Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 06 April 1998

10 Practical Methods For Building Self-Esteem

By Jack Nichols
Senior Editor, Badpuppy's GayToday


In Manhattan I once edited Sexology, then the world's longest-lived mass-circulation sex-information journal, meant for those endless hordes of middle-class readers who were (and are) desperately seeking for an oasis of "sane" guidance to rest their weary boners after traversing modern America's virtual wildernesses of erotic confusion.

On Sexology's Distinguished Board of Consultants in those days sat some of the most gifted sex-researchers in the nation, including Dr. Wardell Pomeroy (second senior author of the Kinsey Report) and Dr. Harry Benjamin of Johns Hopkins University, best known as the father of the transsexual.

From old memory's bin I've just retrieved a Sexology article I wrote and which still holds up novel health values, I like to imagine, even after a score of years has since passed. This article lists 10 steps readers may take toward Self Esteem.

As editor my intention had been to draw public attention away from too much focus on the mere mechanics of "good sex" such as "Six Ways to Prolong an Orgasm" and to recommend more general steps—psychologically bolstering ones-- seemingly outside of the realm of sex—steps to take toward self-esteem--- steps that once taken-- often enhance all other experiences, sexual/ social.


Then You Can Like Others

By Jack Nichols

A recent (1978) movie, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, gives an interesting hypothesis about the psyche of the late Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the film, Hoover is approached by an attractive young woman. He finds it impossible to respond.

She removes her blouse and presents her body to him. He recoils and starts shouting, "This must be a trap! Why are you doing this? What would a beautiful woman like you want with a man like me?"

He storms out of her apartment in a rage. She calls down the stairs after him, "What's wrong with you anyhow? Do you think so little of your self? Do you have so little self-esteem?"

As the movie unfolds, its hero never again becomes involved with a person—female or male—in any loving sense. Is it possible that what that fictitious woman asked of Hoover reflected the central tragedy of an isolated existence? Was he unable to love himself—despite the massive ego he presented to the public—and thus unable to accept love from others?

"I celebrate myself," wrote Walt Whitman, in the first line of his poem, Song of Myself. Whitman celebrated the self because he knew—as all great thinkers have known—that the self is the starting place for love. If a person cannot love him/her self, the security necessary for loving others isn't there. Without self-inspired security, a man or woman is subject to a host of evils—including jealousy, competitiveness, and suspicion—all of which intrude on relationships and turn them sour.

In this era of noise, confusion, and alarm, it's easy to focus on what is going on outside of ourselves. It is easy to be distracted by appeals to externals—by the constantly changing social scenes that we mistake for our realities.

After watching TV or reading Cosmopolitan or Playboy, it's easy to believe that what we wear, what we own, how we cut our hair, or how much money we have determines our personal worth.

We're conditioned to think that we are not likely to succeed in love if we lack certain things—things that may shift each season. We're taught to believe that others choose those who do have the proper rank, the mink coat, the flashy car, or the athletic guise.

But before we can re-learn what it is that brings one a genuine feeling for self-worth, we must unlearn much of what we've been taught. The first step is simply to stop thinking of your worth in terms of status, possessions and outward appearances.

A status seeker never knows real self-esteem because he's seeking distractions to enhance a figure that really isn't his own. As long as he seeks approval by surrounding himself with ornaments, he depends on things other than himself to impress others.

But inside he knows that ornaments are not really the self. They are simply trimmings. If they are removed, he may be left standing like a discarded Christmas tree—bare, colorless, and without any glow of its own.

Many relationships and romances fail because the people involved in them can't depend on or care for themselves. Women are taught to depend on men. Men are taught to depend on jobs. When men lose their jobs, they feel robbed of their masculinity. They waver, and they fear rejection by their wives or lovers.

Women are taught that they are worthless without a man. They are not allowed to feel self-worth unless a "Mrs." Precedes their names. If they remain unmarried too long, they are called by the ugliest of names: spinster.

Such social training leads them away from self-appreciation to thinking themselves incomplete without outsiders' compliments. That attitude, in turn, makes them eager to "catch a man" so as to feel complete.

Bette Davis spoke for a lost generation in All About Eve: "A woman with only a career has a book of clippings or French provincial office furniture, but she never feels like a real woman."

I once knew a couple, Janice and David, who were a classic example of two young people who had taken conventional attitudes to heart. They loved each other, but they had developed little love for themselves. David asked Janice to marry him when they were barely 20. David was sure he was attractive to Janice because he drove a fancy car, had a good-paying job, and dressed according to the latest fashion-magazine styles.

Janice thought that David loved her because she knew how to entice him with perfumes, and that she was a mistress of feminine wiles and coquetry. She knew how to get David to do what she wanted by pretending to be helpless, by wearing sexy nightgowns, and by assuring him that he was very masculine.

Five years passed and David suddenly lost his good-paying job. He was forced to buy a cheap automobile. He was plagued by insecurities. One afternoon he saw Janice talking to a man who lived in the neighborhood and he flew into a jealous rage.

The tricks Janice had used to entice her husband turned on her now, and instead of making him feel appreciated, they aggravated his agony. He didn't need a helpless woman, nor did he feel comfortable with repeated reminders of how "masculine" he was.

