Self-esteem or Other-esteem?
Why, then, is there so much talk about loving ourselves? Because we have experienced so much disappointment in our efforts to find other people who will love us unconditionally. Over and over, we have developed enormous hopes and expectations that a particular person or group of people would finally love us in the way we needed, and repeatedly we have experienced the searing pain of disappointment, even betrayal. In an attempt to avoid more of that pain, we simply avoid the risks of looking for love from others. Instead, we try to love ourselves, because it's safer. After consistently disappointing experiences, we simply give up on looking for love from other people. We advocate loving ourselves because we see it as the only choice we have. A belief in loving ourselves also justifies our avoidance of interaction with others, where we might experience more of the rejection we fear most.
This understanding about the futility of loving ourselves brings us to the notion of self-esteem. The term itself is misleading. As we've discussed, we were taught by others what we're worth, so how we view ourselves would not properly be called self-esteem, but other-esteem. We simply believed–and continue to believe–what other people taught us about our worth.
The Answer: Tell the Truth About Our Mistakes
So, how do we go about changing this artificially deflated valuation of our worth? And if loving ourselves isn't the answer, what is? It is from thousands of experiences that we have acquired our belief that only conditional love exists–and that somehow we don't measure up in the world of Imitation Love. In order to change that belief–in order to trust that Real Love exists and that we are infinitely worthwhile–we need new experiences and new evidence that we are worth loving unconditionally. We must acquire this new evidence from other people, from people who can genuinely accept and love us.
You will create the opportunities to be unconditionally loved only as you tell people the truth about yourself–about your mistakes, flaws, fears, and foolishness, as well as your successes–and allow these people to accept and love you as you really are. Understandably, you've likely been reluctant to do that because of the many occasions when people have been disappointed in you or angry with you when they learned about your flaws. Remembering those painful experiences vividly, you're anxious about repeating them. In order to prevent more such experiences, you've learned to withdraw more and hide yourself. Ironically, however, when you hide, you guarantee that you'll feel alone and unloved.
Delightfully, there is a way out of this awful pattern of fear and hiding. You can exercise a little courage and faith and make a decision to start telling the truth about yourself to people–just a few in the beginning–regardless of the painful experiences you've had in the past and the fear you're experiencing now. Tell someone about your fear of being around people. Share a few of the mistakes in your life. That might be a bit frightening in the beginning, but if you'll do it anyway, you will eventually find people who will accept you, and then you'll begin to know the profound joy you've always wanted. It all becomes possible when you start being honest despite your fear. It's true that some people won't accept you, but that just won't matter when you find people who do love you. These loving experiences will convince you that you are worth loving without doing anything to earn it. As a result of the unconditional love of others, you'll learn that you are infinitely worthwhile, and you will experience true happiness. The need for loving yourself–or for self-esteem–simply fades away.
I realize that what I'm saying here contradicts a widespread notion, but I've seen so many people experience consistent and terrible frustration in their efforts to love themselves. The effort leaves them even more discouraged and alone. For a short time, loving ourselves often seems to work, but uniformly it proves to be an illusion. To be sure, as we feel more loved and happy, we lose our self-loathing, but that's not the same as loving ourselves.
We must exercise the faith and courage required to share with others who we really are. If we do, we will find people to love us unconditionally, and the rewards of those experiences are beyond expression.
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