Self-Esteem & Qualifiers

Tell me one good thing about yourself.

Before you answer, let me give you a couple of guidelines. You can’t say you’re “pretty good,” “fair,” or “decent.” You have to give a solid, affirmative “good.” You also can’t attach any qualifiers to your answer. For example, you can’t say, “I’m a good parent, but I yell at my kids too much” or “I’m a good golfer when the wind isn’t blowing too hard” or “I’m attractive, but I don’t like my nose.” You either are what you say or you are not.

I remember freezing like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming semi the first time this challenge was put before me in a counseling self esteemsession. I couldn’t think of a single thing that I could put in a 100 percent positive sense. Everything I could think of came with something to pull it down a bit. “Well, I’m a decent guitar player, but I’m really only average. I’d like to be better at it.” “I’m a good friend, but I don’t stay in touch with my friends enough and we don’t see each other much.” “I have a talent for writing, but I’ve never really done that much with it.” And so on and so forth…

In fact, when I did use entirely positive statements, I felt a little guilty because it seemed as if I was lying. It would have been much easier for me to list all the stuff I suck at. That I can do with no hesitation whatsoever. “I can’t dance.” “I destroy everything I try to build.” “I cause electronic devices to stop working.” “My handwriting is horrible.” “I have very little upper body strength.” See? No qualifiers whatsoever. I guess if I wanted to twist this into a positive I could say I’m very good at identifying what I’m not very good at.

Honestly, I don’t understand people with high self-esteem. I literally can’t comprehend how they think. I would say my confidence is shot, but I’m not sure I ever had any to begin with. The concept of high self-esteem is so foreign to me, in fact, that I’ve been guilty of accusing people of being arrogant when in actuality they were merely well-adjusted human beings. I have believed for years that low self-esteem hurt me because I was always placing others ahead of myself and not thinking enough about my own needs. Turns out, though, that my problem is I actually think about myself too much.

In his book Healing for Damaged Emotions, author David A. Seamands wrote, “When you devalue yourself, you become overly absorbed in and with yourself, and you don’t have anything left to give to others.” He goes on to explain how low self-esteem ultimately sabotages relationships: “If you have low self-esteem, you ask another human being to do for you what no other person can do – to make you feel adequate and able – when you are already convinced that you are inadequate and unable.”

I’ve always worn low self-esteem as some sort of badge, as if demeaning myself would somehow make me appear more humble and would elevate those around me. While there are advantages to recognizing one’s limitations, though, a poor self-image is a destructive force and an anchor when it comes to depression. To put it bluntly, if you keep telling yourself how awful you are for long enough, you eventually start to believe it. You become absorbed in your own flaws, and you draw inward. You may be convinced you have no worth, but at the same time your worthlessness is all you can think about. Trust me, I know. I fight this battle every day.

What is a life without qualifiers like? I’m not exactly sure. Things don’t seem balanced to me unless I try to balance the scales with some kind of negativity somehow. I used to think this was being pragmatic, but now I’m not so sure. Maybe it really is self-sabotage to believe nothing is ever really “good” or to believe I’m never going to fully succeed at anything. It just feels so alien to me. I mean, someone has to be realistic about things, right?

self-esteem“Very few people have fully overcome the haunting self-doubts, the dragging disappointments about who they are, and what they can be,” Seamands wrote. “Low self-esteem begins even in the crib, follows to the kindergarten, and worsens during the teen years. In adult life, it seems to settle in like a great fog that covers many people day by day. Sometimes if lifts a little but always returns, trying to engulf, to drown.”

Drowning in a great fog doesn’t sound to me like a very healthy way to live. I’ve been trying to live without qualifiers, but ingrained thought patterns are difficult to break. Maybe someone told you that you were lazy or stupid or ugly, and you believed it. Maybe you’ve lived that way for years. I don’t want to see you live that way anymore. I’m praying for you to recognize you’re better than you think you are. I may not always believe in me, but I believe in you.

Now, tell me something good about yourself.

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