(Dr. Norquist is on vacation this week. We are re-running letters that were published earlier in this column.)
Dear Dr. Norquist:
Do you have some advice for someone suffering from low self-esteem? Some of the things I struggle with are: a comparison of myself to others (“why am I not as ‘together’ as she is?”), a lack of faith in my abilities (“I’ll never be as good as he is, I might as well not try”), a lot of self-criticism (“why did I sign up for this course, I should have known I couldn’t handle it”), and always saying yes to people, or feeling like I’ve said the wrong thing. Can you give some advice?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Thoughts are more powerful then we are usually aware of. What we think and believe is expressed in our words and actions and then is reflected back to us by those we interact with. One very practical but powerful method for helping yourself to esteem yourself more highly is to make a conscious and consistent effort to stop feeding your low self-esteem through engaging in the habitual thoughts you have so clearly observed and acknowledged in your question. Start by noticing when you are engaging in these thought patterns. When you are good at catching yourself participating in these thought patterns, practice choosing to not participate. Choose to let this habit go. You can then choose to replace these old beliefs and thought patterns with a more positive, self-affirming, self-accepting belief. Practice telling yourself these new beliefs, even if you do not yet believe them to be true. Be kind and patient with yourself as you make these changes. If you start by catching one out of twenty-five negative self-statements, that’s a great place to start. Through consistent effort and patient kindness toward yourself, you will start to see changes. When you stop refueling your tank, so to speak, with negative self-statements, you eventually have no negative energy to use to engage in the old thought patterns that keep these beliefs alive for you.
Remember, the true place of self-esteem is not one of feeling better than others. This approach is also born of a sense of inadequacy and lack. In true self-esteem, you recognize your own innate divinity and loveableness, and also recognize this in all others. There is no “better than” or “less than”. This is just something we have created through our beliefs, and through our experience of separation from our inner divinity.
Dear Dr. Norquist:
We moved to a new school system 1 year ago, and started our son in the 3rd grade in the local school. Over time, I’ve noticed that he is becoming more and more excluded by most of his classmates. He calls to invite them over and is usually turned down. Now he has started to hold himself apart from the others and not join in with group activities. One on one he seems to do fine. But lately he has started talking about how no one likes him, even saying "everybody hates me." He often feels rejected by his classmates. This breaks my heart. He is quiet, kind, and quite sensitive. I’ve spoken with his teacher about this, so she is trying to support and encourage him. I stay up at night feeling hurt that he is having to deal with this rejection. What can I do?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Sometimes we feel our children’s’ pain even more than they do. We attach worries from our own experiences to our perception of their pain, and can easily make the burden of their pain much heavier for us than it is for our children. We cannot always protect our children from pain. Pain is an inevitable part of life. If you can embrace this pain, it changes into a deeper experience of life itself.
As a mother, your role here is to guide your son in his perceptions of and understanding of this situation. The easiest internal response on your part would be to feel angry at and critical of the classmates who you feel are hurting your son. But what are the consequences of this response? What state does it leave you in, and what does it teach your son? Help your son to understand why some children may act rejecting towards others. Help him to see that we all have similar fears and insecurities. All are worthy of being treated with kindness, despite their behavior. We are all worthy of love. Do your best to help your son to experience his worth and his loveableness through how you listen to him, how you respond to his needs, and what your words or actions convey to him. When one feels "I am as good as another," the world responds accordingly.
Remember, our children have their own paths, their own lessons to learn. We can do our best to assist and guide them, but we do not have control over what their lessons in life will be. The highest response we can learn and we can guide our children to learn, is to respond with love, towards themselves as well as towards others.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding and treating physical symptoms and health-related concerns. Practitioners of the following techniques are available to answer your questions: psychology, acupuncture, therapeutic and neuromuscular massage, yoga, meditation, spiritual & transpersonal psychology, Reiki, Cranial Sacral Therapy, and Alexander Technique Ó 2002 Chaitanya Counseling and Stress Management Center