When working with clients, I usually find that at the root of their problems lies a lack of self-love and self-esteem. I will ask a client whether they love themselves. Most of the time I get the answer, “Of course I do.” I usually follow this question with, “Well, do your actions say the same thing as your words?” I will challenge the client to evaluate their past days, months, or even years to see if their description of how they say they feel about themselves is congruent with their actions.
The path to self-esteem and self-love is arduous. For some people, there is an inner battle to overcome years of negative programming. This negative programming comes in the form of internalized messages from childhood and adolescence. Most self-esteem issues can be traced back to these negative messages. Before we can correct these beliefs, we must become aware of them and the impact they have had on our lives.
That's when the real work starts. We must challenge the validity of these believes. Are the actions or words of our parents, siblings, or friends actually true? Or did we take ownership of those actions and subsequently create a story about who we are and what we are worth? Breaking these beliefs down and challenging their validity can be a length process, depending on how strongly they were ingrained in us. Once these beliefs are seen for what they are, we start the process of replacing them with truths. Our truths about who we are. We must remind ourselves daily, hourly, or even minute-by-minute, of these truths. For many of us, we are going to be stripping ourselves of these beliefs we have identified with for decades.
Daily affirmations are essential for building our new truths. Write sticky notes with your truths. Examples are, “I am worth it,” “I deserve love,” “I am beautiful,” or, “I matter.” Place the sticky notes on your car dashboard, bathroom mirror, and computer. This prompts us to remember the daily work we need to do in order to heal.
Not only must we speak our new truths to ourselves but our actions must match. As I was once told, self-esteem comes from doing esteemable acts. Before I take an action, I ask myself, is this something that would make me proud of myself? Is this action congruent with the person I want to be? Would I do this if someone I cared about was watching me? Through these steps, we can start to create a foundation upon which self-esteem and self-love can blossom.
Daniel Rubin, M.S., LPC, LMHC