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Enhance Self-Esteem by Embracing Imperfections

Don't judge yourself for being human.

There have been a couple of recent stories online that touched on human frailty and imperfection in ways worthy of a little further consideration. One story encouraged readers to revel in their imperfection and come clean about their most embarrassing screw-ups. Another story raised the question of why we assume that swapping out bad habits for good ones will immediately bring us happiness and fulfillment. It doesn’t happen that way, though, does it?

We congratulate folks who publicly announce that they are going on a diet, beginning a new fitness regime, or giving up red meat or caffeine or some other vice that is viewed as “universally bad” for them. We offer encouragement and assume that it is good to sacrifice mouth-watering entrees for a pair of size 4 jeans. It’s not wrong to make choices that are healthy and contribute to our well-being, but we shouldn’t assume that changes in our diets or routines will magically transform an ordinary life into something extraordinary. It takes more than a BMI of 23 or 21 or 19 to do that! And once we hang our intentions out for everyone to see, we have created a climate in which failures or slip-ups cause more guilt than they might have otherwise.

The Lure of Being “Bad”

Honestly, don’t we all enjoy a little bit of delightfully guilty pleasure when we’re doing something – or enjoying something – that is supposed to be “bad” for us? Isn’t there a perverse pleasure in breaking rules that really don’t serve much of a purpose or really protect anyone from harm? Human beings sometimes feel driven to push past barriers that they feel have been arbitrarily set in place. In fact, it is this drive to go beyond the known that ensures that adolescents gain the skills and the confidence necessary to leave home and strike out on their own. It is also a genetically programmed drive that supposedly served to protect the human race against incest in that it generated the drive to move beyond the family tribe to find a mate.

The striking romantic and sexual appeal of the “bad boy” is an example of how incontrovertibly embedded in the human psyche is the desire for something “strange” or someone “exotic.” It’s an invitation to excitement and potential danger while also a low tech means of limiting unions between close family members. Breaking training, breaking a diet, study breaks, and the like all describe the need to be able to let ourselves go when we’ve been working so hard to be good. And we often feel guilty because of the very human desire to backslide on occasion.

Safety Net or Safety Harness?

There are many individuals who believe that staying close to home, following the rules, avoiding fatty foods, limiting caffeine intake, coloring inside the lines, and working for that perfect body will catapult them into a whole new identity where they wake up with the confidence and high self-esteem that now they only dream of possessing.

Unfortunately, truly lasting transformation usually doesn’t work that way. This is why counseling is recommended for people who are undergoing bariatric surgery for obesity, substantial plastic surgery, or other appearance-related procedures. External changes do not necessarily lead to leaps of personal development or identity transformation at the same pace that the surgeon’s knife or a punishing physical fitness routine might change your shape.

Your Self-Esteem: Years in the Making

Self-esteem is the product of years of interpersonal and intrapersonal feedback looping. In fact, self-esteem first takes root when we are still infants looking to our caregivers to validate our worth in this world. Self-esteem levels are predicated on our own estimation of how we are being perceived by others. In effect, it is our perception of others’ perceptions of us that govern how we feel about ourselves. It is an internalized barometer of our perceived value to others and it doesn’t just re-calibrate right away when a physical change takes place. It takes multiple interactions with others – or, for some, the mirror – before self-esteem grows.

Research shows that negative interactions leave stronger residual feelings than positive interactions; thus, it takes a lot more work to build up low self-esteem than it does to tear it back down. That’s why the “quick fix” of cosmetic surgery, dental work, or weight loss doesn’t always yield the results people expect. Further, research shows that self-esteem is positively correlated with happiness in life – you’ve got to be able to love yourself as you are before you can find genuine satisfaction with your place in the world. So if a person that takes sinfully decadent pleasure in a second helping of his favorite dessert can’t accept and embrace himself in this imperfectly perfect state, bulking up muscle mass and trimming fat is not likely to make lasting changes in self-perception. If a person finds themselves repulsive and unlovable for any reason, it takes abundant effort to revise her self-assessment.

Lasting Transformation happens from the Inside Out

In essence, the best way to shore up your self-esteem and get comfortable with your flaws and foibles is to hang out with folks who love you just as you are, yet offer supportive encouragement if you are working to improve your lot in life. Don’t hang out with those who sabotage your own efforts to improve yourself in their own effort to keep themselves from feeling worse about themselves. Remember, though, while making choices that keep you healthy is always the wise choice, allowing yourself to be okay with being “just okay” – or even a “little less than okay” – is the best starting point for transforming yourself from ordinary to extraordinary from the inside out.

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