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I have, shall we say, some rather atrocious self-esteem issues. If something I’ve made comes out of the oven undercooked or burnt, for instance, I start to worry about whether I am capable of anything at all. (I take my cooking extremely seriously.) That’s the tiniest little bit rather very extreme, and hopefully not the sort of thing you experience, but I am thinking about the social value of putting oneself down.

It’s something women in particular are taught to do. Taking pride in ourselves is understood as immodest, disconnected, and something to be swiftly undone. Women are taught to be givers, not takers. Part of that means giving out compliments and affirmations to others for qualities one strenuously denies in oneself. Sometimes this means a secret satisfaction in retaining a socially acceptable appearance of level-headed humility as well as knowledge of one’s own skill, character, or beauty. I don’t like that doubleness; I don’t like that twisting of the truly excellent qualities of humility and clarity of understanding.

It’s worse, however, for those for whom there is no realisation of doubleness, for those who have internalised the idea that there is nothing particularly nice about who they are, and anyone who thinks there is anything good to say is kidding themselves. Then false humility marks a systemic sowing of self-doubt and self-sabotage. It’s a cruel thing to require people to dislike themselves.

Being rendered unable to recognise the truth when others point out the good things in you isn’t right for those people who are doing the pointing out either. Figuring as deluded the people who have taken the trouble to acknowledge your wonderfulness isn’t precisely kind or returning the favour. It might then be time to rethink whose perception is off-key.

I’m not in a position to be lecturing you here, really; my perceptions are sometimes so out of whack that it’s a struggle to honour the sweetness of those around me as well as to honour myself. I have to learn to stop agonising over this kind of thing and jump in to loving all the things other people see, all the things I like in other people. I’m determined to see myself right and rightly, and to honour kindness in other people who are so good as to reach out and try to make me feel good. I’m pretty fortunate to have people like that in my life.

We each cultivate qualities in ourselves that we like in other people, and they are no less valuable because they are our own. I hope to accept and love all the parts of myself, to internalise what I tell others. We’re all worthy of love, especially from ourselves. I hope you do know how to see yourself clearly, or I hope you know how to learn.

Remember, you weren’t the one
Who made you ashamed,
But you are the one
Who can make you proud.
Just practice,
Practice until you get proud, and once you are proud,
Keep practicing so you won’t forget.
You get proud
By practicing.

From “You Get Proud by Practicing” by Laura Hershey, which is a beautiful poem about disability pride.

Previously: Learning how to take a compliment and Joy.