Fuhrer: Healthy self-esteem can help us become more empathetic

If you want to change your perception, you’ll need to change your story

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

– Anais Nin, French essayist and memoirist

“But that’s not what it means,” I protested.

“Yes, but that’s how they interpreted it.”

I was flabbergasted. How could so many different meanings be drawn from something that seemed so obvious to me?

My high-school English teacher had been so impressed by the multi-stanza poem I had written for class that he had asked permission to read it to the class below mine. I was surprised by the A and his request — it was certainly no work of Robert Frost — but had granted him permission.

“I read the poem aloud,” he said, “then asked students to write down what it meant.”

I did my best to explain what the poem really meant, since, as the author, I knew definitively what the words meant, and none of them had gotten it right. But he responded that everyone assigns different meaning to what they perceive, depending on the personal perspective. Poetry was the perfect example.

It was a powerful lesson about poetry and about our perspectives on everything we encounter in life. We all interpret situations and events differently, and those interpretations are based upon our core beliefs. Core beliefs are comprised of three components: how I think of myself, how I think about others and how I think about the world. They are influenced by childhood upbringing, culture, faith, values and our natural and genetic predispositions. Our self-esteem evolves out of our core beliefs and can itself become a core belief, having a tremendous impact on how we interpret the world. If our self-esteem is low, we may view ourselves as victims, or unworthy of happiness and success. If we’re feeling vulnerable, useless and unlovable, this will colour everything we experience. If our self-esteem is high, meaning we have faith in ourselves, we feel capable of dealing with life’s challenges and feel worthy of success, we will likely see opportunities and life lessons everywhere, and interpret the world in vastly different ways.

Our minds are always trying to make sense of the world around us, and the better our self-esteem, the easier it becomes to develop a positive interpretation. This is not to say that having healthy self-esteem guarantees that we will unbiased, but it generally allows for a more honest, open-minded assessment.

If you want to change your perception, you’ll need to change your story. Trust me, it’s easy to get caught-up in our stories. I lived my disempowering tale for years. Start by thinking about your life right now. Are you feeling happy and fulfilled or is the opposite true? Ask yourself, “Who wrote my story? My family, culture, or religion?” If it wasn’t you and you don’t like the storyline, sit down right now and start drafting a new one. To find the answers, look at your core beliefs. Remember, beliefs are like filters that can distort everything we see, do and experience. Open your eyes and get real with yourself. Once you’ve come to some realization, set some new and positive goals and spend a few minutes everyday visualizing their achievement. Celebrate your successes and persevere. It’ll take some work, but you’re worth it.

American author, coach and lecturer Debbie Ford wrote, “It is our interpretation of the past, our limiting beliefs, and our undigested pain that stop us from being able to move forward with clear direction.”

Healthy self-esteem can help us free ourselves from narrow and limiting interpretations. As a result, we will not only improve our own mental health and happiness, but become more understanding and empathetic toward others as we learn to step out of our personal perspective.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His most recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca

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