Having a solid sense of your self-worth is important if you want to be able to develop healthy relationships. Gay men find their self esteem challenged in a variety of ways: messages from radio talk show hosts who claim we are inferior, messages from society saying that our relationships are less significant than straight people’s relationships, and messages from other gay men that confuse how we look with who we are.
Its one thing to understand and try to correct our own shortcomings, but it’s quite another to feel as if we are somehow intrinsically flawed or unworthy. There are different “flavors” of self esteem. Some kinds come from having a sense of accomplishment in life – we succeed in school or work and develop a sense that we are good at what we do. A more basic kind comes from living up to our personal sense of right and wrong – having a sense of ourselves as honest, kind, conscientious, and so forth.
A still more fundamental sense of self-worth comes from learning early in life that we are loved and respected by those around us. Children raised in loving families develop a positive sense of themselves. Kids who are raised with a fear that there is something wrong or deficient with them don’t learn this life lesson. To the extent that growing up queer means growing up with a terrible secret, gay kids are at considerable risk of maturing into adults with a weak sense of their own value. The harangues of religious conservatives make it worse, no matter how much they say they love you.
All of us hear voices. In fact, there is probably a committee meeting going on inside your head right now. One of the voices – sometimes the loudest voice – belongs to that of your internal Critic. The Critic, much like a feared Broadway critic, is constantly reviewing your performance. The problem is, this internal critic is pitiless. No error escapes his watchful eye; his commentary on your life can be remorseless. Worse, you can never please the Critic, never get a “good review.” Worse still, the internal critic will often invent flaws if he can’t find genuine ones.
One way to deal with the Critic is simply to notice when he is speaking, take a breath, label the internal voice (“That’s my Critic talking”) and let it go. Don’t angry with yourself for having a critical voice inside you; the Critic only use your self-criticism against you, and then you’re in for another round! Better to just acknowledge the voice, take a deep breath and let go. Forgive yourself for not being perfect.
Because the Critic speaks so loudly and so often, it’s hard to hear the other voices inside us that sound more supportive – voices that salute us when we do a good job, or which affirm our basic worthiness. Learn to pat yourself on the back. This is different from conceit or bragging; this is self-acknowledgement. Of course, it’s also good to have friends around who can share your joy when you’ve got good news to share with them – even if it might sound a bit like being full of yourself to your internal Critic. Having friends who can share in life’s victories is at least as important as having a shoulder to cry on when things go wrong.
Perfectionism is the enemy of self esteem. If you feel that you are only as good as your last performance, you will spend your life feeling you are always on stage. Recognize that we all make mistakes, we all need to change our minds sometimes. You do not have to prove you are flawless in order to be worthy of living on this earth.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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