About Brian Hofsommer

Brian Hofsommer is a Marriage and Family therapist and Christian counselor practicing in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. He is committed to a robust philosophical, psychological, and theological dialogue in an effort to explore the heights and depths of humanity.

A list of 15 things to give up on

The following is a list of 15 things which should be given up.  We tightly hold onto these things and trust in them as if they will get us through the day.  However, we find that they often turn on us and create more problems than they solve.  Here they are:

1. Give up your need to always be right. There are so many of us who can’t stand the idea of being wrong – wanting to always be right – even at the risk of ending great relationships or causing a great deal of stress and pain, for us and for others. It’s just not worth it. Whenever you feel the ‘urgent’ need to jump into a fight over who is right and who is wrong, ask yourself this question: “Would I rather be right, or would I rather be kind?”. What difference will that make? Is your ego really that big?


2. Give up your need for control. 
Be willing to give up your need to always control everything that happens to you and around you – situations, events, people, etc. Whether they are loved ones, coworkers, or just strangers you meet on the street – just allow them to be. Allow everything and everyone to be just as they are and you will see how much better will that make you feel.

“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond winning.” Lao Tzu

3. Give up on blame. Give up on your need to blame others for what you have or don’t have, for what you feel or don’t feel. Stop giving your powers away and start taking responsibility for your life.

4. Give up your self-defeating self-talk. Oh my. How many people are hurting themselves because of their negative, polluted and repetitive self-defeating mindset? Don’t believe everything that your mind is telling you – especially if it’s negative and self-defeating. You are better than that.

“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive.” Eckhart Tolle

5. Give up your limiting beliefs about what you can or cannot do, about what is possible or impossible. From now on, you are no longer going to allow your limiting beliefs to keep you stuck in the wrong place. Spread your wings and fly!

“A belief is not an idea held by the mind, it is an idea that holds the mind” Elly Roselle

6. Give up complaining. Give up your constant need to complain about those many, many, maaany things – people, situations, events that make you unhappy, sad and depressed. Nobody can make you unhappy, no situation can make you sad or miserable unless you allow it to. It’s not the situation that triggers those feelings in you, but how you choose to look at it. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking.

7. Give up the luxury of criticism. Give up your need to criticize things, events or people that are different than you. We are all different, yet we are all the same. We all want to be happy, we all want to love and be loved and we all want to be understood. We all want something, and something is wished by us all.

8. Give up your need to impress others. Stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not just to make others like you. It doesn’t work this way. The moment you stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not, the moment you take of all your masks, the moment you accept and embrace the real you, you will find people will be drawn to you, effortlessly.

9. Give up your resistance to change. Change is good. Change will help you move from A to B. Change will help you make improvements in your life and also the lives of those around you. Follow your bliss, embrace change – don’t resist it.
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls” 
Joseph Campbell

10. Give up labels. Stop labeling those things, people or events that you don’t understand as being weird or different and try opening your mind, little by little. Minds only work when open. “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” Wayne Dyer

11. Give up on your fears. Fear is just an illusion, it doesn’t exist – you created it. It’s all in your mind. Correct the inside and the outside will fall into place.
“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
 Franklin D. Roosevelt

12. Give up your excuses. Send them packing and tell them they’re fired. You no longer need them. A lot of times we limit ourselves because of the many excuses we use. Instead of growing and working on improving ourselves and our lives, we get stuck, lying to ourselves, using all kind of excuses – excuses that 99.9% of the time are not even real.

13. Give up the past. I know, I know. It’s hard. Especially when the past looks so much better than the present and the future looks so frightening, but you have to take into consideration the fact that the present moment is all you have and all you will ever have. The past you are now longing for – the past that you are now dreaming about – was ignored by you when it was present. Stop deluding yourself. Be present in everything you do and enjoy life. After all life is a journey not a destination. Have a clear vision for the future, prepare yourself, but always be present in the now.

14. Give up attachment. This is a concept that, for most of us is so hard to grasp and I have to tell you that it was for me too, (it still is) but it’s not something impossible. You get better and better at with time and practice. The moment you detach yourself from all things, (and that doesn’t mean you give up your love for them – because love and attachment have nothing to do with one another,  attachment comes from a place of fear, while love… well, real love is pure, kind, and self less, where there is love there can’t be fear, and because of that, attachment and love cannot coexist) you become so peaceful, so tolerant, so kind, and so serene. You will get to a place where you will be able to understand all things without even trying. A state beyond words.

