Our interactions with others, whether they be with our family in childhood, our peers in school or our partners in romantic relationships they all influence and shape the development of our self-concept and as such how we perceive ourselves as individuals.
If these interactions and relationships are affirmative, validating and nurturing it is likely they will contribute to a positive self-concept. However, if they are critical, dismissive and harmful they can all too easily lead to a negative self-perception.
Often people I meet through my counselling relationships struggle with low self-esteem and a negative self-perception. They have spent several years feeling as though they are not good enough or that they are not worthy of being happy. They often come to counselling to ‘fix’ themselves or for me to ‘fix’ them. When I tell them they are not broken and don’t need to be fixed it can be difficult for them to believe. An important part of my role as a counsellor is to support people to truly believe that they are enough just as they are and to arrive at a place of self-acceptance. Once they get there they often find a real sense of freedom and happiness.
Self-acceptance is no mean feat however, especially if significant people in your life have repeatedly told you, you are not good enough, demanded more from you when you have tried your best or treated you in ways that have left you feeling insignificant.
A child’s self-concept begins to develop from the moment they enter the world. The parental/ care giver relationship is so key to this development and all too often those with low self-esteem have experienced a critical or detached care giver. A child of an emotionally distant, neglectful or critical care giver often internalises this behaviour and converts it to the message ‘I am not loveable’.
In order to thrive and develop a healthy sense of self, children need unqualified love, not love that is offered only when certain conditions are met. They need nurturing, attention and boundaries not inconsistent and unreliable care. Without these things they come to believe that they are not worthy of love or that they are bad in some way. Every child is loveable it’s just that not every parent knows how to love in this way or how to show this love.
One of the most important things to remember is that the answer to why your parent or care giver couldn’t love you how you needed to be loved doesn’t lie within you, it lies within them. It’s time to stop taking responsibility for other’s behaviour and work towards accepting that you are loveable just as you are. As I have said self-acceptance doesn’t come easy but nothing worth having does. Putting in the energy and commitment to personal growth is so very worth the reward of loving and valuing yourself just the way you are.
Tips for working towards self-acceptance
1.Challenge the critical voice – When you notice the self-critical voice, take time to stop and consider whose voice it actually is. Is it your own or have you come to believe it is when it actually belongs to someone else. The messages it delivers are often adapted from what you were told as a child or in your relationships and not necessarily what you truly believe if you open yourself up to self-acceptance.
2.Live your life and interact with those around you in a compassionate way - When we are more compassionate towards others this can help to foster a more compassionate mind-set in general. When we begin to view ourselves through compassionate eyes self-acceptance becomes much more possible.
3.Practice self-care - In order to practice self-care, especially on a regular basis you need to show self-compassion. Allowing yourself to meet your own needs can support you to value yourself more and come to a place of self-acceptance.
4.Do things for others – let someone out in the line of traffic, hold the door for someone, make your colleague a drink when you see they are having a busy day, compliment a friend, smile at a stranger, buy a homeless person a hot drink. They are all small gestures that can often mean a lot to the recipient. Doing things for others can help to build a positive self-concept and others benefit also so it’s a win/ win!
5.Write a journal – Take time each day to write down something positive you have done that day or something you like about yourself. This encourages you to focus on the good stuff and helps you to ignore the critical voice. Done regularly this can contribute to learning to accept yourself.
6.Allow yourself to make mistakes – would you expect others to get it right all of the time? To be perfect, to never make a bad decision? I imagine you answered no to each of these because you recognise it is unrealistic to have this expectation. Afford yourself the same allowances you make for others. We are all human which means we are fallible. If we allow them to, mistakes can teach us lessons from which we can learn. Otherwise they can easily become ammunition for criticising ourselves.
So the next time you find yourself questioning if you are good enough or feeling that you don’t match up to others, try to remind yourself that your uniqueness is what makes you amazing. Tell yourself you are worthy, you are wonderful and you are good enough just as you are.