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A Better You
by Jo Ann Fore

The Beginning of Healthy Self-Esteem

I’m not an expert on self-esteem; my strongest credential on the subject is my own personal climb from the suffocating pit of low self-worth. But, I have worked with countless individuals who gauge their level of self-esteem according to his or her successes, or failures, in life – like I used to.

Yet, accomplishments – no matter how great – cannot give us a positive self-esteem.

Appetite for Low Self-Esteem
We aren’t born with low self-esteem – at least I wasn’t. My low self-worth evolved from my perception of failures in my life: being a victim of abuse, a failed marriage, a failed business venture, and much more.



Over time I developed an appetite for a sense of failure. I was brought into the world with a full plate of healthy self-esteem. Yet, each time I experienced another failure a substantial portion of my self-worth was nibbled away. I nurtured my negative esteem with bite after bite until my plate was empty. Years of this behavior satiated my good opinion of myself.

Filled now with a poor image, I began to analyze each negative situation I found myself in – surely I had done something wrong to cause it. I played, and replayed, scenes in my mind. Now prey to anyone who desired to find fault with me, I couldn’t distinguish opinion from reality. Everything about who I was became developed through other people’s opinions of me.

But, I learned a way to combat my lack of confidence – I covered it up. Relentlessly, I searched for the better job, the better home, or the better relationship. Seeking, but never finding; it was not enough. I didn’t realize, until much later, it was only when I could accept myself that I would be comfortable enough to refill my plate with the healthy portions of positive esteem available to me. Mark Twain articulated it nicely, “A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.”

Fear of Change
Change didn’t come overnight. I developed an affinity for my poor image. And I was afraid to change. While I longed to be different, I didn’t know what to expect – and that was frightening.

It’s a huge risk to attempt change, even when it’s the right thing. It requires effort and vulnerability. And as uncomfortable as my old behavior was, it was familiar. There’s a lot to be said for familiarity.

Charles Dickens wrote about a man in prison. This man had been confined to prison for years. He longed for the day he would be set free. Finally the day arrived and he was brought forth from his cold, drab confinement of many years into the brightly sunlit day. He took one step out into the warmth of the day: Then he turned and went back inside. The newfound freedom overwhelmed him.

Fear of change can become a huge obstacle to overcoming low self-esteem. We miss our old behavior – we rationalize it, pine for it and even justify it.

Our Perception Matters
Our perception plays a role in overcoming fear that blocks us from a positive self-esteem. According to – an internet magazine on mental health and psychology—how we perceive the cause of life events, be they positive or negative, has a lot to do with our capacity to succeed on a personal, professional and social level. explains that, “Someone with an internal locus of control would generally perceive himself or herself as responsible for the outcome (the actions would have a direct bearing on the result), while a person with an external locus of control would most often blame (or thank) a force beyond his or her control.”

The internet magazine has a Test to assess whether the test-taker attributes success and failure to internal or external, stable or unstable forces.

They remind us, “Having a positive outlook and a general sense of well-being is a force that influences risk-taking, choices, and the general course of one's life.”

Remember: Building a healthy self-esteem requires more than focusing on our accomplishments; it begins with a healthy perception of life events.

Jo Ann Fore welcomes your comments about this article or suggestions for material you would like to see in future articles. Email her at: A Better You is published every Saturday.


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