15. Give up living your life to other people’s expectations. Way too many people are living a life that is not theirs to live. They live their lives according to what others think is best for them, they live their lives according to what their parents think is best for them, to what their friends, their enemies and their teachers, their government and the media think is best for them. They ignore their inner voice, that inner calling. They are so busy with pleasing everybody, with living up to other people’s expectations, that they lose control over their lives. They forget what makes them happy, what they want, what they need….and eventually they forget about themselves.  You have one life – this one right now – you must live it, own it, and especially don’t let other people’s opinions distract you from your path.

Originally posted on purposefairy.com

The Power of Boundaries

A strong and healthy boundary will allow you to encounter the world with strength and confidence, allowing you a fuller expression of yourself without needing to accommodate to your surroundings.  Recognizing that YOU are the only thing you can control is the first and biggest step.  Then, all that remains is to maintain a sober assessment of yourself and be faithful to that assessment.

Ever have a debate that got a tad bit hostile?  Chances are that you have.  And what did you do after that debate?  You probably went over your argument to figure out what would have been a better comeback… or maybe you just felt embarrassed because you overextended your knowledge on the subject and got caught… or maybe you felt a bit disillusioned because the thing you felt so sure about really wasn’t such a sure thing.  Debates are a great because they provide a testing ground for what you believe.  You see, its pretty easy to believe something if it’s never been challenged, but to let your convictions be tested is a courageous and honorable thing.  It is only by withstanding strong wind that a tree gains strength in its branches.  Similarly, steel is made strong and resilient through refining.  So it is with your character.  So it is with your life.

Debates are a great way to test and improve your boundaries.  During a debate, you must maintain a sober assessment of how much you know and how much you do not know or risk looking like a fool.  You must also assert yourself enough to be taken seriously, while remaining flexible enough remain open to dialogue.  You must take person’s point of view seriously, while maintaining a healthy skepticism to keep from accepting anything too easily.  You must give yourself permission to be right and permission to be wrong.  Above all, you must recognize your position as a flawed, biased, human being with limited knowledge sparring against another flawed, biased human being with limited knowledge… and as steel sharpens steel, so you will sharpen each other.

Debate is an excellent way to test out how strong and healthy your boundaries are.  Through debate, you attempt to compel the other person to accept what you have come to believe while recognizing their autonomy and sanctity at the same time.  A successful debate is not measured by who won, but by the quality of the arguments, the honesty of the arguer, and constructive nature of the dialogue.  If these three qualities are present, the debate is productive.  If they are absent, the debate has likely lowered itself to the sad position of a prideful tirade.

So why bring up debate as way to speak about healthy boundaries?… because they are fundamental part of all engaging relationships.  Any time values, beliefs, convictions, and passions are discussed, it will contribute to the formative nature of yourself and the other, changing those involved.  Practicing and maintaining healthy boundaries will give you the power to maintain your sense of self while being able to be around others.

In short, you have the power to change your marriage because you can control yourself.  You have the power to change your career because you can control yourself.  Look at the many problems you may have had with family members, loved ones, and co-workers and you will likely find that some boundaries have been crossed.  Maintaining those boundaries   is key to maintaining those relationships.  In closing, I give you the word attributed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

The Wisdom of Boundaries

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

These are the words recited often by addicts around the world who have joined groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and their sister groups.  You don’t have to be a Christian for this phrase to be helpful.  The principles behind this phrase apply to all persons in all circumstances and learning this lesson is one of the most important steps to maturity and peace.  It’s helpful because it deals directly with boundaries and how to negotiate them.

So what are boundaries?  Boundaries are a personal set of rules that govern the relationship between you and reality.  For instance, imagine shouts a racial slur at you.  How do you respond?  Do you get hurt?  Do you shut them out?  Do you insult them back?  Someone with soft boundaries will likely get hurt and may lash out angrily.  Someone with hard boundaries may separate them self or ignore them.  Those who have strong healthy boundaries are able gain control over the situation.  They recognize the difference between what you can and can’t control and are able to maintain a clear head and even temperament as a result.  So what can we control here?  Can we control that person’s opinion of us?  NO  Can we control how that person treats us?  NO  Can we control how we got into this situation?  MAYBE  Can we control how we respond?  YES  And so the person with healthly boundaries in this instance would likely acknowledge the insult, consider the source, recognize that he/she can’t change the other person, and realize that a racial comment says more about the racist than the intended target.  Does that stop it from hurting?  No, but it does help deal with the situation.

