Self Esteem | Los Angeles Psychotherapist Dr. Bill Cloke

Self Esteem

The most important relationship we will ever have in our lives is the one we have with ourselves. We live 24-7 in our bodies and we are so often at odds with what is inside. We dislike, think little of, berate, cajole, swear at, hold ourselves up to rigid standards and all within our private universe. We hear people say “I am my own worst enemy.” There is an acceptance of this condition in our society as a normal part of life. It doesn’t have to be.

Our self esteem is based on how we value or devalue ourselves. When we devalue our achievements, our needs, our dreams, our abilities, or our life we become a house divided against itself. When our internal house is divided we suffer and become weakened. We strive for approval, we pretend to be someone we are not, we hide our feelings, we become more isolated, we may drink or do drugs to take the pain away.

How we relate to our personal relationship with ourselves will determine how happy we will be. In a recent study written up in the Los Angeles Times researchers found that happy people had three main characteristics. First they had a good relationship with themselves, second they were able to live in the moment and they were gregarious people and had friends. They also concluded that people who married returned to the original state they were in before they were married within three years. Also, people who became rich or famous returned to their original emotional state within one year. This tells us something very important. That our internal relationship has a lot to do with happiness, that our happiness is mostly about our relationship with ourselves.

Self esteem is about how we feel about ourselves. We develop our internal relationship in childhood. Depending on our experience with significant others, our environmental conditions and how we understood our experience will determine our relationship within.

Coming to an understanding of how we have become who we are helps us to stop blaming ourselves for everything that has gone wrong in our lives. Self esteem is about learning how life really is as opposed to our idealized concepts of how life should be and then blaming ourselves when it doesn’t turn out that way. Learning to live with how life is, and developing an understanding, compassionate relationship with ourselves is the key to healthier self esteem.

Healthy self esteem is based on the ability to develop realistic goals, being productive and the acquired ability to construct a need satisfying life for ourselves. These abilities are considered to be a healthy relationship to our aggression. Aggression in psychological terms means being able to get the things we want for ourselves and to make a happy life. Aggression directed at the self to make oneself perfect or to criticize ourselves is aggression going the wrong way. When thinking about a situation or difficulty the most important question to ask is “what can I do to make it better, as opposed to what did I do wrong?”

People in our culture will spend millions of dollars on their environment, on cars, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, and expensive clothing all in the name of self esteem and yet not spend a nickel on their internal life, and it is our internal life that will determine if we can be happy with what we have. So often we observe seemingly successful people who have achieved all the external rewards that life has to offer and yet they are so unhappy. Self esteem is the critical component for having a productive and happy life.

Healthy self esteem requires self knowledge, self acceptance, empathy, compassion, self respect and personal understanding. To achieve these states may require some personal work with a competent therapist. Self esteem is founded on a fundamental understanding of who we are, what we want and what we need to feel good about ourselves. Self esteem is the foundation that our psychological house is built upon. The stronger our sense of self the more we will be able to withstand the storms and difficulties that come along with the complexities of modern life.

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