From the time we are born, we are completely dependent on adults around us for our existence. Fortunately, we are wired to respond to infants’ cries and coos with our attention, nurturance, and feedback. We learn from infancy that others have the ability and commitment to respond to almost our every need, if only we just express our pleasure or distress. As we grow a little older, we learn to take care of some of our needs. We also create new wants: that particular toy or package of candy, mommy’s attention to our creation (right now!). Fundamentally, however, children know that their existence and well-being is dependent on pleasing (or manipulating) adults figures. Up to about the age of 12, in my experience, kids can be influenced because they need the approval of the adults around them for their survival.
One of the bridges to cross as we enter into adulthood is learning that the approval of others is still important, but no longer is key to our survival. It’s a hard and confusing lesson. Most of our lives we have been working hard to gain the approval of adult figures, and suddenly, or gradually as the case may be, we find ourselves in a losing battle to please the boss, the spouse, the teacher, anyone with whom we have an emotional attachment. In the process, we might lose sight of our core values, our life purpose and mission, which lie buried under the rubble and scree of our many failed attempts to create self-esteem through the approval of others. Following this path, you may end up miserable, owned by the people around you, whose inner tyrants are invited to run your life as you seek their approval. This is the fate of one who seeks their self-esteem through the approval of others.
I wrote last week about how negative behaviors are overcome by incorrect beliefs. One category of such beliefs if “I must be seen as…” This is frequently the belief structure of one whose self-esteem comes from external sources: “I must be seen as a nice (helpful, caring, generous, compliant, obedient, trusting, happy, not angry, non-confrontational, not a ‘bitch’, essential, accepting, etc.). There is nothing wrong per se with any of these labels; it is just when we become handcuffed by them in trying to elicit the approval of others that it is dysfunctional. While I carry this belief around, I see others as threatening and judgmental, or alternately, they are my audience. I may feel anxious and afraid, or needy and stressed, or just plain overwhelmed. The world from this perspective seems dangerous, watching me, and judging me. When this happens, people are no longer people. They become objects: judgers, ‘the audience’, or simply, the ones holding the keys to our self-esteem. To the degree we live in this condition, our hearts are not at peace.
When you make a choice to allow your self-esteem come from within, where does that esteem come from? Close your eyes and point to it on your body. Most of us will point to our source, our heart. When your actions resonate with your core values, your esteem is high. You feel that integrity. Esteem is no longer dependent on circumstances, of who approves of your, or what grade you get. If you value hard work and preparation, and you study well for a test or prepare well and work hard to achieve a goal, the circumstances of the outcome become some feedback for you, but the feeling of esteem and worthiness arise from within you. That can never be taken away from you. Your sense of self-esteem must ultimately come from within you.
Do you struggle with disappointing yourself? Are you trying to please others, and losing sight of your values and purpose in life? Life coaching can make a huge difference by helping you align your head, heart and actions. Click here to find a coach.
Next week: Law #10: Give more and you will have more.