Analyzing your self-image (Self Confidence, Part 4)

During the last time while on the subject of self-confidence I proposed that you establish a “Benevolent Inner Observer” as the counterweight to you “Inner Detractor” within yourself. It is meant to help you treat yourself a little more leniently and gently in your normal every day life as well as in times of stress and frustration, than you probably normally would. Most people with low self-esteem are very good at tearing themselves down and calling themselves names because they are not used at motivating and building themselves up. Today I would like you to take one step further and analyze your entire self-image one more time. If I am not totally off base with my assessment, you have been lots more generous with the darker colors while you simply ignored a lot of brightness and beauty.
In practice when I have people of whom I have the sense that their self esteem is at rock bottom I relatively soon have them perform the exercise that I had already introduced to you in part 1. For example, the column seeking typical responses to a recent question about self-critical thoughts featured those of a few clients:

“Why am I so lacking in drive, lazy and unstructured?” (Situation: On Sunday morning she had stayed in bed instead to jog as planned.)

“I put up with too much from my friend.” (Situation: Even though she was not happy about it, he had taken a weekend trip without her – something that she had only communicated subliminally.)

“I am much too sensitive and immediately take everything personally.” (Situation: During the wine festival a friend had not greeted her; that had really hurt her feelings.)

“Now I spend too much on clothes again! After I had decided to save money.” (Situation: In the morning she was angry with her boss and in the afternoon she went on one of those classic shopping sprees.)

You are probably familiar with these and other self-reproaches. People with low self esteem usually store an entire litany of major and small transgressions in their head that they can hold against themselves on the first opportunity according to the motto: “Ha, I caught myself again. I knew that I am a loser.” That is why they often have so much trouble with the exercise I introduced to you in the article “Discover your Strengths”. On the other hand, they would have no trouble to undertake a “Discover your Weaknesses-Trip” because that is familiar territory, after all.

If you are one of those people who are puzzled when I ask them what they are doing well but have no problem responding to the question about what they don’t like about themselves, then I have something for you today that is certain to be a given: As a matter of fact, this deals with your weaknesses! It concerns everything which you don’t like about yourself, that you so frequently criticize about yourself, that makes you angry with yourself. During the first step of this exercise you are permitted to soundly beat yourself up: Make a list of all your weaknesses and especially those that you see as a negative in yourself! Permit your Inner Detractor to really go to work! The more you come up with, the better! Regardless if they are character traits or behavior patterns – the more debilitating, the better. No mercy! (After all, you don’t have that with yourself anyway, right?!)

All done? Good! I bet that has gotten to be a pretty long list, am I right? Great! Now comes the second step. You are going to appreciate this one a lot less – but it will be more beneficial to you, I promise. Do you know the saying: “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure”? Or to put it more simply: Everything has (at least) two sides. It is now your mission to discover the “other side” in each of the weaknesses you just listed – in other words the hidden strength, expertise or endearing quality. That is how it works with our so-called weaknesses, it always depends from which side and in what light they are seen. They hide at least a few positive aspects. Unfortunately people with low self-esteem always tend to concentrate on one side of the coin and ignore the other side. To demonstrate this I am going to give you a few examples (found in the lists of my clients):

Whoever is (also sometimes) lazy, takes care of him/herself and respects his/her needs! He/she assumes the responsibility for him/herself and with it the bottom line of his/her health and energy. For lots of folks slowing down a little would be very beneficial. Instead, they all run through life from stress at work to stress during their leisure time and back again like gerbils in the wheel and then they are surprised when they fall off their perch one day.

Who puts up with a lot is a thoughtful person whose own requirements are not automatically more important than those of others. To be able to step back sometimes leaving the field to someone else is a very important quality. Those who won’t acquiesce to anything and continuously insist to have it their own way are very unpleasant and selfish contemporaries.

Whoever reacts sensitively to external feedback (regardless in which form) only proves that he/she is not an insensible klutz who is impervious to all influences. “Sensitive” has something to do with “empathy” and that means taking the opinion of others seriously instead of always knowing everything better. Beyond that it demonstrates that one is also willing to think about and question oneself – a basic prerequisite for the capacity to develop.
Whoever (occasionally) gets carried away and gives him/herself a treat that may not be entirely sensible (whether financially, in terms of calories or otherwise) first of all proves that he/she is capable to be nice to him/herself – refer to point number 1. He/she who is capable of generosity vis-à-vis him/herself in most cases demonstrates that he/she is also capable of generosity towards others. The capacity to enjoy in general and particularly in situations when things are not at their best is the most important protection from depression and an important support for a happy life! (P.S.: Whoever had the marshal call at the house for the third time may be well advised to start thinking … but then that situation was different!)

Well, understood the principle? You don’t have to do it as elaborately as I just did. I did that primarily to provide you with a few inspirations how you may be able to approach the situation! Only one thing is important: Don’t omit a weakness, that would be cheating. It is a fact that each one of them has its “bright” aspect! In order to discover it, you may have to ponder it a little while and think outside the box because it is there. If you just can’t get it, ask your best friend. And if you are already groaning because your list is so long and there is no question that it will take you the entire day of musing to find a plus for every minus … well, maybe the next time you invest a little more time thinking if there is really that much you have to find fault with …

By the way, this exercise is also beneficial if you happen to be in the middle of an application process for employment and are preparing yourself for the introductory talks. Human resources interviewers still like the questions “what are your strengths – what are your weaknesses?” When they come up, it is always a good idea to name those where one can deliver them quasi as a package including the positive side of the coin (or when that is so obvious that it imposes itself on its own).