There’s a lot in your book that I already have and will continue to find extremely useful. However, I think I see a chink in the amour for me. Although I like the idea of making self-esteem independent of my body image, I don’t think I could do that. I have suffered (and I do mean suffered) from low self-esteem all my life and those times when I felt I looked most attractive (i.e. when I had lost enough weight) were always the times I felt best about myself, more confident, relaxed and, especially, happy.
Here are a few things I’ve discovered and found useful about self-esteem:
1. Some level of self-esteem is a given; it’s impossible to have no opinions or beliefs about yourself. Some people like to refer to this as self-compassion, but one of the things I find helpful about Nathaniel Branden’s work on this is that he includes, alongside the sense of worth and compassion for oneself, the notion of some degree of competence in life. (1)
2. Higher or lower self-esteem tends to be within a range, which will be different for each individual. You may well be someone who tends to have lower self-esteem, but within that range, your esteem will fluctuate, from day to day or even from hour to hour. In the same way, someone may typically experience a stronger sense of self-worth, but will still notice it diminish – perhaps very dramatically – from time to time.
3. There’s a circular relationship between the attitudes you have about yourself and what you do. The circle is that your level of self-esteem influences your behaviour, and your behaviour – the actions you take in the world – influences your level of self-esteem. So let’s say you believe yourself to be fairly worthy and competent, but one day you make a huge mistake about something. Your self-esteem plummets as you decide you’re “a useless waste of space”. This circular relationship means that it’s highly likely this period of lower self-esteem will encourage behaviour that both reflects and reinforces it, leading to a downward spiral of self-loathing. This is very common, and very often acted out around addictive behaviours such as overeating.
4. Mistakes large and small can of course occur in any arena in life, including work and relationships, and of course in terms of what and how much you eat. Mistakes are inevitable; you cannot possibly avoid doing anything in life that you might later regret. What you can do is to change the way you react to having made mistakes; to develop the ability to restore some degree of self-esteem, rather than continue to undermine it by overeating.