How you feel about yourself can color how you feel about everything else. And how you feel about yourself is a reflection of your view of your “acceptability”: how “acceptable” you see yourself and how “acceptable” you think others see you – your family, your neighbors, your community, and your world in general. Setting unrealistic standards of behavior, attractiveness, effectiveness, productivity, or creativity can cause all sorts of inner strife.
A seldom acknowledged self-esteem saboteur is the habit of continually grasping at one or both of two popular but unreachable goals:
- Pleasing other people or
- Changing other people to be or act the way you think they should
You can’t do either. Not only can trying to reach these unreachable goals deflate your self-esteem, but it can also be dangerous to your health. Have you ever wondered why the little lady in your community who spends most of her time happily helping others develop symptoms of a serious illness? One might think that anyone with such a positive attitude and so giving and generous nature would be the picture of health. However, these paragons of generosity and sunny nature often harbor little regard for themselves – low self-esteem. Their perceptions of life have led them to believe their happiness depends on making others happy. It’s a barter system. “I’ll help you with your yard sale if you praise me, appreciate me, and verbally applaud my efforts.”
However, there are potential self-esteem pitfalls built into unspoken acceptance bartering because the “giver” is the only one aware of the “deal” and may live in a state of anxiety until the payoff. Any negative or even slightly lacking payoff further drives down self-esteem, and the “giver” must compensate by doing more, giving more, being more thoughtful, more generous, more . . . more . . . more.
Another self-esteem saboteur is the I’ll-help-you-be-more-like-me goal. The objective here is to change someone else’s mind. Can’t be done. Even when you KNOW that you know best, you can’t lead anyone else’s life for them, and you can’t change anyone else’s mind for them. They may have appeared to have changed their ways, but if the change isn’t of their own doing, it won’t last. They’ll be conforming on the outside but rebelling on the inside. And, eventually, the truth will come out, and you will have – once again– failed.
It is impossible to please everyone all the time, and it’s impossible to change anyone other than ourselves. Yet many of us keep trying and trying. Despite the impossibility of the situation, we mistakenly base our self-esteem on how well we see ourselves accomplishing either or both of these impossibilities.