One of the biggest life-saving lessons I learned in life is how inaccurately – and negatively -- we see ourselves.
Our inaccurate and decidedly negative self-assessment creates low self-esteem that robs us of deep personal satisfaction, success, and happiness. It makes us less lousy friends and lovers, too.
Let’s get personal: My distorted self-image began in childhood. Thanks in part to disapproving, openly critical parents, and a host of other factors, I grew up with an extremely negative self-image. I saw myself as unremarkable and unlovable, and certain not terribly intelligent.
I performed okay in school, graduating in the top third of my class, but didn’t turn any heads. When I went off to college, I vowed to turn things around and to make the most of my education. I studied day and night, on vacations, during breaks, on weekends when my friends were partying.
My grades reflected my dedication and hard work. I received all As and one or two Bs, was always on the Dean’s list, was admitted to the honors program, and graduated with honors with a 3.7 GPA in the sciences. Despite my success in college, low self-esteem loomed over me like a proverbial dark cloud, preventing me from appreciating, even recognizing my achievement.
I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in three and a half years. After that, I entered a Ph.D. program at the University of Kansas Medical School where once again I shined. I took virtually all of my classes with medical students and was consistently in the top five students among 160 med students.
Still, it never dawned on me that I was a lot better than I thought. I still looked down on myself. That’s how profound my poor self-esteem was.
After graduation, I received a teaching position at the University of Colorado. It was the first job I applied too. I was picked from a field of 150 applicants.
Several years later, I successfully applied for a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Again, I was selected from an extremely large and capable pool of applicants.
I am not sure when it began to dawn on me that my self-image was out of line with reality. I am pretty certain that it began when a therapist I was seeing asked me to create a list of things I liked about myself, then review it every night before drifting off to sleep.
When I first began this task, I was baffled. I couldn’t think of much. Slowly but surely, however, I was able to see through the cloud of self-disapproval and create a list.
That list began to turn my life around, and was, at least for me, one of the most important things I’ve ever done to heal myself.
Reviewing the list every night as I laid in bed helped me drill through the impenetrable walls that separated me from reality. Slowly but surely, I began to see myself for what I was. Slowly but surely, my confidence and self-esteem grew.
If you suffer from insecurities and lack confidence, or have pervasive negative feelings about yourself, and most of us do, I strongly recommend that you take a pen or pencil and paper and sit down and make a list of things you really like about yourself. It may take a while for you to penetrate the wall of low self-esteem, but the result is well worth the effort.
Write down everything. Even little things like punctuality, helpfulness or cheerfulness -- if those are personal traits.
Then, read your list every night and smile at all the things you are, the personal attributes that say to you, in the aggregate, “Yes, I am a good, worthwhile person.”
Let yourself accept and believe what you have written, and celebrate the good things. As you do, you will find that more positive attributes come to mind, and those things you admire about yourself will only improve through positive reinforcement.
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Contributing editor Dan Chiras is a renewable energy and green homes expert who has spent a lifetime learning life’s lessons, which he shares in his popular blog, Dan Chiras on Loving Life. He’s the founder and director of The Evergreen Institute and president of Sustainable Systems Design. Contact him by visiting his website or finding him on Google+.