Most of anxiety is trying to control that which we cannot control.  Think about it.  When was the last time you felt anxious?  It’s probably because someone or something came around which caused you pain and you strained to control what could not be controlled.  You could also call this worry or fear.  Trying to lift the burden of reality is a task to difficult for any person, so why do it?  Think about it.  What can you really control in life?  Can you make anyone love you?  Can you will yourself into feeling happy/aroused/hungry/peaceful?  Can you magically create money through sheer will power?  Can you prevent or cure illness or disability with the perfect strategic plan?  I hope you answered NO to each of these.  Let’s face it.  You didn’t decide where you would be born, who your parents are, your personality and appearance, your race and color, or even what you like and dislike.  The only thing you can control is how you respond.  Wisdom is knowing the difference between what you can and cannot change and responding with courage.  Do this and you will have some peace.

So let me break this down by giving you a formula.  First, think of a difficult situation right now.  Got it??  Ok.

Step 1: Describe the situation

Step 2: Acknowledge what you can control and what you cannot control about the situation

Step 3: Accept what you can’t control.  It may help to just state the reality; i.e. “he hates me”, “I’m going to get fired”, “I may get cancer in the future”, etc.

Step 4: Realize that you can’t control this and accept the reality of it

Step 5: Decide what you can control and set in motion a courageous plan to act on those things.  Remember that you can always control yourself.  No one can make you do anything you don’t want to do.

I know this sounds deceptively simple…and that’s because it is.  Practice makes perfect and wisdom takes time and careful thought.  The goal of boundaries is not to avoid pain.  The goal is to go through painful inevitable realities with dignity and courage.  That in itself is worth much more than avoiding pain.

 

Unpacking Self-Esteem Part Four: Selfishness vs Selflessness

The final segment of the conversation on self-esteem has to do with selfishness and selflessness.  This tension stems from the altruistic belief in the need to serve others while needing to tend to your own needs as well.  We have all seen the extremes of these. Everyone knows a selfish, spoiled brat who feels a sense of entitlement and seems oblivious to the needs of others and who constantly feels like the world is out to get them (because they are).  Everyone also knows that selfless mother who toils and toils and never lets anyone help her and is always there for everyone else, but always seems to complain about what’s going on an never seems happy.  It shouldn’t surprise us that happiness is not found in either extreme.  Let’s take a deeper look at this issue to help us find a good and healthy selfishness and selflessness.  To do this, we will focus on two principles: the Principle of Investment and the Principle of Relationships.

The Principle of Investment

It is true that those who seek pleasure the most, find it the least. That is because pleasure is not something that is sustainable in itself.  Pleasure is a momentary experience, the goal of the hedonist, and those who pursue pleasure for pleasure’s sake will find the things that bring them the most pleasure also bring them the most pain.  That is because theirs is a pursuit of illegitimate pleasures that cannot be sustained.

Sustainable pleasure (joy) is not something to be pursued.  It is the product of an investment in something meaningful.  By investment, I mean that you put time, energy, and resources into creating something with some expectation that you will receive a return.  This ties into the Judeo-Christian principle of Sabbath which is the basis for what we call “the weekend”.  The week was divided into six days of work and one day of rest.  What is commonly misunderstood about this day of rest is that the purpose of this day was not to sit around doing nothing.  The purpose was to stop, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor…the purpose was enjoyment.

So what’s the big difference between the sustainable pleasure of investment  and the momentary, unsustainable pleasure of hedonism?…timing.  As a general rule, you pay for sustainable pleasure beforehand, while momentary pleasure is paid for afterwards.  Let’s take a look at a few examples of how the principle of investment works.

As a counselor who teaches parenting, much of my work can be summarized as teaching parents to stop avoiding their children and start investing in them.  Many parents try to do as little parenting as possible.  The result… horrible kids!  Now, because those kids are horrible, its difficult to enjoy being their parent.  So what do those parents do?  They withdraw even further from their role as a parent, which makes things even worse.  Good parents know that disciplining your children requires patience and consistency.  Unless little Timmy finds out that what happens when he breaks rules, he’ll see that there really aren’t any rules, just suggestions.  Even more terrifying, he’ll find out that he he can get away with an awful lot, so long as he knows how to push his parent’s buttons.  Good parenting requires an investment of time and energy.  Set the rules.  Follow through with the rules.  No excuses!  A good structure makes a child feel safe.  Quality time makes a child feel loved.  When a child feels safe and loved, he no longer needs to act up.

