"Self-esteem is what I think and feel about myself, not what someone else thinks or feels about me."
- Nathaniel Branden
When I was the pastor of a congregation, I lead what we called "growth groups." One of the topics for a group was, "Who do I have to be for you to love me?" The subtitle was, "Do I have to give up me for you to love me?" No doubt some of us can relate to these titles.
Leah in the Hebrew writings is an excellent example of someone who lost herself in a relationship. She married a man who did not love her and she knew it, so she tried to be who she thought he wanted her to be. She did the things she thought would cause him to love her. She even had a child by him but still he did not give her his love. Leah truly lost herself trying to get her partner to love her.
If there is a Leah in us, we may find ourselves molding and shaping ourselves with the hope that our partner will give us the love we desire. Some of us put our dreams and needs on the back burner thinking that if we give our partner what the partner wants, then one day the partner will give us what we desire. Unfortunately, our turn may never came.
There are those of us who spend a lot of time and energy working to feel good about ourselves by trying to please others in order to get their approval. When we get their approval, it feels good, so we link the feeling to self-worth. Since we cannot bank the approval we get from others, we find ourselves constantly working to get others approval by what we do and how we relate.
Too many of us have been taught to look externally for self-worth.
If we are like most people, the reason we seek approval from others is because of the way we have been conditioned to find self-worth. Too many of us have been taught to look externally for self worth. How we see ourselves and feel about whom we see in the mirror is conditioned by the measures society gives us. How attractive we think we are is in part influenced by what society says is attractive. The same is true for intelligence and personality, as well as success.
There is a term called "conditional positive self-regard." The term means we accept ourselves conditionally if we meet the conditions others have applied to us, rather than measuring ourselves by our potentials and gifts.
Next month we will explore believing in ourselves even when others reject us, criticize us, abandon us, fire us or divorce us.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700
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