It's a new morning. The alarm goes off and we lurch into consciousness. Outside our window the birds are chirping, proudly announcing their presence to the world. What do you do? Do you hit the snooze and pull the covers over your head secretly dreading the day stretching ahead, anxiously planning ways to avoid criticism, rejection, shame and emptiness? Or do you determinedly get to your feet, check your schedule for the day and focus your thoughts to insure that your actions will be efficient, effective, on task, on target, resulting in excellence and success? The second person is searching for that essential attribute that the first individual has given up on ever finding.
We all want to be happy, to feel confident and capable. We all need to feel important, secure and useful in our close relationships. Without these qualities pain becomes suffering and joy is shallow at best, non-existent at worst. Self esteem is the foundation on which a fulfilling life is built. Without it joy, security, freedom are fleeting, dependent on the next achievement, the next word of praise, the next demonstration of importance. And even then, there is a vague sense of unease, emptiness, a sense of "is that all there is". But we shake it off, and look for the next thing that will temporarily mask the discomfort that we feel.
Some of us, in an effort to eliminate that sense of unease, strive for external signs of success, in the form of career, income and respect. Others choose to dedicate their lives to the service of others or to a cause. Still others resort to various addictions - food, substance abuse, perfectionism, workaholic, fixing others, people pleasing, thrill seeking or rebellion. The list is extensive.

Self esteem is with doubt a quality that can mean the difference between a life of joy and fulfillment and a life of despair and tragedy. This quality, more than any other, determines the level of satisfaction, personal growth and positive influence that an individual creates and experiences in their life. There are three main aspects to self esteem: self confidence, self respect, and self worth. Most techniques to improve self esteem focus on the first two qualities. You can increase your self confidence through education, training, improving your skills in your chosen field, learning communication skills, achievement and facing your fears. Self respect results from establishing your personal values and then living and behaving accordingly. Granted, these are steps that require substantial effort, dedication, courage, and determination. Sadly, however, even a person who has developed their self confidence and lives their life in a manner that produces self respect, may still lack the most important quality of self worth.

Self worth is very elusive and cannot be gained by achievements, perfect behavior, self sacrifice, altruism or skill building. While a person lacking self worth can minimize their overt suffering and build a comfortable and respectable lifestyle by improving their level of self confidence and self respect, the internal discomfort unrelentingly persists to a greater or lesser extent. It may be a sense that there is something inherently wrong with them. This can result in criticism, even if it is constructive, being devastating. Or they may feel as if they must earn the right to be alive. They may go through life feeling like they don't have the right to do, say or feel anything that may inconvenience others. They may try to be invisible, so as not to make waves on one hand, but long for recognition on the other.

They judge themselves harshly and make excuses for other's inappropriate behavior toward them. Sometime they don't even realize that the behavior was inappropriate. They feel guilty when good things come into their lives because they aren't certain that they have done enough to deserve it. They feel compelled to constantly be productive so they aren't a burden. They can't experience the joy of living and have a sense of what's the point. And the harder they try to be worthy the more it seems to elude them. You can't identify them by appearance. They make certain to put on a happy face. They don't feel they have the right to bother anyone with their despair and can't see a solution in sight.

Does a solution exist? Yes, but it doesn't involve education, skills, achievements, selflessness or improved behavior. It doesn't really involve “doing” as much as it involves “being” a different way. It does require insight, change, and most of all courage.

The first step is simply acting as if you are worthy, acting like you count. This means you must not let your feelings of guilt determine your behavior. It will feel very uncomfortable at first. You must establish personal boundaries and stick to them. It is often difficult to establish healthy boundaries when you lack a sense of self worth. You will invariably feel that you are being selfish or that you don’t have the right to refuse to give another person what they want. A technique that I found that works very well is to think of someone that you love. Then think of the boundaries that you would recommend to them. Now, adopt those boundaries for your own. Even if others try to tell you that you are being selfish, do not give in.

For awhile, every time you must make a decision involving your interaction with others, imagine you are advising someone that you love that is in the same situation. Then do what you would have advised them to do. Don't give in to the temptation to tell yourself things like, it really isn't that important, as an excuse to give in. Or I can handle the disappointment, as an excuse to deny your feelings and desires in order to placate others. Don’t give in to self-doubt, other’s criticism or guilt. After some practice, you will start feeling more comfortable with your new boundaries.

