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Confidence: Chasing the Tail of Self-Esteem

Self-Esteem: How to Overcome Negative Behaviors Learn to love your self

Self-Esteem: How to Overcome Negative Behaviors & Learn to love yourself. Self-Esteem starts with self-compassion and loving yourself first.

Some time ago I was behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, “God, help me to be the kind of person that my dog thinks that I am.” I laughed to myself and thought, “Good thing I have a cat because she has low standards.”

As funny as the bumper sticker was, I couldn’t get its meaning out of my head. As I continued on my drive, my thoughts jumped around like a Chihuahua let off its leash at a dog park. I began to wonder, “What is self-esteem, where does it come from and why do I have so little of it?” Now, I haven’t always been the masterpiece of self-assuredness and mental health that you see before you today.  In fact, low self-esteem and self-sabotaging behaviors are two things I’ve struggled with the majority of my life.

In the past, it seemed logical that the solution was to increase my self-esteem.  After all, if I felt better about myself, I would treat myself better. But the more I tried to improve my self-esteem the lower it became. The result was a vicious cycle of falling short of my high expectations leading into more self-sabotaging behaviors.  It was like what Albert Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I realize now that how I tried to build up my self-esteem was flawed:

  • My self-esteem has come from comparisons: A bad habit I have is using, “What do they have that I don’t” as a measuring stick for my success. This compulsion only serves to create feelings of envy and discouragement within myself. Keeping up with the Joneses is futile because someone will always be more successful, more in shape, better looking, with more money, who lives in a nicer house and drives a nicer car than I, and I end up on the short end of the stick.
  • My self-esteem is contingent on my bank account: I’ve noticed a trend that my self-esteem fluctuates based on the number of zeros in my accounts.  When the balance is high, I feel excited and happy.  Perhaps it has to do with feeling secure, but it’s likely linked to the ability to shop. It’s funny how a little purchase on Amazon can boost my self-esteem in the short term. However, It’s also lead me down the path of selfish indulgences that morph into to debt, overdrafts and poor credit scores.  My most self-destructive behaviors tend to follow saying, “Screw it! I deserve this.”
  • I have viewed life as a zero-sum game: I’m either a winner or a loser. When I win, I feel fantastic. I want more of the elation that goes along with winning. Losing sucks. If I feel I’m losing at life, I go dark. These highs and lows placed me on a rollercoaster ride that climbed and dipped based on my internal scorecard of wins vs. losses.
  • My self-esteem is dependent on external validations: It might be easier for me to get a tee shirt that reads, “Am I OK? Please tell me you like me, ” but I don’t know what I would do on laundry day.  Needing validation from others leaves me feeling good for a moment but then empty because I feel needy.  The problem is that when I give others the power to validate me, I inadvertently provide them with the power to invalidate me.

That silly bumper sticker helped me have a paradigm shift. I thought,  “Maybe it’s not that I need to increase my self-esteem. Maybe it’s that I need to improve my self-compassion.” This lead to a reversal in my thinking: as I broke it down I discovered that the focus of building self-esteem seems to say “How I feel about myself affects how I treat myself,” whereas self-compassion promotes, “How I treat myself affects how I feel about myself.”

As I changed courses towards self-compassion, I could clearly see that I often treat other people better than I treat myself.  For example, I quickly offer kindness, respect, encouragement, compassion and grace to everyone else but withhold these gifts from myself. Instead, I beat myself up for mistakes, say things to myself that I would never say to another human, disrespect my body by putting junk into it, and discourage myself with negative thinking. By practicing self-compassion I noticed some significant changes in my thinking that began to affect my behaviors and feelings towards myself:

  • It’s ok to put my needs first: My fear is that if I put my needs first, I will become a selfish jerk that no one wants to be around. The irony is that the most selfish thing I can do is to put my needs last because like my friend from Texas used to say, “You can’t give what you ain’t got.”  When I put my needs last, I don’t have the resources to be kind, loving and generous. Ultimately, I cannot extend compassion unless I first have it in abundance for myself.
  • My focus has changed from “what” to “who”: When I focus on the “what I want to be” my status is based on external validations that can disappear in an instant. Companies go out of business, people get fired, relationships break up, and life happens. However, nothing can ever take away “who” I am; I’m compassionate, loving, generous, kind, courageous and virtuous. These are internal motivators that endure when the chips are down.  As my favorite psychologist Viktor Frankl said: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
  • I care less about what people think: I genuinely care for people. However, I’m far less concerned with their opinions of me. For one thing, I discovered that the greatest threat to my destiny is the fear of what others may think. Self-compassion doesn’t fluctuate with opinions because it is a commitment to the action of caring for one’s self regardless of outside judgments.
  • I’ve noticed I’m taking good care of myself: Being a therapist is an emotionally draining profession.  At the same time, like many of us in the helping professions, I tend to be horrible at self-care. Perhaps this comes from feeling undeserving of good things in my life.  I’ve certainly self-sabotaged everything from relationships to my health. But this new perspective has changed the way I eat, the way I sleep, and the way I communicate my needs with others.

These small shifts in thinking have paid off in unexpected dividends. I still struggle from time to time and fall back into old thinking patterns. But now I have a tool to help me get out the hole of self-pity.  If I am feeling depressed, I give myself permission to be kind to myself. By giving myself the gift of self-compassion, I spend less time in the dark places that lead to self-destructive behaviors.

Ultimately, it comes down to what the Buddha taught when He said, “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” When I practice loving myself through acts of compassion something wonderful happens; I end up being the kind of man my dog thinks that I am. Now, if I only my wife would let me get a dog.


