MEN LIKE WOMEN WHO LIKE THEMSELVES. It sounds so simple. Like two plus two equals four. Simple. Yet most women know from their own personal experience that the 'mathematics' of love and relationships are rarely this simple. Indeed, they know that love and relationships can be painfully complicated, especially when self-esteem is an integral part of the emotional equation that determines one's ability to give and receive love. Still, this fact remains: Men like women who like themselves. So how do you become one of these women? How do you overcome your personal struggle with self-esteem and open that door men find so welcoming?
NO ONE IS BORN WITH LOW SELF-ESTEEM
Self-esteem is the product of a lifetime of emotional growth and emotional challenges, fueled by thousands upon thousands of life's moments and life's messages. Some of these moments and messages are subtle: A smile of approval. A loving gaze. A frown of displeasure. A vacant stare. Some of these messages are not so subtle: Words of encouragement. Words of kindness. Words of praise. Words of insult. Words of indifference. Words of anger. Every message and every moment transmits a universe of information, creating and reinforcing your sense of self-esteem. Before you are even old enough to speak your first words, you have already formed many powerful ideas about whether or not you are good or bad, attractive or unattractive, smart or foolish. Most important, you have already started to decide whether or not you are wanted or unwanted, and whether or not you deserve to be loved.
I have been writing about love, relationships and self-esteem for almost twenty-five years, and hardly a day goes by without someone asking, "How do I get healthy enough to find and keep love in my life?" What these women are really asking is: "How do I overcome feelings of low self-esteem and start to believe I deserve to be loved?" My answer is simple: If you want to build your self-esteem, you need to first understand how the mind creates self-esteem. Now I'm not trying to be glib here, I'm not trying to act like a therapist, and I'm not trying to avoid the question. My answer is really a road map to a different life. Yet I know that it is a bad answer for women who are looking for shortcuts and don't want to do the hard work that brings internal transformation. It's not a quick fix. Still, it's the answer you need to remember if you want to start building healthier emotional insides. Give me a chance to explain why.
LOW SELF-ESTEEM DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A LIFE SENTENCE
Without a good beginning it is hard to create a happy ending. This is one of the basic tenets of emotional health. Our early years, the so-called 'formative years,' give us the most important building blocks for a lifetime of true self-esteem. Every day, every moment, we look at the world around us and the world looks back. Moments and messages, just like the ones I mentioned above. Our young minds, like brilliant little computers, catalog everything we see, hear, and sense, and start interpreting the data. For some of us, the overall message we receive is a positive one: "You are enough." Yet for many of us, the overall message is confusing and undermining, leaving us with the feeling that love is conditional, or arbitrary. For some of us, those least fortunate, the overall message is brutally discouraging and consistently negative. This overwhelming negativity leaves us emotionally devastated and dangerously vulnerable.
Our early, formative years are critical, but much more 'emotional evolution' will follow. The development of our internal sense of value is an ongoing process that we live thru during our years as a toddler, an adolescent, and a teen; it continues thru our twenties, thirties, and forties, our middle age, and even our old age. Self-esteem is not fixed. It is not a number. It is a living organism that can change in extraordinary ways over the course of a lifetime. And it depends entirely on the messages that feed the machine. And this is where we find the key to building more healthy esteem: changing the messages that feed the machine.
WOMEN WITH LOW SELF-ESTEEM LIVE EVERY DAY WITH AN INTERNAL WAR OF WORDS
When you struggle with low self-esteem, your internal voices of negativity battle internal voices of encouragement. Your internal voices of criticism battle internal voices of care. Your internal voices of love battle internal voices of self-loathing. It's a constant internal firefight. Years ago, these voices belonged to the people who surrounded you – your parents, siblings, schoolmates, teachers, neighbors, peers – but today, they have become your own voices. You have become the bearer of all messages, the voice of your own history. You are your greatest advocate and your greatest enemy, your fondest fan and your worst critic. But that also means you are in control. It's not about them now, it's about you. If you want to change, your job is to fill your internal world with a new voice. Think about that: A new voice that you control. You have that power. It isn't easy, it isn't quick, but it is possible. And it is how we create change from the inside out.
