“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.

Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away”.

Henry David Thoreau

What is Self-Esteem?

People often talk about their ‘physical core’ and the need to work on it. Each of us shares another ‘core’ – our sense of self, our self-worth; our self-esteem. Our self-esteem is our core belief about ourselves. People can confuse a good sense of self-esteem with an arrogance or ‘having tickets on yourself’ but true esteem is nothing like arrogance.
Why is self-esteem so important?
Esteem is like a tree. When its trunk is strong with roots reaching deep down into the earth it can withstand the storms of life, can reach out and grow and welcome others into its branches. But when the roots are shallow and malnourished the tree withers, it becomes susceptible to damage from the elements and loses battles with weeds that suck away its best nutrients.
When you begin to question your sense of self, the flow on effects are significant. Lack of a true sense of self can lead to;

  1.    Constantly comparing self with others
  2.    Marching to someone else’s drum
  3.    Never being good enough in your own eyes
  4.    Confused priorities
  5.    An inability to be truly intimate in a relationship
  6.     A needy and or selfish approach towards life

Sadly self-esteem has become a confused subject among men. We have this crazy illogical belief that ‘real men’ (whatever that term is supposed to mean) are never weak, never vulnerable and at all times and in all places must have it all together. This is bullshit. An essential part of life and being human is we face limitations in our self and overcoming them is what makes the journey so challenging and rewarding. We all have feet of clay. It is not about being perfect. When we are aware of our current weakness and limitations this opens the door to deeper growth, where we shed the victim person and grow stronger and wiser. But it is when we ignore them or become the victim that our esteem suffers.

Where does our sense of self come from?

Our childhood is a significant time for us all in shaping our esteem. We tend to take the messages through the responses and body language of others very personally. At this time the set of inner beliefs we carry about ourselves if formed through our infant eyes and ears. These inner beliefs most often take the form of labels. “You’re useless!”, “Can’t you do anything right!”, “After all I that have done for you!” – These kinds of negative labels limit and are never based upon reality. Conversely, sometimes as kids we’ll have an extraordinarily good moment or experience that invests heavily in our self-belief. This might be a parent, teach or coach saying something that made us feel ten-foot tall. Our young brains can take that on and make it the soundtrack to our lives. “You’re a super-star young man”, “You’ll go all the way”. The crazy thing is how easy it can go either way. Limiting or generative for our esteem. Which of these messages do our young brains pay attention to? And why?
As children and teenagers, we do not have the resources nor the self-awareness levels to truly understand the role of the negative labels in particular. In your lack of maturity, you accept them as ‘truth for yourself’ often in an unquestioning way. As time grows by if you’re carrying negative impressions of yourself it can give way to a voice that sits on your shoulder and constantly feeds comparison and negative messages at you.
All these labels filter down to our core beliefs about who we are. Good, bad, indifferent. They shape our lives every day and we generally have little understanding of what they are and how we could adjust all of them to be more constructive (even the good ones!)
Positively our sense of self comes from ‘knowing thyself’ and as Shakespeare says in Hamlet, “to thine own self be true!” Our sense of self needs to be built on real personal victories, clear goals aligned with our truth and a sense of our own purpose.  

So what do we do to build a holistic and healthy sense of self?

  1. Work hard to achieve what you want to achieve. As you achieve, you deposit into the bank of esteem, and this, in turn, creates resilience and a truth to unpack and reject the falsity of childhood labels and those placed upon us by the insecurity of others.
  2. Don’t become a slave to the labels you put on yourself or others place upon you. Keep on working on them. Firstly become aware of what they are – name them, challenge their assumptions and understand the impact they are having now, that they had on your past and will play in your future if you don’t change them
  3. Similarly become ‘ego’ aware. Become aware of the egoic voice that is constantly wanting you to compare yourself with the other, allow the other to set YOUR agenda and wants to frame everything in terms of win-lose.
  4. Be aware of your language. Be aware of your use of phrases like “I’m only,” “I can’t,” “I’m hopeless in relationships ….!” Reframe your use of language in relation to yourself. Do this deliberately and be aspirational in your new language.
  5. Be other centred but not in the sense of ‘giving your inner power’ to others but rather giving and contributing to make this a better world for all. This mere generosity of spirit will free up your energy and give you back a balance. Our shared brotherhood calls us to leave our planet a better place for all.
  6. Be aware of when you respond to compliments! When you are complimented and you know that that affirmation or compliment is based on fact and your hard work; humbly accept it.
  7. Quietly celebrate your achievements. Or loudly! When you have worked hard to achieve a goal and you now stand on the mountaintop of success find some way to celebrate this; it may be a dinner out, a coffee or beer with a friend, some money put aside towards something in your ‘bucket list’

Often with esteem, the image of a rickety chair comes to mind. A chair with only two or three legs is quite unstable. As we deliberately ‘add’ legs to a chair through attaining small goals, learning new lessons, creating firmer boundaries, developing new skills and more – we add legs to the chair; we create stability and a firm platform to go forward from.
When we know self we are marching to our own drum. There is a beautiful sense of presence, confidence and self in the one who knows who they are, who they want to be and is prepared to work hard to achieve it.

Your Challenge

  1. On your own or with a few mates, answer the following:
  2. What is my esteem out of 10? Why that number? What evidence do you use to determine it? Is that realistic?
  3. What are the negative labels I place upon myself or others have placed upon me? In what ways are the untrue?
  4. What is my negative self-talk?
  5. What is an achievement I am deeply proud of? Did I celebrate it? How did I? If I did not – why not?