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Everything from alcohol addiction to violent traits exhibited by rejected teen lovers has been linked to low self-esteem. It’s every psychiatrist’s favourite go-to root cause. But the latest approach suggested by experts is not giving it the importance you have so far. As Mumbai-based clinical psychologist Varkha Chulani puts it, to win is to not play the game at all. Instead of rating yourself on various factors, inch towards self-acceptance, she suggests. But first, you’ll have to de-entangle yourself. Here’s the how-to plan.

What is self esteem?

The importance of developing self-esteem is deeply entrenched in our psyche. So to fight it, you’ll have to first identify it. “Self esteem is rating one’s worth on the basis of external factors like physical looks, wealth, achievements, acquisitions, success, etc.,” says Chulani. Thus, we are encouraged to achieve and acquire and to measure ourselves accordingly. As you can tell, this poses a problem since we are bound to fail, grow old, fluctuate in weight and suffer financial setbacks from time to time. In such a set-up, to keep cranking the gears of self-evaluation can be exhausting and futile.

Show me the trap

When wrestling with self-esteem, you are vulnerable to depression and anxiety. You are vigilant to every slip-up, ready with a rod to rap your own knuckles with. You are not being nice to yourself. “If you define your worth by your achievements, it’s natural that you will be petrified of failing. When you are scared of failure, you are likely to stick to the tried and tested, and be wary of change,” points out Chulani.

When performance or life-situations alter, you might plunge into despair or condemn yourself. When good times swing back, you’ll swing too. Eventually, you turn into a less balanced human and more of a pendulum.

What oscillation does is deprive you of perspective. Ironically, you will be insecure with every ‘achievement’ because you have based your worth on it. “Tension and blood pressure are usually the companions of those who focus on self-esteem,” warns Chulani. Your ‘survival’ begins to depend on things which are not essential to survival at all.

Relax and accept

What you need to do is forgo the trouble and accept yourself — no elevation of self when you do well, no damning when you don’t. You are what you are, and complete within that. “Self-acceptance is accepting ourselves for what we are rather than accepting ourselves for what we do,” says Chulani. “So even if we acquire, achieve or are drop dead gorgeous, it does not define us. We are the same.”

Where can I buy some?  

So how do you get this awesome sauce that you can serve on the side of everything you say to yourself?

First step: Stop rating yourself. Right now. Thank you.

Next step: Allot blame to ‘behaviour’ or traits. Sure, you are responsible for your actions, but you can change them. Talk to yourself, accept that your unpunctuality is making you stressed, or unprofessional. This makes you unhappy, therefore you’d like to instigate change. “Teaching children (and ourselves) to remain equipoised to success and failure, will be a good beginning,” says Chulani. “Tell a child that even if she achieves, is good looking or great at sport, these achievements do not define her/him or make him/her ‘superior’. They only point to the fact that these achievements will bring advantages. Non-achievements will bring disadvantages.” This will help her embrace change, and stabilise a sense of selfworth. “Nothing will perturb her because ‘she’ will never be at stake, only her abilities will be,” says Chulani.

How do I tackle the bad stuff? 

On the way to self acceptance, you’ll have to negotiate the disadvantages some of your habits bring. “Accepting our ‘worst’ traits and realising that they bring us difficulties and disadvantages are how human progress occurs,” explains Chulani. Saying ‘sorry’, and amending a mistake comes more easily to a self-accepting person. “In self-esteem, I have to always protect my worth. In self-acceptance, I am willing to accept and change behaviour because ‘I’ am not on the firing line. My behaviour is,” argues Chulani. So relax your shoulders, and go easy on yourself.


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