The Importance of Unconditional Positive Self-Regard
We have a vast array of different relationships in our lives. The ones we have with friends, parents, siblings, romantic partners, co-workers, our children, and so on. They’re each unique and complex. We dedicate a lot of time and energy to these relationships and rightfully so; they are integral to our growth, joy, and flourishing as humans. Yet many of us neglect the single most important relationship we will ever experience; the one we have with ourselves. Why do we do this? How could we possibly get along in life without a strong intrapersonal understanding? Perhaps how one feels about themselves doesn’t appear to be something that impacts how others see us, how successful we are, how much praise we get, or how much stuff we can buy. Therefore, individuals often place little to no consideration on it.
The problem is that self-regard isn’t just something, it is everything. It is the very foundation for a secure state of being and reduced anxiety. People focus a lot on how they treat other people they’re in a relationship with, acknowledging whether they’re being kind to that person, thoughtful, trusting, supportive, compassionate. Yet we rarely monitor how we engage with ourselves in these ways. In fact, most often we give ourselves much less of these considerations than we give to others. And yet we still expect our internal relationship to be functional. Rarely is this the case. Internal dysfunction takes the shape of anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear, self-judgement and more.
Unfortunately, self-regard is something that seems to go unseen in a world more focused on the value of material rather than internal worth, the odds are against us. It is often considered self-indulgent to regard oneself well, and to some, the notion even seems impossible. It can also be easier to know how we feel about a TV character than it is to know how we feel about ourselves and more comfortable to give positive messages and encouragement to friends, loved ones, and children in our lives than to say a single encouraging sentiment to ourselves. Why is this the case and what exactly is self-regard anyways?
We can start by defining self regard as how one views or considers themselves. It is made up of many different factors and can include external and internal factors such as physical traits, body, weight, achievements, job, career, relationship, and belongings, as well as being funny, kind, honest, accepting, and smart. We can consider these various components about ourselves and then determine what light we view ourselves in for each of them. Self-regard can be seen as the ship that we sail. If a ship is built well, strong yet flexible, able to bend and acquiesce to the weather and waters, then it can forge through any storm. It is no different for a human being. There comes a time in the lives of many beings when they realize their ship can no longer sail if its functionality does not shift, that it cannot cut through the coarse waters with such meager strength; it must adapt. It must be made of stronger stuff or it will flounder. We must fight for our lives by building our esteem. It takes knowing that we are worthy and just as rich in the capacity to produce wonderful things as anybody else. Without this foundational belief, it is not possible for anything substantial to develop or flourish within us.
If self regard is the foundation, the soil of our garden, we can see how it produces either one of two things: fearful attributes or loving attributes. Yet few of us are given the message from a young age that we are free to, and could significantly benefit from, establishing a strong, healthy core of worth and regard. Instead we’re often vehemently criticized and scolded, therefore we put these same restraints on ourselves. We become comfortable with them, and then they become our internal mental reel. We fill in the blanks for what we think our parents would say, and then end up letting it take over completely. Either way we come to learn to injure ourselves rather than see our value and worth. Unfortunately, it is common to default to self-depreciation. People more often critique than commend themselves. We tend to be more self-loathing than self-liking when it comes to our internal monologue. We learn to be on the constant look out for how we fall short.
To be clear, we’re not talking about being an egomaniac. You don’t have to think you’re superior to know your worth. So, how can we begin to cultivate positive self-regard? Positive regard is based on making a fair, kind, and honest assessment of ourselves beginning with awareness and releasing undue criticism. This is possible when you come to believe that you are just as deserving as anyone else to be embraced, accepted and loved, first and most importantly by yourself. We take a look at both our desirable and not so desirable traits, and choose to accept and embrace ourselves. In doing so, we create a foundation that is based on the idea that we are acceptable and worthy just as we are, without external conditions. Only then will we have the foundation on which to build the habits and beliefs that lift us up rather than keep us down. Only then will we see that we are perfect at our very essence. Only then will we be able to recognize what we exhibit as a person that we appreciate about ourselves. Embracing self-regard means letting go of perfectionism. Perfectionism cannot exist alongside self-regard; it destroys it. It creates conditionality and the essence of self-regard is that which is unconditional, can’t be affected or shifted no matter what occurs. Self-regard can see us through any perceived threat, failure, or fear.