Marriage takes investment…plain and simple.  If you treat your spouse as if it were their job to make you feel good and take care of your needs, your spouse will likely react in one of two ways: reluctant obedience or protest.  Neither of these options are good ones.  What makes marriage work is a commitment to mutual investment.  I invest my time, energy, and resources into you and you do the same for me.  The motivation for my behavior is no longer obedience or keeping the rules, it is love. When love is the motivation, you can take pleasure in the very act of service, and not just what you receive in return.  You know your marriage is good when loving your husband/wife becomes a reward in itself.  This is the essence of the Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have done to you.

The Principle of Relationships

Think about it…everything you do involves relationships.  All occupations ultimately are for the purpose of serving people.  Relationships drive what we do and who we are.  They are the source of our greatest joy and deepest sorrow.  They give purpose and meaning to life.

The problem arises when we attempt to remove the relational aspect from the things we do.  Anything which loses it’s focus on people will soon be meaningless because the reason for doing that thing is missing.  I dare you to think of anything meaningful that you do that doesn’t involve people (I guess we can include pets to a lesser degree).  No matter what you do, it should be people focused.  You don’t just flip burgers…you flip burgers for a person!  You don’t just crunch numbers…you crunch numbers because it affects a person.  You don’t just obey traffic signals because its the law…you obey them because they affect a person.

I know this may sound simple, but it’s easy to forget.  It’s too easy to focus on things instead of people and then get burned out on why we do what we do in the first place.  How do we avoid the depersonalization?  Practice generosity, hospitality, and encouragement.

Getting bored at work?  Practice generosity, hospitality, and encouragement.  Getting tired of life? Practice generosity, hospitality, and encouragement.  Want to do well on a job interview? Practice generosity, hospitality, and encouragement.  Seriously!  Stop focusing on how others perceive you and start focusing on making them feel good.  Invest in relationships.

So…how does all of this relate to selfishness and selflessness?  You see…it’s not about being selfish or selfless.  It’s about investing in relationships.  Invest time, energy, and resources in yourself.  Also invest time, energy, and resources into others. Take time to have a relationship with yourself!  Spend some time getting to know you,  but also remember to cultivate relationships with others.  If you can do this, your life will be more meaningful, purposeful, and joyful, because the more you invest in relationships, the more you will receive throughout your life…and how you feel about yourself, your self-esteem, will increase in kind.  It’s your life, make it count!

Unpacking Self-Esteem Part Three: Self-Direction

Your goal in life and the progress you make towards that goal has great effect on how you feel about yourself, your self-esteem.  I’ll prove it to you!  Imagine someone that is unemployed, lives with their parents, and plays video games and watches TV all day.  At age 5 you could call that being a child, but at age 40?  What about someone who seems like they’re constantly getting drunk and hooking up with random people.  At age 20 you could call that a frat boy, but at age 60?  Who knows!  Maybe it’s your dream to be supported by your parents or live for the night life until you die, but my guess is that you could do better…and until you do, you won’t be able to take pride in who you are.  What you need is some purpose or goal in life, some self-direction.

Self-direction requires two things: a purpose that is worthy of your devotion and focus in order to make progress towards fulfilling that purpose.  Without purpose and focus, you will have a difficult time wading through the rough seas of life.  A person without a purpose is like a ship at sea with no destination; any movement will seem arbitrary and it may as well not go anywhere at all.  Similarly, a person without focus is like a ship at sea without a compass; it will lose its way and may never arrive at its destination.

Purpose

Purpose is what gives direction to life and is constructed with the help and influence of family, faith, and society.  The difficult thing about purpose is that it is not something that can be merely decided.  No one simply wakes up and decides what they will do for the rest of their life.  Purpose is discovered through a process of self-exploration and wrestling with what it means to live and what makes life worth living. It is a seeking of answers to questions like “What do I want to create in my life?”, “How do I want to be remembered?”, and “What in this world is worth my dedication?”.  Failure to answer these questions results in a life filled with entertainment and despair.

