Black folks are known for their bravado. Our culture expounds our beauty and brilliance through braggadocious raps, poems, like Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman“, and the portraits of Barkley L. Hendricks. Despite the self-love that permeates our cultural expressions, some of us struggle, at times to know that we too are included in those representations. We may struggle to remember that our melanin is poppin’, our strength is sometimes silent, and that loving ourselves is not only, necessary, but revolutionary.
For Harriet, contributor, Angela Roulette gives us an honest, open look at what it means to not feel love for oneself, in her article, “A Black Woman’s Shame“. Reading her story made me think of other women I have know, both personally and as clients, who have struggled to love themselves for various reasons. I was led to write this in response to her and for every woman who has ever fought to love their very being. I am also writing for myself, as there have been times in my own life that I have struggled to care for myself.
So, what exactly is self esteem and how do we get it? Self esteem can be defined as what we feel and what we believe about our own value. Healthy self-esteem reflects a relationship with oneself that is loving, confident in one’s abilities and forgiving of one’s mistakes. Like many other indicators of health, self-esteem often falls on a continuum of unhealthy to healthy and is not static. It can be changed.
During childhood, our self esteem is largely based on the messages we receive from the outside world. We get messages from our parents and other caregivers, as well as other children about our value. The more supportive, consistent and loving our care is from infancy through our teen years, the more we will internalize a strong sense of self worth. Our earliest experiences form our beliefs about who we are and what we are worth to others. If our caregivers have shown us how to care for ourselves physically and emotionally, we will grow into adults that take care of our own bodies, minds, and spirits.
Unfortunately, not all of us get a master class in self-love. For many of us, there were some holes in our education, especially if we are from communities that have faced historical trauma, like American chattel slavery, war, or poverty. Our caregivers, likely gave us the best they could, stretching to share what they had. Even if we didn’t get everything we needed from those charged with our care, we can work to rebuild ourselves in adulthood.
If you are struggling with loving yourself, here are some steps you can take to rebuild your foundation.
Give Yourself Credit–Make an honest assessment of your abilities, Identify the things you do well. Once you can appreciate the what you DO, it will lead to appreciating your best qualities. For example, maybe you make a mean pound cake and whenever you make a cake you share it with your elderly neighbor. What a caring, kind thing to do! Acknowledge that you are kind, caring and a great baker!
Do More of What You Do Well–Once you’ve acknowledged what you do well, do it more often and you will increase your confidence in your ability. If you are a good writer, join a MeetUp group for writers or volunteer to help with the newsletter at an organization in your community. Expanding opportunities to use one ability will likely lead to other chances for you to recognize more valuable skills and character traits
Accept Compliments–Accepting compliments graciously is a skill that is easy to perform, even if it feels difficult. Simply responding to a compliment with a “Thank You” is all that it takes to receive the gift of recognition. If you struggle with affirming yourself, you may be tempted to down-play what was said or offer up a rebuttal. Don’t give in! Remind yourself that “Thank You” is a complete sentence and push the Gremlin of self-doubt aside. The more you practice this, the easier it will become.
Get Help–Sometimes we all need assistance to improve our outlook. Seek counseling with a licensed professional to help you uncover the beliefs that have led to a poor self-image and learn tools that are specific to your situation to move you along the path to self-love.