Let's take on the understanding of low self-esteem first. One of my college professors was a leading researcher in this field. Dr. Richard Bednar and his colleagues did a landmark study back in the 80’s that was published by the American Psychological Association that shook up what we knew about self-esteem. We used to think that it was based on achievement or having people treat us in a way that built us up. That's not what they found.
These researchers found that self-esteem is based primarily on one factor, seeing yourself taking on hard things. Think about that for a minute. It's not even whether you succeed in taking on those hard things. It's simply seeing yourself take on hard things. Conversely, low self-esteem was correlated with seeing yourself running away from hard things, or an avoidant pattern. That takes a toll on self-esteem.
There are a lot of paradoxes that come up in self-esteem. Actually, that's a little weird. When you think about self-esteem, how do I esteem myself? It almost implies that we are two different people. One of my favorite books, The Power Of Now, by Eckhart Tolle shares an example of this. Eckhart Tolle was actually in a period of suicidal depression. I think this was in his mid to late 20s when he was so low, he had this thought. The thought was, “I hate myself.” And then he had another thought that saved his life. The next thought was, “Wait a minute? Who is this “I” that hates me so much? And who is this “me” that I hate?” And he realized, “Wait a minute. I can't be both of those.” Self-esteem. How do I esteem myself? This is a paradox. And it's one that we need to watch out for. Because which one is the real you? The one who hates or the one who is hated? Or maybe you're neither of those. Maybe you're the one asking the question like Eckart Tolle did. “Wait a minute, who is this “I” that hates me so much, and who is this “me” that I hate?” Philosophically, I hope that just kind of ties your mind in knots for a minute, because we have to consider that maybe those thoughts that are rolling around in our head are not necessarily us.
In fact, I read another book recently where the author compared this to random neural activity that goes on in our brain where our brain is trying to generate for us possibilities. And it serves it up to us in the form of a thought. Kind of like, “Well, here's a possible thought.” I don't know if that's true or not. Your job is to evaluate and discern the different thoughts that are presented to you. Don't get too tied up in thinking or believing that those thoughts are you. That's where people get stuck.
Another aspect of this that is so powerful is you realize it has to do with pride. Now, people sometimes have some resistance when I suggest that low self-esteem is actually a problem with pride. Understanding low self-esteem is a big part of fixing that. And I'll get to that in just a minute. But notice how it could be about pride.
Did you know for example that I, Dr. Paul, have an opinion about you? Yes, you. You might be thinking, “Dr. Paul, you don't even know me.” Well, I may or may not know you. I've talked to a lot of our viewers. But even if I don't, I have an opinion about you, okay? I do. I've formed an opinion. Now, do you have an opinion about you. Does my opinion match your opinion? Probably not. Who's right? I am going to pull rank here because I have a PhD in clinical psychology. Does that help? No. Because you are going to take my opinion and you are going to toss it out the window in favor of your own. You think you are right. No, you know that you are right, don't you? And if my opinion of you is, “You are awesome, you are amazing. You are a benevolent, generous, loving, parent, wife, or husband.” I can give you those opinions and I actually hold those opinions about you. And then you might just toss it out the window because your own opinion is so different from that. And your destructive pride has you hanging on to your own opinion and tossing mine out the window and I got the PhD.
Do you see what I mean when I say it is a form of destructive pride? It's holding our own opinion above all others regardless of credential or authority. Do you see how it could be about pride? Now, that's important as we get into the fix. The title is understanding and fixing low self-esteem. So, hopefully we understand low self-esteem a little better than we did a few minutes ago based on our new understanding of what it is. That's going to help us know how to fix it.
First, based on the research done by Dr. Bednar and his colleagues, take on hard things. If you don't have any to take on, just wait a minute. Life will hand you some. Take them on. See yourself taking on hard things. Sometimes we avoid that because we are afraid that we might fail or we are afraid that we don't know what we are doing or we are afraid of the potential outcomes.
You know what? Self-esteem literature suggests that doesn't matter. What matters is seeing yourself taking it on. Just the fact that you are willing to take on a hard thing is going to increase and improve your self-esteem. That is so cool.
Another step toward fixing low self-esteem is to become more keenly aware of our own thinking. Be willing to be a little more critical about that thinking. Metacognition is a term that I have used here on the channel quite a bit. It means thinking about thinking. And it's a really cool thing that we are able to do as human beings because what it does is puts us in a position of choice. That is HUGE. Once we are in a position of choice, we are thinking about our thinking; we can accept or we can reject any of those thoughts that are being served up to our mind. “I hate myself,” for example. When we are thinking about our thinking, we can take that thought, “I hate myself', and evaluate. “Huh, well does that serve me well or not?” No. Not what I'm looking for. I don't think so. And we can reject that thought. It doesn't mean you won't have the thought it means you can accept it or reject it. How powerful is that?
And don't be too quick to believe everything you think. That's one of the common flaws of human psychology. We think that because we think it, it's true. Don't be so prideful. Don't be too quick to believe everything you think.
Now, this one might surprise you. It's not about you. Let's quit being so selfish and prideful that we think that our own opinion is the only one that's true. I tell you what. If you accept the truth about who you are… One of my favorite scriptures in all of the sacred writings that I know is that the truth will make you free. And I think free is free from all of the things that keep us stuck. And free to do all of those things that we aspire to do.
The truth about you is that you are fundamentally good as a human being. As part of our human family, you are fundamentally good. What if you believed that? What if you believed what I'm saying is the truth about you? Now, I know that there will be little thoughts that creep in and say, “No, I'm not…” Okay, that's your opinion. And don't be so darn prideful that you hang on to your own opinion in the face of even truth. What's true? What I told you is true. And this is more about what's right then who's right.
So, quit hanging onto your destructive pride. That surprises most people because they think that to fix their low self-esteem, somehow they have to fix their inadequacy. Welcome to earth. You are a human being. We were perfectly designed to be imperfect. It's how we roll here on the planet. Fixing self-esteem has to do with accepting the truth. And abandoning that destructive pride that has us holding on to our own opinion above everyone else's.
You can tell I get fired up about this stuff. I didn't just come across this by accident. My own experiences have taught me this. I've included some of those in my book, Pathological Positivity. You get to hear more about my own story. If you don't have your copy yet, go to drpauljenkins.com. All you so is pick up the shipping and you get a free copy of my book.