I’ve worked with Molly for a few months. She’s a beautiful seventeen year-old, about to graduate from high school. She’s a good student, good athlete, good artist, good sister, good friend and good person.
Unfortunately, she does not believe any of those things about herself.
Instead, she sees herself as totally inadequate and unworthy in every way. As with many women and girls (and men and boys, too), her internal “reality” contrasts sharply with her true reality. In Molly’s mind, her existence is inconsequential, and her own happiness and comfort are irrelevant. As a result, this smart and lovely teenage girl finds herself in situations where she is mistreated by friends, boys and family, and interprets these events as “fine,” and simply reaffirming of her own unworthiness.
One day, I asked Molly if anyone in her life had ever told her that she is precious. She looked at me blankly. Molly is the inspiration for this article.
Ideally, you heard positive and loving messages about yourself from your parents and other important people in your life as you grew up. Hopefully these messages were reinforced by caring behavior, and helped you form a strong sense of self-esteem.
But life isn’t always ideal, and maybe you weren’t taught those lessons about your own worth and lovability. Or, maybe, for whatever reason, you didn’t absorb the messages at the time, and haven’t leaned them on your own since then. No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to teach your inner child (and your current adult self) the lessons needed to nurture your self-esteem and your overall emotional and physical health.
1. You’re precious. You are an inherently valuable and lovable person. You have good qualities and less-good qualities, just like everyone else, but you are always special and always worthy of love and happiness. You should be cherished.
2. You’re not supposed to be perfect. Nobody is great at everything, and perfect in every way. You’re not supposed to be perfect—you’re supposed to be human. Please don’t torture yourself by demanding perfection. It’s an impossible goal.
3. I love you even when you mess up. Because you’re human, you’re going to make mistakes sometimes—little ones and giant ones. It’s OK to be upset with yourself, or regretful or even to feel guilty, but only for a reasonable amount of time. Then, you need to forgive yourself, learn from the mistake and move on. Your mistakes don’t define you, and shouldn’t control how you feel about yourself for very long. You are still the same precious person.
4. It’s OK that you’re not always happy. Maybe you feel comfortable in the role of the entertainer, making others smile and laugh (possibly without regard to your own true feelings). Or, maybe you grew up in an atmosphere where you were always expected to be “fine,” and not show sadness or anger. It’s normal to experience a range of emotions, and it’s normal to sometimes have unpleasant feelings. You don’t need to be happy all the time, and you don’t need to pretend that you are to people who are close to you.
5. It’s not OK when other people treat you badly. Remember Molly? Since she thinks so little of herself, she thinks it’s fine for other people to treat her badly. It’s not. It’s not OK for people to treat you with disrespect, violence, manipulation, threats, cruelty or a variety of other bad behaviors. It’s not OK in personal or professional settings. Even if you’re stuck in a situation where you can’t immediately stop or escape the mistreatment, don’t let yourself start to believe that it’s acceptable. You deserve to be treated with basic human kindness, as does everyone else. Anything less is absolutely not OK.
6. You deserve to be healthy. You deserve to nurture your own physical and emotional health and wellbeing. This means that you need to put yourself somewhere near the top of your priority list. You deserve to take the time and energy necessary to take care of yourself, and to make choices the support health in your life.
It’s never too late to teach these messages to the children in your life, or to your own inner child. You can also send these along to any friends and relatives that may have forgotten, or may have never learned, about their own inherent worthiness and lovability.
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