The way you treat yourself is often the way you see others treat you, too.
I have a friend (I’ll call him ‘Kevin’) who doesn’t understand why he always seems to strike out on love, get walked all over by his ‘friends,’ or end up in the most unpleasant of challenges in life. He complains about it often, but when I try to offer some supportive words or an idea that might help him to improve his situation, he always comes back with something like, “When it comes down to it, I’m just not a good enough person for anyone to invest their time in.”
Kevin has had a difficult life. That much is true. But you know what? I have too. While our struggles have been (and still are) different, I think they have been equally difficult. But I have felt like Kevin before. I have wondered why nobody seemed to respect or care about me. I wondered why I was always left out of everything and why I didn’t have any very close friends. I could never understand why, when things went wrong in my life, nobody seemed to care. I became a very frustrated, bitter, and cynical person because of this, and it showed in how I treated myself.
I wouldn’t take compliments. I would fight them and deny them. I would help others—but only because I knew I should, never because I sincerely wanted to. I would listen to someone confiding in me, but I would be more focused on calculating my retort to whatever was being said. I would spend time with friends, but I was so worried about impressing them that I never took the time to be impressed by them.
My poor self esteem had always made me unable to focus on anyone else or simply enjoy any moment. I never meant to be self-centered or focused on myself—I always thought I was trying to please others and make them happy. But I always felt like I had to be earning someone else’s respect or love. I thought I had to prove to everyone that I was worth something. I thought I needed to do more and become more skilled and talented so that I could offer more to the world. I never realized that the one person (perhaps the most important person) who I was never trying to win over was myself.
Learning to love and respect myself was (and still is) a long process. I had learned some false truths about myself as I was growing up. Unfortunately, these beliefs had been reinforced by others who never intended to hurt me, but did so nonetheless. Family members whose teasing went too far, religious people who weren’t as tactful in their words as I needed them to be, and peers who reacted condescendingly to my naivete, all led me to believe that I was less important than others. I believed that I was annoying and that my only value was determined by my skills and abilities. I believed that my worth as a person was dependent only upon what I could offer society.
But as I grew up I began treating myself better, and I noticed the most interesting phenomenon: other people began treating me better too.
Perhaps they treated me the same as they always had, but now I actually noticed that strangers were nice to me, that my family cares about me, and that my friends are wonderful and they think I am too. As I learned to do this, my focus shifted to truly be on others and their intentions instead of on myself and how I could prove or convince them that I was important.
I learned that once you stop worrying about yourself–the impression you leave on others or proving yourself to anyone for any reason–you can simply be you. At that point, you can genuinely love others, help others, and find many joys and satisfactions in life you didn’t know you were missing.