Entertainment and despair is a pattern of living that can steal years of your life away.  Anyone who has spent the entire day watching TV has experienced this.  Maybe the first few hours are fine, but as the day goes by, a sense of desperate boredom begins to creep in until the day is done and you feel anxious and lethargic, angry at yourself for having wasted the day.  You seek entertainment to relieve the despair, and it partially works…but just like sleeping on a futon, it gets increasingly more and more uncomfortable as time goes by until you feel like the entertainment itself has become your boredom.  As Dave Ramsey says, “you eat enough lobster and it will begin to taste like soap”.  What is the solution to this problem?  Stop entertaining yourself and take control of your life!  Stop seeking pleasure for pleasure’s sake and start pursuing a purpose that is worthy of your dedication!

Purpose is what gives meaning to life.  Do you have someone that you look up to in life?  Chances are that they have a clear purpose and have stayed true to it.  Ask them and they’ll tell you that staying true to their purpose is what made them who they are today.  A good purpose will sustain you through the tough times and will give meaning to the good times.  It will create a sense of stability and joy in your life.  Staying true to your purpose will allow you to feel good about yourself (self-esteem) because you’ve accomplished something in life and you can be proud of it.  All that’s left is to maintain focus.

Focus

Having a good purpose isn’t enough.  You must also have focus.  Loss of focus is perhaps the single greatest source of regret in this world.  How many people were running strong until they got distracted, lost focus on what mattered in life, and did many things that cannot be undone?  The world is full tragic stories of infidelity, drug abuse, and fraud where somebody lost focus and destroyed what could have been beautiful.  Staying focused will make all the difference in your life.

A focused life is like an arrow shot from a bow that flies straight and true and hits the bulls-eye dead on.  Picture this: the archer eyes the target, pulls out an arrow and loads it into the bow, takes aim, pulls back the bow string, and releases the arrow with great precision.  Is your life like this?

Here’s a good principle to follow: “Anything that refreshes you without distracting you from, diminishing or destroying your final goal is a legitimate pleasure in your life” – Ravi Zacharias.  This is a good test for the pleasure you seek in your life.  Does it refresh you or does it distract you from your purpose?  Do you feel energized or do you feel sluggish?  Anything that takes away from your purpose is self-sabotage and should be discarded.  Even if the thing is good in itself, if it prevents you from reaching the goal, then it doesn’t fit in your life.

So what is your purpose?  Do you aspire to be a dedicated and loving husband and father?  Do you want to start a program to help your community?  Do you feel the call to be a musician, a chef, a minister, or a counselor?  What will you have to do to get there?  What will you have to stop doing to get there?  The canvas is waiting.  Pick up the paint brush and start painting.  Stay true and focused to your purpose and you’ll soon start to feel better about who you are and why you were put here in the first place.

Unpacking Self-Esteem Part Two: Self-Image

How do you see yourself?  Are you a good person or a bad person…or are you neither good nor bad?  Are you priceless or worthless?  Are you valuable or discardable?  What is your self-image or self-worth and how can you improve it?  Knowing the answer to this question will have a great deal of impact on how you feel about yourself…your self-esteem.

So what is the basis for your self-image? In order to determine this, we need to answer this question: “What is your reference point?”  What is a reference you may ask?  A reference point is “an indicator that orients you generally”.  Not a very helpful definition so let me illustrate it further.  How do you tell north from south?  On a map, you look for the Equator.  In the night sky, you look for the North Star.  The Equator and the North Star are both reference points.  How about in school?  How can you differentiate a good grade from a bad grade?  Usually, you use a letter system or a percentage system.  Letter grades and percentages are both reference points.  We use them to measure good and bad grades. Here’s the problem…what happens if the reference points start moving?  What would happen if the North Star started moving or the Equator was drawn in different locations on each map?  What would happen if one person’s “A” was another person’s “B”?  The answer is…chaos.

So how do we develop a self-image or self-worth in the midst of this chaos?  We find a stable reference point and be true to it.  What’s your reference point?

Are relationships your reference point?  Sue Johnson states that “people are the mirrors through which we see ourselves”.  In other words, how people treat us and look at us have an effect on how we see ourselves.  Anybody who has experienced racism knows this to be true.  It takes a strong and stable reference point to withstand the constant suspicion and condescension and not take on some of the negativity.  Anyone who has been in a bad relationship knows it as well.  When someone repeatedly treats you like rubbish, you either protest and leave, or stay close to that person and risk believing them.

Parents are the most profound example that relationships can be a reference point.  Many who come to counseling are there because their self-image was given to them before they could even speak.  Parents who abuse or neglect their children leave lasting scars that take a lifetime to heal.