An important distinction to make when building our self-concept is that between doing something and being something. Realizing that just because we DO something does not necessarily mean we ARE something. The absence of this distinction can be dangerous. Just because we may do something that felt bad or harmful does not mean we are someone that is bad or harmful. This can also lead us to think that we are the things we DO which occupy our time such as our jobs or roles as a mother, daughter, wife, employer, etc. When we come to identify strongly with these titles, we are at the whim of them being intact, which is out of our control. We cannot control completely outside or external factors. These roles can change and adjust at any time. Therefore, the less we attach to them the healthier we can be.
Letting go of our past self is paramount to developing positive self-regard, allowing the focus to be on who you are now. We are not our past. We each deserve the opportunity to be seen for who we decide to be today. We deserve to receive that benefit not only from others but from ourselves as well. So often we let our past determine how we feel about ourselves today. This is a great disservice and keeps us chained to the past. We must see ourselves as renewed each day and free to emulate the characteristics and qualities we most value. Lingering on previous indiscretions or shortcomings that send that shock of shame through the body, hearing a voice that says, “How could I be worthwhile after what I’ve done?” will keep you mired in the past and unable to embrace the present. On the other hand, conducting ourselves in a way we regard positively can aid in establishing positive regard. Being thoughtful, honest, kind, keeping our word, being on time, being truthful all slowly build our concept of ourselves.
This shift into a raised state of personal regard has to start with you, but it can have a greater impact. We can move towards a baseline of being a society that instills and encourages the idea of positive self-regard. Demonstrate this yourself. It’s possible to shift into a world where children are taught to support rather than abandon themselves if they feel they fall short. This begins with the idea that we are not what we do, not what we produce or what we achieve but that we are something much greater than that. We are our capacity to love, create, comfort and inspire. Ignite this focus and emphasis. It’s possible that one day self-esteem will be part of the core curriculums in schools. Can you imagine the immense anguish and struggles we could save our future generations by imparting messages early on that we are worthy, we are lovable, we are enough and wonderful just as we are? Gone could be the days of a society filled with people who have outrageous outward abundance, yet are desolate within. And it all begins with the simple act of loving yourself, completely through compassion, forgiveness and kindness.
What we give to ourselves we are able to give to others. When we decide to adopt the concept of unconditional positive self-regard we are creating the foundation on which we can operate as confident, grounded, considerate humans who are not acting only from past hurt and insecurity, rather from an established sense of worthiness and love. When we do the work to build the muscles of self esteem and confidence, we are not so easily rattled. We are not so easily knocked over and down, spiraling out on the slightest notion that perhaps our fears are true, we are not enough and we never were and never will be. Having the courage to build up those muscles is the hardest thing any person can ever decide to do. Why is that? Because it involves zero outside motivation or assistance. It is in our moments, utterly alone, that we look at ourselves and say, “ I will do this for me and only me. I will change how I talk to myself, how I treat myself because in turn I can do better for others, be kinder to others, and more effectively serve in this world.” No one else can assign this to you. They might encourage it, recommend it, support it, yet they cannot prescribe it or enforce it. This is an inside job. It takes running through the loops of self doubt and deprecation maybe thousands of times and still getting up and saying, “I will try again.” We see these thoughts come up and we feel the extreme temptation of caving into the self-pity and contempt. I am bad, I am no good, I am not capable, I am nothing. That nice, comfy, smelly bog of mud that’s so sinister yet so soothing. Because in there we know where we stand, we can assuredly declare “I cannot be great, this is all I am meant for is this low level state. Who am I to think I can have a voice, make a difference, be of value. I will stay here.” To rise up from that place takes pure strength of will to release the addiction to self- devaluing. To be able to hear the doubts and negative thoughts, look them in the face and say, “No, I will not succumb to your seduction. I will not compromise myself to feel safe and free of my potential.” Because, yes, that is what we fear the most. Our own potential. The fact that if we did build up our strength and did rise up to the occasion we would come face to face with how much we are capable of and all that we can do. No longer able to duck out and hide out in our own shadow.
Moving into this space takes many small decisions. It takes slowly but surely learning how to let those nagging voices keep right on going and introducing a new one. Not falling down and staying down, rather picking ourselves up and saying, “I love you, I support you. There I nothing you could do that could keep me from loving you, nothing anyone could say. I am with you and love you always. I see your strength and ability. I see your beauty, I see your gifts, I see your potential. I am in awe and in love with you.” By doing this we can move into a space of great admiration and support for ourselves, able to reconnect with this even when we don’t feel strong or able. When we are our own greatest supporters, we know who we are, even when we drift or lose our footing. We know and are always still connected with our true essence. Imagine the relief of that unfailing trust and belief in ourselves. It can truly change our fundamental experience of ourselves. We can be our own greatest source of encouragement and love and comfort always.