Self-esteem is such a many-layered thing. Like an onion, peeling back those layers can be bitter, can make you cry, can bring out unaddressed pain. But in the end, if we want to be happy, healthy, successful people, we have to peel back those layers that protect our self-esteem and see it for what it truly is.
So what is self-esteem, really? At its most basic, self-esteem is the regard we hold for ourselves. Its how we view ourselves based on feedback we’ve received from our experiences and from other people. Its easy to say “I have high self-esteem” without actually knowing what your self-esteem really is. Or, more frequently, we may have a high self-esteem in one area, such as intelligence, appearance, or sexual prowess (hey, I’m being honest…) but not in others. So how do you peel back those layers, and examine what your real self-esteem is?
For me, I had to start at the center. I had to define what it meant to be me. Not what my mama thinks, my friends or colleagues think, and not what my performance review at work reflects. What really makes me who I am, a unique being from the next sista walking down the street? When I could quiet the voice of the irrational critic (we all have that voice.. it may sound like your parents, a teacher, a significant other or someone you’ve never met.. but its there. Its that voice that constantly tells you that you’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough….) and really look at myself objectively, then I could begin to understand how I regarded myself. And at first it wasn’t easy. During the process of getting to know me, I realized that I was a different person than the one I assumed I was. My likes and dislikes had changed.. my goals, talents, strengths and weaknesses were different than they were just a few years ago. And, most importantly, I realized that some of the things that I held as important simply weren’t that important anymore. But at the same time, it was exciting to learn all of these things. Like getting to know a new friend, knowing that this friend will be the closest one you’ll ever have.
The maxim to “be true to yourself” is what this is all about. Think of your center, the core of your being, as your definition. Once that definition is set (and you can edit, amend and rewrite that definition as you see fit) then feel no guilt for removing the things, people and places from your life that contradict that definition. Defining who you are definitely takes work. But I believe its the first step in building a strong and unshakable self-esteem. Once you know who you are, then you can work on being the person you really want to be, if you’re not already there. And, hopefully, you’ll see that you’re closer to being the woman you want to be than you’ve previously given yourself credit for.
Once you have a stable, grounded center, then you can move outward. The reason I advocate this method of building your self-esteem is that the attacks of others and of society won’t matter as much. Your foundation will be built on solid ground instead of sinking sand, and will be able to withstand the subtle and not-so-subtle attacks of others. If you know who you are, what you want and what makes you happy, then it won’t really matter if your coworkers don’t like your natural hair; if your mom keeps complaining that you’re not giving her any grandkids; or that your friends think you’re weird for having a Harry Potter obsession (ok ok… I’m speaking for myself with this last example).
Overall, in order to withstand attacks from without – attacks on our race, our gender, our bodies, our religious views, heck, even our hair – you have to acknowledge your core and strengthen who you are from within. It all starts at the center.