What about fame and fortune?  Are those good reference points?  Probably not.  What do we know about those who base their self-image on these things?  All it takes is a quick trip to TMZ to find out.  Celebrities are among the richest and most famous in the world, yet they have astronomical rates of divorce, drug-use, and depression.  Many have made very public train wrecks of their lives trying to maintain their fame and fortune while destroying their life in the process.

What about beauty or power?  The standard of beauty is constantly changing.  You can wear the latest styles, only to be horrified years later (i.e. the 80′s).  Power is fleeting as well.  The more you try to grasp power, the more you end up compromising yourself and others.  Even if you achieve power, you find that you cannot steal what can only be freely given and end up settling for a cheap obedience than genuine love.

So what’s the common denominator here?  All of the above reference points are unstable and external and do not make good reference points.  The poor in America are the rich in Africa and there is no amount of beauty, fame, or success that can be achieved where we can legitimately claim “we have arrived”.  We can merely say “I am prettier/richer/more successful/funnier/smarter/etc. than <insert person here>.  Who then can stand strong in any situation?   The answer…one who has a stable internal reference point…a reference point that can be controlled and does not move or change depending on the situation.

The Stable Internal reference point

A good reference point must be stable.  By this, I mean that the reference point cannot change from day to day.  Also, a good reference point must be internal.  By this, I mean that it must be something that is formed within you rather than something that is manipulated by an outside source.  If your reference point is steady and is something that comes from within you, you will be able to carry yourself with a great deal of confidence.  Here are three examples of possible stable internal reference points.

For the Jewish people in the Holocaust, many clung to their faith tradition.  It was their faith that framed the story of who they are, where they came from, and where they were going.  They were a chosen people, set apart for a purpose and created in the image of God.  The Nazis could not never take that away from them.

For some, it is the act of serving others that gives value to life.  When someone is needed, they find value in their existence and everything they do has more meaning attached to it.  The new parent understands this more than anyone.  That beautiful little helpless face looking up at you for the first time will give you new reason to live: you are necessary, you are needed, you are loved.

For many, it is the painful experiences of placing your self-worth in something external, only to watch it fail again and again.  Through that pain, the one who is open will learn to refocus on what matters and will find an identity in it.  Resilience cannot be taught.  It is the fruit of a life shaped by difficulty.  What is left is a stable image of self that is unwavering because it has been tested and proved strong.

Finding a strong self-image can be as simple as having a child and as complicated as going through a long process of self-examination.  It can be as difficult as going through repeated painful experiences and as easy as accepting who you are in this moment right now.  Take the first step by examining yourself.  What story frames your life?  What in your life makes you valuable or needed?  Are you constantly trying to win the approval of someone?  Do you feel guilty because you’re not rich/famous/powerful/beautiful/smart?  Now is a great time to stop relying on unstable external sources for value and seek worth in something that lasts.

P. S. Having a difficult time finding out what your current reference point is?  When was the last time you were insulted?  Chances are…if someone can insult you in a particular area, you’ve probably found an unstable external reference point.  Watch out for what you use to support your self-worth…you may find that it cannot support the weight.

Unpacking Self-Esteem Part One: Self-leadership

Let me start by proposing that self-esteem is something we can influence and change. After all, if changing our self-esteem were beyond our reach, there would be no point in talking about it and we would end up talking about how to cope with low self-esteem instead.  Everyone seems inspired by those who who defy the odds and are somehow able to overcome their life situations.  Entire TV programs like Oprah are dedicated to this.  I believe it is because each of us are looking for transcendence; something bigger or more profound than ourselves that enables us to separate ourselves from our internal conflicts and keep our feet from getting stuck in the mud.  This leads us into the first part of gaining self-esteem: Self-leadership.

Self-leadership is summed up in one question: Do you trust yourself?  Think about it.  Do you trust yourself with your life?  Would you lend yourself a car?  Would you entrust yourself with an important task?  Would you date/marry you?  Would you give your kids to yourself and trust that they would be taken care of?  All of these are questions of leadership and confidence.  How can you have self-esteem if you can’t even trust yourself?