I have also found that recounting the situation to someone else, helps to put it into focus. While it was in my head, I was certain that I was expecting too much from others. Once I explained the situation out loud to an objective listener, I realized that I was allowing others to treat me like a doormat. The distinction between taking care of myself and being true to myself versus being self-centered becomes clear. The bottom line is this: As long as I keep acting like I don't count, that is how I am going to feel.

The next step is to express your feelings. Not your opinion necessarily. Your feelings are uniquely yours. You must be willing to express who you are or in a very real sense, you do not exist. Sometimes our feelings may cause others some discomfort. That is not a reason to reframe from expressing yourself. If you do, you are once again saying, by your actions, that you do not count. Say how you feel, without blaming, justifying, or apologizing. Do not make another responsible for your feelings. For better or worse, our feelings are the result of our life experience, beliefs and perceptions. We cannot identify the parts of ourselves that need to grow without honoring our feelings and what they tell us. And we cannot have an emotionally intimate relationship with another without the freedom to express ourselves fully.

Next you must identify your dreams or goals. Initially, do not concern yourself with whether or not they are practical. Especially do not be influenced by whether others will approve or be inconvenienced by them. It may take some time to narrow the list down. Wait until you are feeling some of the results of the previous steps. You can seek suggestions from others who may have experience in similar situations. But do not eliminate anything on the basis of another's approval. Your personal values will be the guidelines for determining if a goal causes to much upheaval for you partner or children. Just make certain it is your values that are the guide for your decision and not whether or not you deserve to cause other discomfort. Remember also that even if something appears impractical at first, creative thinking can nearly always find a workable solution.

Practice being present and aware in the moment. This requires learning to experience ourselves and our environment rather than always thinking about our circumstances. To test your level of awareness, just chose a doorway in your home and remember to make a mental note each time you go through it. You will probably be amazed at the very few times you actually notice passing through the door at the time.

Most importantly, find a spiritual practice, whether it is mediation, communing with nature, a creative endeavor that flows from your being or listening to music that stirs you inside. Learn to recognize and experience that sense of expansiveness, excitement, desire and support deep inside. That is your Essence. That is where your power, your wisdom, your sense of wonder and sense of greatness reside. The more you can connect to that part of you, and then live life from that place of being, the less you will even consider the question of worth. You will realize that your existence here is proof of your worth and the special part you have to play in creation.

You exist to experience life and to express who you are. As you evolve from those experiences, you continue to express the greater you that you are becoming. Practice maintaining your conscious connection to that source of comfort and support inside. Your Essence is the Authentic you behind the defensives, self defeating beliefs, expectations and masks. Let it guide and support you. No one else can give the world the unique qualities that you have to offer. Strip off the layers of false beliefs, self doubt, guilt, conformity and judgment. Let the light of your Essence shine and experience life with enthusiasm. Spontaneously express the true you behind the masks. Tell the critic in your head to take a vacation. Life desires each of us to Yes! I am here and this is who I am. Live the dreams of your Soul.

One glorious morning, you will wake up just as the birds do, singing with enthusiasm and proudly announcing to the world that you are alive, enthusiastic to greet the day and magnificent. And that is the sweetest gift of all.

Author's Bio: 

Lauren Kennedy has devoted years to exploring, researching and creating methods designed to help others achieve their dreams. Her articles show a depth of innovation and insight that is rarely seen. Lauren also offers Life and Spiritual Coaching. Her capacity to understand, motivate, and find personalized solutions transforms the lives of people that she coaches. Lauren's vast and varied experiences have resulted in an uncommon perspective and unlimited passion to help other people to reach for the stars.

Lauren Kennedy has a website dedicated to Personal Development.
The website features products, e-courses, CDs, and coaching services devoted to all areas of Personal Growth. Discover powerful information, effective, result oriented methods, and compassionate, insightful support. Visit her site and take the first step in transforming your life.

Lauren welcomes your questions and comments. You can visit her website, participate in her blog or e-mail her.
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