Codependency: my self-esteem will never get better

A friend told me: “I kind of think that you can work on your self-esteem. However, I also think that my self-esteem will never get better”.

This article is about codependency, the dependence on others or external factors to feel good about yourself.

He believes that other people can grow and become stronger, but he gave up on himself. He judges the progress he has made over the years. It has not been good enough. And I sense he feels he is not worthy to be someone with faith and trust in himself. So I asked him, ”How can you improve your self-esteem when you push it away before it even reaches you? It is like a sweet tasty cookie in front of you, but you will never be able to eat it because you have convinced yourself that you do not deserve it. And what defines self-esteem?”.

He is a very generous, caring and kind person that you can count on. You know he will always be there for you. It does not matter what time of the day. I have never seen him angry, and he told me that he can count the amount of fights he had in his life on two hands. You may relate to his story yourself or you know someone who behaves similarly.

He has a great caring personality, and it is not wrong at all to be helpful to others. The world would change positively if all of us would be more thoughtful about our surroundings. But he forgets about himself. He cannot give the love to himself that he easily gives to others. This creates a gap with an empty feeling.

Search for love & recognition

The gap can be filled via the search for love and recognition from external factors. Such as the attention from someone else, taking a warm bath, listening to a nice song or another form of distraction. In this way you create a dependence and an emotional addiction to the external factors. You need the other to feel good. So you made the other responsible for your feelings. Without the other you cannot give yourself love and faith. And when the other is not available, the gap comes back twice as painful. Also, the feeling that the other gives you is addictive. It feels good, this is what you want. Therefore you constantly search for it.

Coping mechanisms

The pattern to use external factors to fill the gap is a coping mechanism to survive. They are necessary, but not always the most effective. When the other does not give you the confirmation, for example when he or she does not answer the phone immediately, you start to panic. This goes to extremes, you become anxious to lose the other and be left alone. Your body can literally freeze. This is a stress response and not an effective solution from the body.

Going back to your childhood

Somehow we do develop these mechanisms from an early age. Your home situation as a kid does influence how you behave in adolescence. Your parents did their best for you. But when they were not available to you or did not know what you needed as a little boy or girl is the chance likely that you are anxious attached to others. You could not unconditionally count on your parents. Receiving love, support and attention was also not unconditional. Thus you learnt to receive in specific moments conditional love. This became normal during your childhood and therefore in your adolescence.

Coming back to my friend. He learnt to receive love when he is kind to others. So he needs to be a good person to deserve love. It is important for him to learn that he can give the love to himself and what unconditional love is. It is also important that he understands that he can help himself and that the external factors cannot save him. Therefore, at the moments when he is in panic, he can give himself the attention and love to become calm and have faith in himself. This care comes from within. And it is a change to self love.

The first step for everyone is to realize that you gain self worth from external incentives. By realizing this you become aware of the unhelpful pattern. Hereafter it is your task to learn to take care for yourself. You need to care for the little boy or girl that learnt to be dependent on others for confirmation. Only how to do that in your daily life?

Become your own caretaker

Your coping mechanism is activated during stressful moments. You will experience many thoughts, emotions and feelings. Often you identify yourself with these, like: “I am anxious”. However, you are not your thoughts, emotions and feelings. Namely, you can observe them from a distance. By observing them it will change to “My feeling is anxious”. By giving this stress response a name it becomes easier to observe what is happening. “Oh Hendrik is talking”. Create a name that is neutral and not negative. Since everything that is part of the coping mechanism is okay, it is okay to be there, and you will take care of it.

When you realize that you are stressed and are searching for help from someone or something else, identify the response with the name, like Hendrik. And perform the below exercise, for at least 5 minutes.

Take a seat
Place both feet flat on the ground
Place the left hand on your belly
Place the right hand on your heart
Close your eyes
Breath in and out
Speak to yourself while breathing in: I am safe
Speak to yourself while breathing out: I am loved

It will be tough in the beginning. It can be difficult to trust yourself. But you can do this, you can help yourself from within to become calm and feel safe. By giving yourself love your personal beliefs will shift. You are good enough and you are worthy to have faith in yourself.

By giving yourself this honest attention, you will be able to let go of conditional love and feel what is real.


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