Your new internal voice has to be kind. It has to be caring. It has to be self-protective. And it has to believe you deserve love. It has to show kindness, appreciation, acceptance and forgiveness. It can't be critical, judgmental or cruel. Not even in jest. Are you ready for that kind of change? Sweeping change? Transformative change? Are you ready to start liking yourself? Then go to the mirror. That’s where you can begin.
LIKING YOURSELF MEANS TALKING THE TALK
Look at yourself in the mirror, look straight into your own eyes, and say something kind. Tell yourself you are special. Tell yourself you are pretty. Tell yourself you are smart. Tell yourself you're a good person. Tell yourself you deserve to be loved. Say it out loud, if you can. Most important, say it today. Then twice tomorrow. Five times the next day. Kind sentences. Supportive sentences. Positive sentences. Loving sentences. You need to hear them again and again and again and again and again. And you need to hear them coming from YOU. The moment you utter that first sentence, you have started to heal. And you will continue to heal, one sentence at a time.
As you start speaking to yourself in a new, more loving way, you must also start consciously rejecting the harsh voices that still live inside you trying to defeat you. You have to consciously start pushing these harsh voices of history back as you introduce your new, healthier voice. If negative voices start to creep in (and they will, believe me, they will!), your job is to turn off that valve. Push them away. Tell them to leave. Don't complete the sentences. You have the power to do that. You're an adult now and you can say 'no.' You don't have to accept your critical voices. You don't have to welcome the words that undermined your sense of self. You don't have to 'handle' it. You don't have to 'be okay' with it. You don't have to live with it. You don't have to beat yourself up. You have the power to choose.
DO YOU HAVE A LOVING 'TEAM'?
When we grow up surrounded by harsh, unsupportive voices we get comfortable with those voices; so comfortable, in fact, that we tend to seek out those same types of voices when we become adults. Everyone finds comfort in the familiar, regardless of how destructive that 'familiar' may be. Sometimes it's your closest friends who give you the same old critical looks and language. Sometimes it's your colleagues or your boss. Often it's members of your own family who keep singing their same old negative songs. And sometimes, it's the men you love. Women with low self-esteem usually make very bad choices when it comes to choosing a romantic partner. They accept far less than they deserve, often seeking out partners who mirror the negative voices and experiences of their early years. The critical partner. The cold partner. The ambivalent partner. The distant partner. The punishing partner. Choices like these perpetuate your struggle to build self-esteem. These people knock you down when you are trying to pull yourself up. It may not be intentional; often it's just who they are. But their rationale is not important. They cripple your self-esteem, and this is unacceptable.
So if you want to get really healthy, you have one more task ahead: You have to clean house and build a more loving 'team.' It's not just the destructive internal voices you have to get rid of, you also must deal with those undermining voices from the outside world. You can't put out the welcome mat for hurtful people any more. These people have to go. Some will need to be told that their negative messages are no longer acceptable. Some will have to be taught how to speak to you in a different way. Some will have to be held at a greater distance where they can do less harm. And some will have to be given two weeks notice. Your heart will not protect you here, you have to trust your sense of smarts, and you have to trust me.
I know this sounds scary. I know that people may rail against your new boundaries and your new level of emotional health. But you can do it! So gather up a team and get to work. Fill your team with people who know how to communicate kindness, acceptance, and encouragement -- people who reflect the best in you, and everything you strive to become. You know who these people are; it's time to rally their support. Let them surround you as you take those brave new steps. Of course it won't be easy, and of course it will take time. Change is always filled with challenges. But this kind of change is possible, and the payoff is immense. For when the hard work has been done a reward will be waiting: A partner who likes you because it is so clear that you like yourself.
Steven Carter is the author of twenty books including the New York Times bestseller "Men Who Can't Love" and the National Bestsellers "What Smart Women Know", "He's Scared, She's Scared", "Getting to Commitment", "Men Like Women Who Like Themselves" and "Help! I'm In Love With A Narcissist."
For more, please see entry for Steven A. Carter at www.wikipedia.org.