So how do we become good leaders of self?  Let’s first start by talking about what it means to be a good leader.  A good leader has:

  1. Integrity
  2. Courage
  3. A clear vision

Integrity

Integrity is a word that refers to strength and stability.  If you were a house, integrity would be the walls of that house.  Integrity is what keeps you stable when the wind blows.  Integrity is what keeps you warm when its cold and damp outside.  When your integrity is compromised, the wind blows through the cracks and cold begins to seep in.  Ever tell someone that you’ll be there in 10 minutes when you know its probably more like 30?  Ever have a hard time telling someone “no” unless you have a “valid excuse”?  Have you ever put something off until the last minute, performed horribly, and then promised yourself that next time you wouldn’t wait so long only to procrastinate again?  You have an integrity problem and you’re letting the cold in.

Yoda and Jesus don’t always agree, but they did on this point.  Yoda is quoted as saying “Do or do not, there is no ‘try’”.  Similarly, Jesus said “Let your yes be yes and let your no be no.  Anything else is from the evil one”.  They understood the importance of integrity.  Be true to yourself.  Don’t say you’ll do something when you do not really intend on doing it, but when you decide to do something, do it.  Be honest about your intentions.  Many fail because they don’t want to X, they want to want to do X, which is different  Anytime you set for yourself a goal in life that you don’t really intend on following through with, you compromise yourself and lose confidence in who you are.  Similarly, anytime you allow someone else to coerce you into doing something you don’t really want to do, you end up feeling like a doormat.  Why? Because you’ve compromised yourself.

Courage

Ever feel like you’re just putting out fires?  Ever feel like problems seem to sneak up on you?  You may have a problem with courage.  Anyone can acknowledge a problem when they see it.  It takes courage to decide to deal with it.  Once again I feel like picking on the procrastinators.  Procrastinators are cowards.  I know this because I am one.  Procrastinators habitually put off potentially frustrating and anxiety-provoking issues as long as they possibly can until the potential danger is so great that they are forced to finally deal with the issue.  They remind me of this guy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLlUgilKqms.

Cowards avoid their problems until they can no longer handle them.  They habitually run away from the pain and ignore the problem.  This is the root of all addictions.  It takes real courage to look a problem straight in the face and resolve to deal with it.  Success belongs to the courageous because success is achieved by going through pain, not by going around it.  Anyone who has learned this can trust themselves and can begin to feel good about themselves.

Clear Vision

Leadership requires a clear vision.  Those who are good leaders know where they are going and are determined to get there.  There is a reason why Braveheart, Gen. Patton, Steve Jobs, and others are great leaders.  They have dedicated their life to a purpose and have shaken off all distractions.

Purpose and intent are one of the main reasons why I don’t often teach techniques in couples counseling.  The “how” doesn’t really matter unless the “what” is established.  There is no point in teaching technique to someone who doesn’t intend to use them.  That would be like trying to teach a bowling ball how to swim.  Similarly, how could I teach you to love unless you intend to love someone first.  How could I teach you to be a good husband/wife/friend/lover unless you first have decided to be one?  You must first decide to love your wife/husband.  Then, your desire to carry out that decision must be greater than your desire to avoid pain and insecurity.

A final note for the men.  Make the decision to be a husband and father and then stop making excuses.  Either you resolve to love or fall victim to the cowardice of self-protection.  Do you want respect and honor?  Be someone worthy of respect and honor.  Your self-esteem depends on it. Not only that, but the self-esteem of your children as well.  Nothing makes a child secure in them self than the conviction that their daddy loves them.  Stay tuned for Part Two: Self-Image

Unpacking Self-Esteem: Introduction

Since the early years of my life, I have heard a consistent message from the school system, the news media, and many claiming to be experts. “You need to have more self-esteem!”  Self-esteem was and is the answer for anything from failing relationships to  poor grades to depression or anxiety, repeated failures, domestic violence, cancer, unemployment, economic turmoil and on and on and on.  Pretty much anything you can think of could be fixed by having a better self-esteem.  The problem is that no one seems to know what it is and how to get it!  They just know that you need to find it.

So what is self-esteem?  Is it something that can be fabricated?  Is it something can be given or taken?  Is it a set of beliefs?  Is it a mental discipline?  Is it something we can control or something that controls us?  Is it something that can be taught or something we must earn?  The following is an attempt at looking deeper and more comprehensively at self-esteem with an aim to challenge vaguely held common beliefs about it.

For starters, I don’t believe that self-esteem is a useful concept to begin with.  It is too ethereal to be helpful and too broad to be measured.  In order to better speak about self-esteem, I propose that we break it down into some more useful terms.  To that end, the next few posts will focus on four distinct facets of the self: self-leadership, self-image, self-direction, and self-ishness vs self-lessness. I welcome all comments and critiques in our discussion.