Beyond Self-Esteem: How appreciating others can help you to value yourself

About a month ago, I set a conscious intention to be less self-critical and to increase self-esteem. Several weeks afterward, I had an insight during a sitting meditation. It came to me seemingly out of nowhere. I was just easing into the present moment, not thinking of anything in particular. Then, it suddenly occurred to me: When I don’t value myself, I also depreciate everybody who made me who I am right now. On the flip-side, appreciating other people who had a beneficial impact on my life can help me value myself more.

First, on a biological level being overtly critical of myself means being critical of generations of people who came before me and transmitted their genes. But this goes much further. When I trace back the lineage, it includes human evolution and the origins of life on the planet as a whole. Imagine you rewind your life history from the day of your birth hundreds, thousands, and millions of years back. Phylogenetic relationships, cause, and effect, make us embody knowledge and information that we’re not fully aware of. It’s vast potential. Thinking of myself as a self-contained individual cuts me off from greatness. Mindfulness of relationships makes me feel esteem. But let’s fast forward again.

Second, since my son was born, I have become more mindful of what it takes to raise a child. I have become more appreciative of the efforts and sacrifices that were made to keep me alive and make it into adult age. Think of all the efforts that went into feeding you, bathing you, and sheltering you. You would not be reading these lines if they would have been entirely absent. As infants and children, we are so vulnerable. We can’t make it without somebody giving us at least some degree of love and care, even if it was only for moments you cannot remember. Infants die when left on their own without any support die. I’m still around and so are you.

Third, I’m made up by what I learned from my partner, parents, teachers, and peers, or people who randomly influenced my life. Who makes up the person you are in this moment? There is a whole bunch of people who more or less directly affected who I became and who I am right now. There have always been others who have given me something that made my day that made my life worth living. Can you remember anybody or any situation in which you received a gift, perhaps a smile, some wisdom, or a simple present? Have you carried it with you in your heart? Is it part of you now? I’m confident that you will find something, even if it takes some assistance.

Finally, I embody everybody who came before me and influenced me up to this moment. Would I ever want to devalue all of these people? No. Having self-esteem means becoming more aware of how my environment and the people who are part of it shaped who I am. This awareness enables me to value myself more. For me the fact that I am part of something bigger than myself is comforting. Appreciating everything that made me exist, survive, and thrive is empowering. On the flip-side, you and I leave an imprint on others, too. Think of somebody who received something from you, perhaps something that changed this person’s life in a particular moment, such as a smile or kind words.