“What is the biggest waste of time? Comparing yourself to others…”
(C. Mackesy: “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse”, Ebury Press, London 2019)
Having read this book with my children my son quoted this to his little sister last week. The moment stayed with me as a powerful reminder of how young we are when what others say, think and feel about us, as well as how they behave towards us, has a massive impact on our self-esteem. And yes, comparing ourselves to others is a waste of time. Absolutely. However, I feel it is also an inevitable and unavoidable part of being human and therefore takes a more nuanced approach than simple dismissal.
How can we discover, develop and hold on to our self-confidence in a world full of people and influences either directly saying or subtly implying that we are not good enough? How do we nurture belief in ourselves if that nurture was absent or insufficient in our childhood? How do we reach that point at which we can confidently say that we no longer worry about what others think while at the same time acknowledging that what others think does matter?
For me, before all the practical steps we can take to take care of and improve our self-esteem, there is the crucial step in recognising that the most compelling and influential fear is fear of the unknown. If we do not allow ourselves to really know who we are then we are likely to feel much more fear. So, get to know yourself. Be curious about all the different parts of your feeling and experience. Look kindly and inquisitively on your perceptions, judgements, reactions and responses. The better we understand our emotional responses and behaviour the more accepting we can be both of ourselves and others and in turn the more confidently we can trust our immediate experiencing. Emotional threat can often feel the most frightening because it risks our very sense of who we are. If we can free ourselves from defensiveness by being fully cognisant of all our vulnerabilities, and too strengths, our sense of self is no longer on the line.
But of course it takes practice. We can’t expect to be self-confident, particularly if there has been a lack of security and nurture in our lives. Life is neither predictable or linear and there will always be setbacks and adversity. No one can feel confident every day and it is normal to feel anxious and unsure at times. I encourage you to not give up. Hold yourself like you are precious and try again. The more we practice something the more natural and instinctive it becomes. If you feel nervous, get still and remember that what you have to say is important and you have value just for existing in this world.
And if there are people in your life that tear you down – walk away. If you cannot walk away, then make your internal voice louder and more powerful. Pay attention to your talents and achievements and remind yourself of all the things that make you who you are. Let go of binary “good” and “bad” characteristics and start enjoying the whole or yourself in all its complex beauty. The stories we tell ourselves matter; know, own and value your body and voice and pull yourself up rather than pushing yourself down.
And help someone. It still counts if it also helping you.
How we are perceived and received by others matters – indeed social shaming has been the bedrock to ordered society for thousands of years. At the same time it feels to me that in the advent of social media and the feeling of constant scrutiny – fear of rejection, of being shamed, of not being accepted gets in the way of us living our lives, being open to new experiences and embracing transparently ourselves and the people around us. I encourage us all to think about how we feel about ourselves and how we behave towards others. The two are inextricably linked. If we can develop and retain a little more self-esteem my experience is, we are also able to be a little more generous and forgiving to others.