Self-Esteem: You Are Not Who You Think You Are

David sat in front of me at one of my five-day intensive workshops. A successful businessman with a wife and two grown children, David believed that he was not good enough.

“I’m insufficient,” he said. “I’m inadequate.”

I looked at this kind man and felt deep sadness for him. He did not know who he was.

“Why do you believe that?” I asked.

“I didn’t do well in school, and I’ve made lots of mistakes in my life.”

“So you are basing your worth on your performance, right?”

“Of course.”

David could not conceive of any other way of defining his worth other than through his performance – which he never saw as good enough.

I asked David to look inside – at the essence of himself – and tell me what he sees. All he saw was emptiness.

“David, please close your eyes. Now imagine a wonderful being who loves you very much. Who comes to mind?”

“My grandfather. He died when I was young, but he really loved me.”

“Good. Now imagine that you are seeing yourself through the eyes of your grandfather. What does your grandfather see when he looks at you?”

“He sees a bright and creative little boy, who is very kind and caring. A loving little boy. A little boy who is funny and likes to laugh, and likes to make other people laugh.”

“Is there anything wrong with this little boy? Anything inadequate or insufficient?”

“Oh no! He is a wonderful little boy.”

“David, this is who you really are. You are not your performance. Your performance will come and go and at some point you might retire and not perform at all. Yet that does not mean that you are, therefore, worthless. Your worth is in who you are, not in what you do. Your worth in intrinsic.”

David realized that, because of his highly critical and rejecting parents, he had always been trying to prove himself and always came up short in their eyes. As a result of seeing himself as unworthy and inadequate, he did not treat himself well. He treated himself the way his parents had treated him – with criticism and neglect. He was always trying to take care of everyone else, but rarely thought about taking care of himself. He was constantly abandoning himself emotionally, just as he had been emotionally abandoned by his parents.

“David, if you chose to see yourself as your grandfather saw you rather than how your parents saw you, how would you feel about yourself and how would you treat yourself?”

“I’ve just been thinking about that. I just realized that I treat my dog better than I treat myself! I would never judge my dog the way I judge myself.”

“So what would you do differently if you saw yourself the way your grandfather sees you?”

“I would stop judging myself as insufficient and inadequate. I’m a really good person. I am not at all insufficient or inadequate as a person. And I choose my friends based on who they are as people – not on their performance. So I obviously value the very qualities that I possess!”

“What else would you do if you really valued who you are?”

“I would listen to my own feelings and take care of my own needs instead of taking care of everyone else’s feelings and needs. I would no longer see it as selfish to take care of myself instead of taking care of everyone else. I would be at least as attentive to myself as I am to my dog!”

David was glowing. He was discovering who he really is, not who he thought he was.

People often think that their worth – who they really are – is based on looks and performance. Yet these qualities are transitory. What is real and eternal is who you are in your heart and soul. If you shift your definition of your worth from outer to inner, you will stop trying to prove yourself. You will know that you are already a beautiful being, totally deserving of love.

By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.

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