Today I am going to introduce you to two of my favourite counselling tool, … the puffer pigeon and the cat who knows that he is really a lion. But first let me give you a bit of background on my journey of discovery. When I first started doing counselling about 12 years ago my passion was to build self-esteem in people. I developed workshops and group therapy presentations focusing on self-esteem and most of my one on one counselling work was focused around helping people to develop this elusive thing called self-esteem.
I encouraged people to go out and do things to help them to develop their self-esteem, to go and get good at something which would make them feel good about their achievements and would then make them feel good about themselves and what they could do. I read and studied as much as I could about developing self-esteem and poured this knowledge onto my clients. I also kept up a steady stream of positive encouragement and praise to my 2 beautiful daughters telling them how beautiful they were and how capable they were and how they could achieve anything that they wanted to.
Every morning I put on my mask of achievement and went into the world with the knowledge that I was being seen as confident and capable and a great counsellor. I was encouraging and motivating telling my clients and all around me that they only had to feel accomplished and be achieving to be able to experience this thing called self-esteem, meanwhile the reality I myself was still struggling with some really debilitating limiting and negative core beliefs, but God forbid that anyone ever see my vulnerability and perceived failures as this would negate what I was portraying on the outside.
Then one day my oldest daughter was telling me how bad she was feeling about something that had happened to her at school, and I said to her, but you are so beautiful and such a strong person, you can deal with this. You can face up to these people. Her answer to me was the moment I began to question what I thought I knew. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said: ‘ I don’t believe that I am beautiful and I don’t believe that I am strong and when you say that to me it just makes me feel like even more of a failure…’ That one sentence broke my heart and at that moment I felt like I had let my beautiful young daughter down.
My own vulnerabilities flew to the surface and all of a sudden I was a mess struggling to reconnect with what I believed was my self-esteem. I punished myself internally so thoroughly I was unable to really function for days. This was when I suddenly realised that there was something intrinsically flawed in what I believed was the way to encourage and support personal belief and acceptance in ourselves.
That was when I started my research on the correct way to help people to build inner strength and self-belief and it was at this point that I discovered the concepts of Self Worth and Self Compassion. I became acutely aware of the difference between these concepts. The dictionary definition of Self Esteem is “ … a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self.” I started to understand that self-esteem is about external achievement and can also be linked with achievement, judgement, failure, self-consciousness and shame.” I then discovered a TED talk on self-worth and this was when I saw the huge differences in these two concepts. The dictionary definitions for SELF WORTH is: “Respect for or a favourable opinion of oneself.” I realised that self-worth is that deep inner acceptance of who we are warts and all and is linked to acceptance and compassion of oneself with all our flaws as well as all mistakes we make. It’s about the ability to be compassionate to ourselves and to treat ourselves with a deep and loving acceptance and respect.
This is where I developed the concept of the puffer pigeon and the cat. The puffer pigeon is all about the external. He puffs himself up and struts around looking and feeling very important. I’m sure we all know someone like this. The person who struts around feeling very sure of themselves and their ability. The sad thing however is that these people when they fall, they fall hard as they have nothing to sustain them internally. Their self-esteem is based on external achievements and factors, but internally they are still vulnerable. The person with self worth and self compassion is actually very strong internally and has a strong core of self belief. They are the ones that do not need to shout the odds all the time and they have a quiet calm about themselves.
They are the ones that we would all like to emulate as they seem to be so in control of themselves and their lives. I’m sure that you have all seen the picture of the cat looking in the mirror and reflected back is the picture of a lion. This picture is said to represent self-esteem, however I feel that this is a more accurate depiction of self-worth. This kitten is not afraid to show its vulnerability because inside resides the heart of a lion.
If you have ever owned a cat you will understand how cats have this innate understanding of who they are and there is no tail wagging or overly enthusiastic external visual representation of who they are. So how do we develop self worth?
I would like to give you 3 easy things to think about and if you are able to perfect these in your life I am sure that you will feel more grounded within your core. Value yourself for who you are regardless of your achievements, your job and your earnings. Learn to trust yourself and your feelings without the need to be validated by those around you. Show yourself the same amount of compassion and empathy that you would show someone that you love unconditionally.
Love to all of you have read this far and I hope that this has been an interesting and informative read for you.