One afternoon, while doing the dishes, I was listening to a podcast with a psychologist who was talking about low self-esteem and how it has its roots in childhood. And in that moment, I had a flashback of a little girl who was constantly seeking her parent’s approval.
I remembered how much I wanted my parents to be proud of me, to give me kudos. I yearned to hear those magic words.
“I am proud of you. You did a great job. You are so smart.”
And when I did on occasion hear those words, I cherished them because I remembered how good it felt when they were said to me.
Well, that little girl grew up into a woman, who, now in her 30’s, was frequently seeking her husband’s nod of approval. I wanted my husband to tell me he was proud of me, that I was a terrific wife, that I was a good mother, that I was an amazing cook. That I was doing a good job at . . . whatever!
Yes, I feel foolish just writing this.
Because how could a grown, successful, confident woman be seeking a man’s approval, even if it is her dearest husband’s approval? This was at odds with who I believed I was, and yet I knew it was true.
The advice of the psychologist on the podcast was simple.
It was up to me — not anyone else — to raise my own self-esteem.
I didn’t need anyone, other than myself, to make me feel good. All I had to do was praise myself. On anything and everything, and as many times as I could.
So, I decided to take on the challenge with myself and told no one about it. I decided I would praise myself. Silently and out loud, I would say positive things about myself to myself.
Day 1: While having a hot shower and soaping my hair, I repeated to myself that I am lovable, and that I deserve to be loved.
Day 2: After brushing my teeth in the morning, I looked into the mirror, and told myself I am enough.
Day 3: While changing into my pajamas, I told myself that I am an amazing wife.
I got more creative as the days went by.
Day 9: I told myself my husband adores me (even though my husband and I were currently still recouping from a heated discussion).
Day 15: I told myself I’m an incredible mom who makes healthy food for my family (even though my kids were complaining about the meal I had just made).
Day 26: I told myself I’m a talented writer whose words resonate with other women (even though I had just received two rejections in my inbox).
I spoke to myself at least once a day, sometimes several times a day. I spoke to myself as I swept the floor, washed the dirty dishes, and did the laundry. I spoke to myself while driving or while waiting in line at the grocery store.
Any chance I got, anytime I remembered, I gave kudos to myself.
At first, I didn’t feel any different. Actually, I felt quite silly, and doubtful that doing this would even make a difference. These were not words I was accustomed to hearing growing up, let alone saying out loud to myself.
My negative inner voice also worked hard to sabotage my compliments. It had me questioning why I was taking on this dubious challenge. Was it a futile attempt to change what was basically set in stone? Could 30-odd years of thinking really be undone in 30 days?
But perhaps there was a chance that I could come out of this with a slightly higher self-esteem than when I started? Feeling a tad less inadequate in certain aspects of my life?
That was a strong possibility.
And that was something I was willing to bet on, and needed to take a chance on.
Because I realized that if I didn’t, I would likely be passing on these same sentiments to my children. And I didn’t want my kids –- especially my girls –- to struggle the way I was.
I didn’t want them to feel inadequate and grow up needing someone other than themselves to make them feel whole.
And so, as a result of this little challenge I took on for myself, I also started building up my kids’ self-esteem.
I told them:
YOU are smart.
YOU are loved.
YOU are beautiful/handsome.
YOU can do anything you want to do.
I said it before they left for school in the morning. I said when I cuddled with them in bed at night. And I said it randomly whenever I remembered.
I had them say it to themselves using the first-person voice (I am smart, I am loved, I am beautiful/handsome, I can do anything I want to do).
The older one sometimes rolled his eyes at me. The younger ones repeated it loudly like it was our new family chant.
It’s been a few months since that day I listened to the podcast. I would love to tell you that I still practice these “mantras” every day, but truthfully, I don’t always remember to do it.
I would also love to tell you that my self-esteem is through the roof, but that isn’t the case either.
What I can tell you though, is that I’m better at catching myself when my self-esteem starts to take a nose dive, and I’m much more able to stop it from spiraling downward. It could be due in part to three simple words that I do remember to remind myself of frequently since listening to that podcast. Those three words?
I Am Enough.
Because you know what? I am enough, and so are you. We just need to start believing that.