If you fall behind on your expectations of yourself, and you believe your performance in life has been less than adequate, your sense of self-esteem can slip.
The term self-esteem refers to the confidence a person has about their own value and abilities. This confidence is built on what a person deems their strengths and qualities to be. And it is dismantled by what they deem their weaknesses and inadequacies to be. Levels of self-esteem fluctuate depending on how a person interprets their performance in life.
If a person becomes overly focused on their perceived weaknesses and inadequacies, this can lead to a low sense of self-esteem. The key to avoiding this is self-acceptance.
To accept yourself, you have to go through a process of self-reconciliation whereby you make peace with yourself. You do this by accepting every facet of yourself, even the aspects of yourself you would rather not admit — you have to bring them into the light, acknowledge them and accept them as parts of yourself.
You can try this exercise. Consider any aspects of yourself that you do not feel comfortable with. At your own pace, bring each of these aspects under the spotlight. What is it about each aspect that you don’t want to accept? What stops you from accepting these parts of yourself? What would happen if you could accept all of these aspects?
See if you can come to a place of closure with yourself by accepting these aspects. Allow yourself to feel any emotions that arise during this process. And try to unpack any information contained in the emotions so that you can learn about yourself. Your intention here is to reintegrate aspects of yourself that may have become separated, and also to eradicate any lingering causes of self-criticism and self-depreciation.
Some of the aspects you identified, you may sincerely want to change as part of your development in life. It is healthy to have desires for personal change. But you can’t easily change these parts of yourself if you cannot first accept them.
By accepting them, you step beyond the hindrances of inner conflict, and you reach a point of neutrality. From this neutral foundation, you can then look at these aspects and either accept they are a natural part of yourself, or you can work to transform them.
You accept yourself by ceasing to judge yourself.
So, you limit any assessments you have about yourself that are derogatory. You stop depreciating yourself. You no longer define aspects you deem to be inadequate as being permanent features of yourself.
You re-evaluate the expectations you have for yourself, and you throw out anything that is not rational or relevant. You treat yourself with compassion and respect.
Once you stop giving yourself a hard time and accept yourself, your natural confidence will return.
But you also have to come to terms with the decisions you have made in life. Because if you continue to regret things you’ve done, you are refusing to accept yourself. And if you are languishing in regrets, these ruminations will create a sense of insecurity.
Make a list of any statements you regularly have floating around your mind that begin with:
- I should have…
- I could have…
- What if I’d…
- I wish I had…
- If only I’d not…
Can you accept what happened? What do you need to happen for you to accept the choices you made? Perhaps there is some action you can take to redeem yourself, or maybe you can just let it go?
Try to identify the underlying reasons for your regrets and look at which of your needs are involved. For example, you may regret leaving a particular job ten years ago. But what exactly is it you think you have missed out on? What do you think you lost?
Maybe you believe if you’d stayed in that job you would now have more money, more autonomy, more meaning, be more accomplished or have better friends. But make sure you question these assumptions rationally. Would this really be the case? And look at all the positive things that have happened because of the decisions you made. Was it really all that bad?
Then look to identify the reasons for the decisions you made. What you will likely find is that you were doing your best with the information and level of understanding that you had at that time.
If you still feel that you really did make a mistake, then make an effort to forgive yourself and let it go. You can’t change the past. All you can do is recognise what you can learn from your experiences, and choose to either let things be or to take action to rectify the situation. So, you could identify what you feel you missed out on, and if you still want it, you can take action that moves you towards it.
By recognising how you’ve been holding yourself back through self-depreciation and regret, you can make peace with yourself. The way forward is to embrace yourself with acceptance and compassion.