He was pained by her coquetry, and in his insecure state he imagined she used it to entice other men. David felt utterly vulnerable without his job. He tried to cover it up by behaving coolly toward his wife.

When she lashed out at him in anguish, he imagined it was because she had discovered his emptiness, and he felt more empty still. All these elements fed upon each other, and led to divorce.

Both David and Janice thought that they had loved each other. Probably they had. But neither of them had the real cement needed—self-love—to weather life's uncertainties.

The first sign of bad weather found them scurrying, unable to find shelter in self-esteem. If they could have seen themselves as worthy of another, they would not have needed to protect their egos by lashing out at one another, which destroyed their marriage.

It's essential to realize that how you feel about yourself directly affects your relationships with others. There's a vast difference between self-love and conceit. Conceit is an outward show, a frantic attempt to look good in the absence of your own real conviction.

Self-love is a quiet, deep awareness of your inner worth, and may even appear somewhat humble on the surface.

How you really feel about yourself can show in your movement'—sometimes others can see when you seem to be the puppet of outside forces. If you move at your own pace, that too can be apparent.

When you are in a public place alone, do you look independent? Self-contained? Self-aware? There are many who do not; they project a frenzied appearance. They don't seem to know what is behind them, and look as though they might back into a fan or bump into a stranger.


  1. Increase your self worth by becoming aware of past programming you followed. Your present self-image is something you have learned. Your ideas about who you are a combination of comparisons you've made about yourself in relation to others, and of feedback from others, who have told you in various ways who they think you are. But neither of these visions are really you. They are merely reactions to, and interpretations of, your inter-reactions. Your self-image is only a belief-system. Question it. You will often find that you are better than you thought.
  2. Put into action those qualities which you believe are your best. That cannot be done for show, to demonstrate for others. It's a quiet personal exercise of the best-loved values that make up your reality. Action provides contact between your sense of inner warmth and the self-esteem you seek.
  3. Scrutinize your physical body…not clothed in socially-approved garments, but naked. Are there parts of your body that you feel especially vulnerable about? If so, take special note of them. There may be no good reason to feel vulnerable, as do some men because of penis size, or some women because of breast size. You can fill your body with energy and life with even a minimum of daily exercise and care. Caring daily for your body will not only bring you greater self-awareness but a growing feeling of self-esteem. One poet said: "Good health puts you in rapport with the universe."
  4. Realize that what you have thought about yourself in the past is truly subject to change. You have a more positive reality than you have allowed yourself to see. Negative things you thought to be true of yourself in the past need not remain true of you. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: "Everything is in flux (i.e. change). You are, too.
  5. Know that what others have done to you—your parents for example—is not nearly as important now as what you can do for yourself. Become your own parent. Ask yourself, "What kind of parent am I to myself?"
  6. Be careful of the language you use to describe yourself and your life. To say "I should have done such and such," is to be too strict and too judgmental toward yourself. Certainly there are times when it would have been more desirable to have done something different. We're all imperfect. We all make mistakes, and sometimes we behave somewhat foolishly. But the words "should" and "ought" have been loaded so long with implications of condemnation and moral depravity, that it's very hard to use them in any other manner. So it's best, for the time being at least, to consider them polluted and use such phrases as "I would have liked to have done such and such," or "I wish I had done so and so." That helps you remember that your present insight doesn't mean that you were worthless before. Without a sense of guilt about past actions, it will be easier to avoid making the same mistake the next time. Thus you allow your personality options and choices—you nurture within yourself a sense of growing and becoming—and avoid self-condemnation.
  7. Know that to "need" something or someone can be a source of real pain. It is better to think in terms of "would like" or "prefer". To "prefer" instead of to "need" is to put you in control of your own consciousness. To need is to give up self control, and put you at the mercy of outside forces. It's hard to love or respect yourself under such circumstances. The same rule applies to expectations. You must not "expect" things of others, in the sense of demands. Only realize that you have an expectation, in the sense of preferences, if you do. This will keep you from casting blame and from feeling rejected if things do not go your way.
  8. Look first to what's good in you. Do not focus on your imagined faults. If you emphasize what is positive to yourself, it will grow quickly.
  9. Learn to do things for your self. You can pamper yourself in many healthy ways without guilt. Enjoy the time you have alone to savor the warmth of a bath, cleansing your face, or absorbing fine thoughts through literature. You will discover that you can draw great satisfaction from being alone. Whatever you choose to absorb becomes a part of you. Use the best of it in your relations with others.
  10. Know that everyone experiences what Dr. George Weinberg, author of Self-Creation (St. Martin's Press) calls "the dread of being alone" at one time or another. If you are different, it is no matter. Rejoice! Dr. Weinberg writes: "To exist is to be deviate." Only when you are joyfully in touch with your unique self will you overcome some of the sense of alienation and aloneness you fear.

Care for yourself. Love yourself. These commands intimidate many who have no idea where to begin. But if you start today, right this minute, by looking inward and talking off the mask you wear—and sometimes construct—to impress others, you can also begin to polish the mirror of your own personality. Then the reflection you see will bring delight, not only to you, but to others who will love you, and whom you'll be able to love.

Courtesy of Sexology Magazine

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