Plugging My Leaky Bucket

“I have this yearning to be accepted and acceptable to my fellow men and women, but they have to reinforce my self-esteem constantly by telling me I’m doing well or that I’m good at something. Sam said once that when it comes to my feelings of self-worth and self-confidence I have a leaky bucket that constantly needs filling.”

The quote above is from a journal entry I made in November 2002, a little over a year after I began a serious eight-year journey to lose over 140 lbs. And while my bucket isn’t as leaky as it once was, I still struggle with insecurities about what other people think of me.

My husband Sam’s analogy of the leaky bucket may seem unkind, but over the years it’s been a great reminder to me that the only person who can control and change how I perceive myself is ME. Just before he said it, I had been begging him to tell me that I was wonderful, talented, beautiful, smart,…anything to help me feel less bad about myself. It was a cry for help, and I was probably crying. I was miserable. At first I was disappointed and offended. How could he say such a thing? Once I calmed down and listened to his explanation, it made sense. He was willing to tell me all of the things I wanted to hear because in his eyes they were all true, but that wouldn’t change how I felt about myself. The positive messages I received from people around me were never allowed to stay long enough in my brain to sink into my heart. My self-esteem bucket had too many holes, and only I could plug them.

Measuring our worth

Sociologists measure people in a society with three yardsticks: wealth, power, and status. Those are pretty narrow measures. They may be useful for some scientific purposes, but there is much more to you and me than that. Society as a whole, and especially the media, feed us the line of bologna that if we’re not as beautiful or handsome as a supermodel, as talented and fit as an Olympic athlete, and as intelligent and successful as a multimillionaire, we’re just not worth anyone’s attention. So, what can we do about that?

DON’T swallow the bologna!

Instead, try this…Think about a person you feel emotionally close to, a friend, your spouse, a parent or grandparent. Why do you love them? What about them do you value and admire? Can you go on and on about how wonderful they are and how much they mean to you? When you think about them, what is the first thing you think of? You could probably make a list a mile long!

Now, look in a mirror and ask yourself the same questions.

What about me is valuable and admirable?

What do I love about myself?

You might ask, “What if my answer to these questions is ‘nothing’?” That’s not an acceptable answer. That’s the depression demon working to torment you. Have you ever tried to comfort someone who wouldn’t be comforted? Don’t do that to yourself. Be your own best friend. Tell yourself, whether you want to listen or not, how amazing and wonderful you are. Be specific. “Your hair is a great color, and it’s so soft!” “You have such a tender heart when it comes to little furry animals.” “I love how you scoop up insects in a paper cup and take them outside to set them free.”

Don’t worry about seeming arrogant. Acknowledge your gifts, talents and strengths. Make a list and post it on your mirror where you will see it every day. You might title it, Plugging My Leaky Bucket. If you need help getting started, think about attributes other people have observed in you. Once, the nurse at my children’s elementary school told me she liked having me around, because I made her feel calm. Since then other people have told me the same thing. So, on my list I would write “I have a calming influence on others.”

This list of positive attributes is a great visual reminder, but how do we make them stick? How can we let the good in us sink into our hearts enough that we believe ourselves to be worthwhile and valuable? What can you do to start to plugging the holes in your leaky bucket?

This is the fun part!

One idea is to look for ways to use your positive attributes to help other people. If you’re a great cook, take a meal to a neighbor or someone who is having a difficult time. Let’s say you’re a good listener. Invite a busy friend or co-worker to go for a walk and let them talk about their challenges. Do you enjoy writing? Write a poem or a kind note and snail mail it to someone who could use a little more joy in their lives. Helping others can work miracles of healing for everyone involved.

What do you think? Since the purpose of this blog is to help each other, please post your thoughts in the Comments. What are some of the things on your Plugging My Leaky Bucket list? What are some ways you combat low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy? What are some things you love about yourself?

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