Let’s Celebrate Ourselves For Who We Are
While growing up I was frequently reminded of the importance of tests and grades. My parents and teachers would encourage me to succeed with nothing but well meaning. Unfortunately, I also learnt to value myself for what I could do as opposed to who I am. I read about a concept in the book The Chimp Paradox called the fridge door. In one case when the child comes to their mother with a drawing she tells them “well done” and pins it to the fridge. This teaches the child that they are valued based on what they do. In another case the mother expresses love to the child despite their achievement, showing them that they are valued regardless. It seems strange that it wouldn’t be obvious that most parents have nothing but unconditional love for their children, yet many people grow up placing their worth in what they can do.
Some people use this way of thinking to push themselves to succeed. Unfortunately, it can just as easily result in turning people away from trying their best. I was seen as a workaholic by many while I was a student, but it was my way of trying to locate my self-esteem. I got caught in a trap whereby I would work hard in the hopes of feeling better about myself, but I would have to keep doing more and more to reach that goal. After pushing myself to exhaustion I realized that no matter what I did I’d never feel like I was good enough. I didn’t feel like working anymore, because what’s the point when it never turns out well? I now know that neither train of thought is helpful, but I’m still struggling to know how to maintain a healthy work life balance that isn’t tied to my feelings of self worth. Working can be an emotional roller-coaster for me, if I don’t do enough I feel guilty, but when I try I’m self critical and filled with feelings of disappointment.
As well as applying this way of thinking to ourselves we can also apply it to others. Most kids just want to feel loved and will do anything they can to achieve this goal. In some cases they can come to associate a show of affection with doing something for someone. For a long time I felt like I could only get people to like me by doing things for them. It would then leave me disheartened when they didn’t reciprocate. I would see them extending their friendship more easily to others who had done far less for them than I had. In turn we can also start to value others based on what they can do for us and bad experiences can leave you feeling like people will always let you down. In truth they don’t really owe us anything and probably never asked for some of the things we’ve done for them.
Basing our self-esteem on uncontrollable factors such as our ability to achieve perfection or to receive praise from others is risky. Instead we can celebrate the things that make us who we are, recognising traits such as kindness, conscientiousness and honesty. Why base our self-esteem on a future goal that we have yet to achieve when we can feel good about ourselves for who we are now? We can even learn to embrace out vulnerabilities and imperfections, because they are what make us human. We can feel good about ourselves just for trying our best and being determined enough not to give up, even if we haven’t yet reached the results that we feel are expected of us. We can extend this thought to how we approach others as well, by showing them that our affection for them is safe no matter what they accomplish in life.