Also published on Elephant Journal

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My Monkey Wants Junk Food: Five Things I’m Doing About It

Food Addiction Help: I Love Junk Food And What I'm Doing About It

Food Addiction Help: I Love Junk Food And What I’m Doing About It.

OK, I admit it. I have an addictive personality. If something is fun, feels good but is “bad for you,” chances are it’s on my list of personal vices. It has been a battle, but one by one I’ve been able to wrestle my monkeys into submission. Still, it seems that as soon as one addiction goes into remission, another one pops up like a bad zit right before a first date. And so it goes, because there is a new monkey that I have yet to tame.

I’ve been holding onto this “little guy” as the last bastion of my guilty pleasures…and I know it’s killing me. What has worked for me in the past was to take that first step and admit that I am powerless over the substance… so here goes: “Hi, I’m Chuck, and I am addicted to Food.”


I freaking love food! I get high when I’m eating. I plan my days around what and when I’m going to eat. But not just any food, I love crappy food. I love sugar, carbs, and anything deep-fat-fried. Taco Bell, Arby’s and McDonald’s; these are my sanctuaries. My God, what is it about a McDonald’s cheeseburger? I could eat four or five in one sitting… and their fries? Grind them up and snort them if I could! I adore Jack-in-the-Box tacos. If you have never had one, you can get two for only 99 cents. That alone should be a warning sign. The recipe is simple: the leftover hamburger is seasoned, ground up, folded between a corn tortilla with a slice of American Cheese then immerse in boiling oil until the shell is transparent from grease. They are simply… Amazing.

Pizza? That is my crack-cocaine. I will fantasize about pizza and long for it as if waiting for the return of a distant lover. Left to my own devices, I would eat pizza every single day, for every single meal and never tire of it. I know this is true because (and I hate to admit this) I have done it.


In the 12 step program of recovery, one comes to an acceptance that their life has become unmanageable as a result of the substance. While I haven’t lost a job from a sugar hangover, spent my rent money on Twinkies, or ended up under a bridge covered in empty ice cream cartons, my life has become unmanageable. Most specifically it’s unmanageable in the area of my health. I’m overweight, my cholesterol is high, I have irritable bowels, and I have to take medication to control my blood pressure.

I know if I continue on this path, that there are still many “Yets” to come: I haven’t had a heart attack…yet. I don’t have diabetes…yet. I haven’t had a stroke…yet. It has become apparent that food is controlling me, I am not controlling it, and that makes my life unmanageable.

So here I am, back in a place of readiness to make some lifestyle changes. I’ve been here before, and I know the path of recovery and here’s how I’m doing it.

1. A Support Group: Recovery groups worked for me in the past. Seven years ago I got sober in a group and maintained my sobriety as a result. The power of a group keeps me on track as I learn from the experience of others who share their strength and hope. Groups create accountability and ritual, both of which help me make changes in my habits. Three weeks ago I joined another group… Weight Watchers. Each week I weigh in and am encouraged by others who attend as well as the leaders who are there with advice and empathy. Today I’m down 11 pounds.

2. Self-Compassion: I define self-compassion as treating myself as well as I would treat someone else. I would never feed poison to someone so why would I feed it to myself? Eating healthy foods is being compassionate, loving and kind to myself. I’ve started to try to cut back processed foods, stay away from sugar, and eat more fruits and vegetables. It feels good to treat myself well and at the same time see results.

3. Eating Mindfully: I tend to eat my emotions. If I’m feeling bad, sad, mad or even glad, I reach for anything that is tasteful and convenient. Cookies, chips, candy, and carbs are the four horsemen of my snackocalypse. Another bad habit is scarfing food. I eat faster than my brain can signal my stomach that it is full. Apparently, the stomach releases a hormone called Cholecystokinin in our intestines that triggers the hormone Leptin in your brain to let you know that you’ve had enough to eat. This whole process can take up to 20 minutes. Eating “mindfully” means being present and using my senses to experience the moment fully. By slowing down and focusing on the flavor, texture, and smell of the food, I’ve noticed I feel satisfied with less, and I’m less likely to eat when I’m stressed.

4. Daily Awareness: When I achieved six months of sobriety I was asked, “How did you stay sober?” to which I answered with the tradition of, “One day at a time.” By keeping track of what goes in my mouth, I find I’m less likely to overeat. One benefit of Weight Watchers is that it comes with a nifty App that allows me to track everything I’m eating. Every day is a choice. When I use the App and track my food, I eat what my body needs rather than what my inner addict wants.

5. Benefit Analysis: When I first got sober, my sponsor looked me dead in the eye and asked: “Give me ten long-term benefits to continuing to drink.” I couldn’t come up with one. I could think of a lot of short-term benefits that had long-term drawbacks. I’ve tried to adopt this philosophy to other areas of my life, and when faced with any dilemma it’s worked well. For whatever reason, I’ve never asked this question about my food choices. “What is a long term benefit of eating crappy food?” As with alcohol, I have yet to come up with any real answers. There are short term benefits: tastes good, it’s cheap, it satisfies my hunger… but long term? I can come up with feeling good, looking good, more energy, longer life just to name and about a hundred other reasons.

The small successes I’m having with food today feels good; I know there are many miles to go on this journey, but I’m happy that I’ve taken the first few steps to get back to healthy eating. I am committed to facing my food addiction with the same conviction and humility that has subdued my monkey in the past. Now if I could just get him to like exercise!

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