As we acknowledge Black History Month we applaud the efforts and strong will by those who refused to be silent in the face of racism and stood for their beliefs, dignity and community. Those persons braved the Jim Crow laws, segregation, defamation, and degradation in spite of being treated uncivilized, like ravage animals in the wild. Those resilient people of color and brave white Americans sacrificed at a great cost to pave the way for a better atmosphere today. Those persons had to endure horrible acts, fear and humiliation. Those courageous human beings took a stand against the ugliness of racism.
I cannot say that I have a personal story with racism, but I will share that my success lies on the shoulders of my father Bernard Matthews who experienced, spraying, police brutality, segregation and poverty. He grew up in Bessemer, Alabama and marched for freedom with many of his siblings and friends. My father was actually at the church a few hours before 4 small girls were killed by a bomb just because the color of their skin. The ironic thing about my father is he never shared any of his horrific experiences with my sister and I until we completed our graduate degrees and had worked for many years. He taught us how to love and work hard, and if you did those things you would be a success. He never talked about racism or adversity, he worked hard and utilized the skills his mother taught him and created his opportunities. He reached beyond adversity and found a way to live happily ever after.
However, can you imagine how these events can weigh down a person? How it affects them mentally as well as physically? Most importantly, how it could obliterate a person’s self-esteem? There’s evidence that the psychological games, public humiliation, and disrespect that was shown towards black men began to weigh them down. Their self-esteem was wavering and many felt as if they couldn’t go on. But somehow, they managed to get up and fight another day. They fought to breathe, they fought to provide for their families, they fought so that generations to come after them wouldn’t have to endure the hells that they did, and they fought to be human. They had to encourage themselves, remind themselves they weren’t the animals that the media and law enforcers made them out to be. They had to remind their families and the world that they were still men.
Racism and oppression is alive today. I work with clients that experience oppression at work and in their relationships. I see clients that deal with financial bondage that impact their ability to function, make sound decisions and live free from mental turmoil. Women still face discrimination in the workforce daily as their male counterparts seek advancement opportunities and more money. These situations cause a value reduction and they impact your self worth tremendously.
Without a high sense of self-esteem you can easily slip into a dark place of deep depression. A healthy self-esteem is critical to living a healthy life, and it must be maintained regardless of the situations of life that you may find yourself in. It helps your life become more manageable (you’ll be able to distinguish what’s truly important and worth your time). In turn, you’ll know your worth and feel more deserving of good things. Once you know your worth, you’ll exude a strong sense of confidence that makes you more attractive in relationships. (You’ll also be better able to handle relationships as well as the many changes and challenges that they present.) Overall, you’ll be in better moods more often which leads to a happy life.
The first step to getting to this happy place is to take inventory of your life and set some goals. Don’t procrastinate, simply take out a piece of paper and write down ten (yes 10) of your strengths down one side, draw a line and then write down ten of your weaknesses on the other side so that you can see and compare both. Stay there until you have ten of each. No strength or weakness is too small. Now, use this list to set some REALISTIC goals for yourself.
The ongoing step is to work on reaching your goals and create high self-esteem. Below are 10 ways to build your self-esteem.
- Squash that negative internal voice. I’m sure that little pessimistic voice in your head is already at work trying to convince you that this isn’t for you, that it’ll never work, and other untrue destructive things. Ignore that voice and move forward. (Just like those civil rights protestors ignored the threats, marched in spite of being hosed down in the streets and continued peacefully past the National Guard; you can muster the strength to move ahead past that pestering voice.)
- Start a journal. Daily (I suggest mornings while the day is fresh and untainted) write down 3 positive things about yourself. Small things (big is okay, too) like: how you feel this morning, how you look, compliments you’ve been given, the mere fact that you’re taking control of your life, etc.
- Abandon Comparisons! One of the biggest ‘chains’ of low self-esteem is comparing yourself to others and allowing your perceived short comings to hold you back. Remember that you are uniquely made, and while you may be similar to someone else you are very much different FOR A REASON and you can’t truly be compared to another person. We all have different fingerprints for a reason and it’s for identification (because we are diverse human beings) not comparison.
- Put yourself in the company of supportive people. Being in negative company puts you in a negative mood which lowers your self-esteem. When given the invitation to a pity party (even if it’s your own) HASTILY decline and Run in the opposite direction. Find people who enjoy the things you enjoy and go hang out with people who you share common interests with. Have a hard time finding these people? Well, you’re in luck, ‘there’s an app for that’ (Meetup)
- Challenge yourself. Trying new things, stepping outside of your comfort zone is scary. But it is highly liberating. The act of doing something different opens you up to a world of possibilities. Some stuff you will be successful at (and oh, the joy you’ll experience when you find such things) and other things you won’t be successful at (but you can say that you did it, you tried something new, and you are living life without restrictions).
- Realize that perfection is myth. No one is perfect, nothing is perfect and the grass is certainly not greener up close. Instead of attempting to be perfect, attempt to do your absolute best. Your best is your excellence. Throw away the idea of perfect and instead embrace the idea of achievement as well as mistakes. Look at life through the lens of “I accomplished/didn’t accomplish what I set out to do” and “this is how I should approach the situation the next time.” Also don’t look at failure, but mistakes. Take the pressure off of yourself and simply say “I made a mistake, that wasn’t the wisest choice at that time and next time I know what not to do” then MOVE FORWARD with your life. Write down the lesson you learned and leave it there. You MUST encourage yourself.
- Take care of yourself.
- Be selfish and schedule time for yourself. Be sure to engage in things that allows you to relax (pampering, reading, playing games).
- I know, this can be a struggle. But as little as 10-minutes a day will make huge difference. Getting the blood pumping increase your energy, lightens your mood, reduces your stress, and helps your heart.
- Spend time on your self-image. Be flexible here and be willing to change. Take time and work on your personal hygiene. Stop waiting for special occasion to wear your special fragrance and nice clothes. Every day you’re living is a special day. Be sure to present yourself like you’re worth a million dollars (because the truth of the matter is, you’re worth more than that; You’re priceless)
- Remember the ‘golden rule’: Treat others the way you want to be treated. When you are kind to others and carry yourself as a kind person you feel better. (remember, a kind word can go a long way. I’m sure you can attest to the power of a compliment and a kind word.) There is something universal about making others feel better; helping others out that makes you feel better. Some people call it Karma while others call it positive energy; whatever it is, it truly works and it’s uplifting.
- Do what’s right. Inside of all of us is a conscience and when we ignore it we tend to feel awful. Sometimes we get to a place where we’ve ignored it so long that we become numb to it and that voice is so faint that we barely hear it. If we would just do those things that we know to be morally right, that voice will being to reappear and tug on our hearts. We have to be open, apologetic for our wrongdoings, and commit to being better. The fact of the matter is this: when we do what we know to be right and carry ourselves with integrity we feel better and people respect and trust us. Gaining respect and trust instantly reflects your value and worth.
It is my sincere hope that you work to get to your happy place, that you will find your own strength, that you will become resilient in the face of adversity and that you will thrive, living a full and abundant life. I realize that this may sound easier than it is. I can attest that this is a process, a journey, and sometimes an uphill battle; but it’s worth it. YOU are worth it. Getting to this place will take time, will be laden with small victories and setbacks; but you must keep at it. Be kind to yourself, be reasonable with yourself and your expectations. If you ever feel like this is too much to bear and you can’t handle this alone; know that I am here for you. I’d love to talk to you, help you along your journey and make sure that you get to your happy place.