“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.” ~Reinhold Niebuhr
Think for a minute about the things you mentally say to yourself that are critical and negative.
You may not be consciously aware of how often these thoughts pop into your head. But now that I’ve mentioned it, become conscious of it. And become conscious of how they impact your self-esteem.
Now think about the unpleasant feelings that wash over you — before the negative thoughts even enter your head — when you see or hear something that makes you feel “lesser than.”
You see someone more attractive, and you immediately feel self-conscious or shamed.
You encounter someone more successful, and that feeling of inadequacy washes over you.
You talk with a person who is exceptionally bright and outgoing, and you feel diminished and awkward.
These negative thoughts and feelings are the toxic brew we simmer in that evaporates self-esteem over time. The longer we simmer in this brew, the more potent it becomes. Our perceived flaws and failures dominate our perception of ourselves. And with low self-esteem, our self-confidence takes a hit as well.
When we feel bad about who we are, we are unable to perform successfully in the world around us. We aren’t motivated. We can’t achieve our goals. We limit ourselves to the table scraps of life.
Now I firmly believe many of our self-doubts are simply by-products of simmering in the toxic brew of negative thinking for far too long. We exaggerate our flaws and failures and sometimes ascribe defects to ourselves that don’t exist. These are the stories we tell ourselves that have little or no basis in reality. If you really question and investigate your thinking around these beliefs, you’ll see how you may have created a paper monster.
But not all of our flaws and failures are made of paper. Some are very real. And very painful. And they cause you much shame, grief, and regret.
- Maybe you haven’t handled that situation very well.
- Maybe you are overweight.
- Maybe you aren’t living to your potential.
- Maybe you do need to be kinder.
- Maybe you aren’t stunningly attractive.
- Maybe you don’t earn a lot of money.
- Maybe you were fired.
- Maybe you aren’t very outgoing.
- Maybe you’ve made poor choices.
- Maybe you are lazy at times.
- Maybe you were dumped.
Any one of us reading that list above can find something they relate to, some flaw or failure they recognize as their own.
The truth is — we all have flaws, and we have all failed.
Flaws and failure are part of the human condition. And even if you look at the person next to you and believe with all your heart that they “have it all,” you’re wrong.
Every person on the planet has screwed up. Every person has mental, physical, or emotional imperfections. And every person is keenly aware of his or her flaws and failures.
So why is it that some people have more self-esteem than others? Why can some people live happily with their flaws and failures while others are plagued with self-doubt?
I think it comes down to two things:
- the willingness to change the things you can change to improve yourself;
- the acceptance (and even love) of those things you cannot change.
If you have low self-esteem around a real flaw or past failure, ask yourself, “Is there anything I can do to improve this or mitigate the pain of it?”
Can you make amends, get more training, improve your appearance, lose weight, work on your communication skills, go to counseling, or make different choices?
Action that creates positive change will absolutely improve your self-esteem. You will feel in control of yourself and your destiny.
But then there are those things you cannot change. What can you do about those stubborn buggers that are immune to positive action? What can you do about those big screw-ups you can’t fix, or the physical features you can’t change, or the past regrets that are over and done?
Well here’s a mind shift for you: What if you just love them?
What if you just gather up all of those flaws and failures and embrace them as a parent would embrace a beloved child?
You are flawed and you have failed. Just like me. Just like everyone. It is part of being human, and to reject those things is to reject who you are and your essential humanness.
Embracing and loving these unchangeable flaws and failures simply means you accept them. You stop struggling and begin to view them as an essential connection to the rest of humanity.
With acceptance, you strengthen your character and improve your emotional maturity. This gives you the peace of mind to focus on your strengths, improve what you can, and fully enjoy the many blessings life does afford you.
Have you ever noticed how comforting and reassuring it is to be around someone who has embraced their flaws and failures — someone who is real about these things but doesn’t let them dominate their lives? You’ve probably seen extreme examples of this with people who have a severe disability or have had a very public embarrassment but are living with joy and self-confidence. (Read the story of Nick Vujicic if you want to be inspired.)
It is comforting to know that everyone is flawed and has failed. There will be those who appear to have more flaws and failures and those who have less. But the only thing that really matters is how YOU choose to manage your own.
You can continue to struggle against them, simmer in negativity and bad feelings, and live with low self-esteem.
Or you can have the serenity of accepting (and even loving) those things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
When you are willing to shift your negative thoughts about your flaws to thoughts of self-love and acceptance, you will boost your self-esteem and experience a sense of peace and contentment that permeates your entire life.
What negative thoughts do you have about your flaws and past failures? Where can you affect real change, and where must you embrace those things you cannot change? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
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