re No Good” by Clint Ballard Jr.


Do not spend your time with people who treat you badly – just DON’T DO IT! 

If you have low self-esteem, you just won’t believe that a really great person could love and value you, so you’re bound to continue to make bad choices for friends and lovers. The only cure for this is to work on yourself until you feel good enough about yourself to choose people for your friends and lovers who are good to you.

“Be good to yourself. People will only treat you as well as you treat yourself.” Mark Victor Hansen

Oh, and if you have friends or lovers who are alcoholic, drug dependent, a compulsive gambler, or extremely needy or controlling don’t even start that stupid crap about how they’ll still treat you OK, or how they’ll be different with you, because they won’t.

“You think you’ll be the guy, to make the Queen of the Angels sigh.” – Jim Morrison

I don’t want to hear that nor does anyone who knows you and cares about you. Just stay away from those people.

***

So let me tell you about my child rearing philosophy that helps to build self-esteem. If it makes sense to you, perhaps you could get it implemented at home, if it’s not already being done there.

First, about hitting kids – it’s a really bad idea. What about that “spare the rod, spoil the child” stuff? Well that’s true to a certain extent. But the research on the subject is clear: if physical force is used to achieve immediate ends, those ends can be achieved (if the kid doesn’t just run away from home), BUT, a bunch of unwanted, extraneous behaviors are generated that are NOT what was wanted. So instead of hitting, this is a time for open communication and unconditional love. The parent could ask the kid what’s going on, what they’re feeling, why they did or didn’t do whatever. Ask them what consequence they think is appropriate for their actions. Basically get a dialogue going and keep the lines of communication open, even if the parents end up giving in to the kids a bit. This should be done in a non-threatening way, where it’s OK for the kids to tell the parents anything without fear of any response other than unconditional love, understanding, acceptance, and a concern with what’s best for you. Oh, it’s also a REALLY good idea to have a deal with your folks that you can call them whenever to come get you, no questions asked, if you feel you’re in an unsafe situation – they just get you and bring you home so you’ll be safe.

Remember, when in doubt, it’s better for a parent to err on the side of unconditional love and spoiling kids a bit rather than alienation and strict adherence to rules while they’re under parental control. That’ll change the minute the kids are out of the parents’ house anyway, so it may not be all that useful. A kid who experiences unconditional love and is slightly spoiled growing up is going to be a whole lot more confident and capable of making good decisions when facing the world. I think that’s a much better alternative than a kid who toes the line in the parental world but who hits the external world with low self-esteem, isn’t that good at thinking for himself, and consequently is much more likely to take direction from his peers.

***

This is a very important chapter. Please reread it as necessary and understand it. There are a lot of takeaways here, but the main one, of course, is how to get over any self-esteem issues and become a whole and happy person, ready to make good decisions in the world and have a great life.



Tear out Pages for Chapter 2:

Self-Esteem


·  Eat well, get plenty of rest, and work out aerobically regularly to help achieve greater self-esteem.

·  Work out at least three-four times/week for general good health and six-seven times/week to also achieve and maintain good weight.

·  Having high self-esteem involves:

o being comfortable with yourself

o thinking well of yourself and feeling that others should also

o knowing what makes you happy and going for it 

o never being unnecessarily cruel or unkind

·  Things that may need to be overcome to achieve high self-esteem:

o emotional baggage from prior bad stuff that happened

o real, physical chemical imbalances that can only be addressed by professional counseling and medication 

·  Try things that you’re not good at and fear failure much less than not trying.

·       Don’t worry about what other people think. Be true to yourself. Follow your heart.

·       Fill your life with the things that you’re passionate about.

·       Work on yourself until you can be happy without a lot of stuff and without other people.

·       Base your self value on a whole lot more than your sex life or your need to control.

·       Your friends and lovers should always treat you well, or you should get rid of them.

·   If you’re being abused (physically, emotionally, or sexually), get help immediately. You can start by talking confidentially with your school guidance counselor.

·       If your self-esteem is low, you’re not going to seek out great people for your friends and lovers. The only cure for this is to work on yourself until you feel good enough about yourself to seek out those great people.

·  If you have a friend or lover or are considering becoming friends or lovers with someone who is alcoholic, drug dependent, a compulsive gambler, or extremely needy or controlling, don’t think they’ll be different with you, because they won’t!

·    Bad stuff that happened to you when you were young is not your fault. But understanding that it’s not your fault is just a first step. You still have to act to move past it, and become whole and happy so you can have a good life.

·    Bottom line: if you’re in a self-esteem damaging relationship with a friend or lover, get out ASAP and work on yourself. If it’s with a parent or sibling, get help.

·       Kid stuff:

o  Hitting  kids may get them to do what is wanted right then but it will also generate a bunch of extraneous behavior that almost certainly was not wanted.

o  The best parent-kid relationship features unconditional love and keeps the lines of communication wide open.

o   When in doubt, it’s better for the parents to err on the side of unconditional love and spoiling kids a bit rather than alienation and strict adherence to rules.

o    A kid who experiences unconditional love growing up will have high self-esteem, and be a whole lot more confident and capable of making good decisions later when facing the world or when dealing with others. That’s a much better alternative than a kid who toes the line in their parents’ world but who hits the external world with low self-esteem, isn’t that good at thinking for himself, and consequently is much more likely to take direction from his peers.

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