by Teresia Smith
Many people, especially teens, live their whole life fearful of others’ view of them. Will they like you? Will they laugh at you? Will they make fun of you? Will you fit in? Will their opinion of you change depending on what they know about you? Why are we so concerned about what others think and if they are pleased with us? We shrink ourselves not wanting to look silly because of what we love to do, afraid of failing because it might look bad, not taking chances to go after something we want, not being our authentic self, or not even asking for assistance with problems because it might make us look weak. Maybe we can learn ourselves and teach our kids how to live differently. How to understand failure, struggles and how to develop a toughness that allows us to deal with negative people and not base our worth on their judgments.
The first thing that helps is to take your power back and stop caring so much what others may think. Learn to just be yourself. We have to love and embrace ourselves, flaws and all. Often we read about how we need to build self-esteem in our children and many people think this is done by positive praise, giving everyone a participation trophy, frequent compliments even when the job isn’t done well and reminding them how they are seen by others. Some prominent scholars have taught for years that our self-esteem comes from having others think highly of us. If that was true, wouldn’t you be giving them power over you? You would live life like a puppet and the person you seek approval from pulls the strings. Many famous people, who live incredible lives with fame and fortune, are actually miserable because their self-esteem rises and falls on what the public thinks of them.
Maybe instead we gain our self-esteem from our own actions and responses. If we face something difficult and we work through it and come out the other side knowing we coped with it well, it can make us feel proud. When we undertake something that is hard for us, it leaves us feeling accomplished and satisfied with ourselves. Facing fears can be challenging; however, when you use good coping skills and work through those fears, you end up really liking yourself and feeling more fulfilled. Basically, when we cope well, we feel good about who we are and when we avoid whatever issue we fear, we feel poorly about who we are. When you are courageous and work through issues that scare you, you are left feeling stronger and more able to face the next unknown.
Those who have been victimized by sexual assault often struggle with others’ opinions of their actions. No matter what choices are made, someone will be critical and question their actions. They are asked things like what were you wearing, were you drinking, why were you out late, why did you go there, why didn’t your report the assault, etc. It’s important to tune out the negative responses, find emotional support, and look within yourself for self-approval. When you stop listening to others comments and gain your own self-approval about how you have handled things, you truly feel good about yourself.
In 1888, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche first stated, “Out of life’s school of war—what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” That old saying is true in some ways. But, what did he mean? According to an article by Ray Williams, “people can indeed grow from adversity. They can become stronger, improve the quality of their relationships and increase their self-esteem. Psychologists have demonstrated that we like to narrate our lives in terms of the challenges we’ve confronted and the setbacks we’ve overcome, rather than our successes and good times. Most popular literature and movies illustrate this. We like to believe good things can emerge from a bad turn of events because it’s often a key element of the stories we tell about our own lives.” Again, some believe that by going through difficult experiences, we build up our inner strength and trauma can almost be viewed as a badge of honor showing that we survived a terrible time, and came out braver and more powerful.
In conclusion, to build emotional strength and resilience, remember that no amount of praise will give you or your children true self-esteem. You develop self-esteem by doing the difficult things. So many just avoid the hard things in life and by doing so, they end up with self-esteem issues because they feel lacking. Instead, persevere and dig deep to find your courage and face difficulties head on and use healthy coping skills to succeed. In old days, when someone came out the other side of really difficult situations, people would say they had “grit”. We have to get back to finding that level of resilience.
If you or a loved one has experienced intimate partner violence that has left your self-esteem in tatters, know you are not alone. Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential crisis counseling, advocacy, support groups and more. You may reach our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826 for an appointment. We also offer a 24/7 HELPline where you can reach a trained crisis counselor anytime at 256.716.1000. Remember, you are not alone.