Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reaching Out for Help in Indonesia

This morning, I received this comment from a young man in Indonesia.  It was attached to the "Karofsky" post.  While that post continues to receive a lot of traffic, I did not want this comment, or my response, to be lost to other readers of my blog.  I know someone else will read this and know he or she is not alone. And, hopefully, my response, as well as anything you wish to add, dear readers, will help those in distress, especially in other countries, where there is less acceptance for anyone who is LGBT.  Together, we truly can help each other.

Anonymous said...

First of all, I'm sorry for being an Anonymous on this comment.

Well, I'm a 22yo gay dude. I am an Indonesian. And from where I come from, being gay is totally 'wrong'. I can't find a better word to describe it, but the point is living a gay life here is like living a hell of a life.

Kurt Hummel and David Karofsky of Glee remind me of the time when I for the first time realized that there's something different with me. I felt in love with my classmate, but I just couldn't tell him because it was 'wrong'. Then I begun to push people away because I was too afraid to let them know about my sexuality.

I made a confession once in my church, and I didn't get better. People were keep bad-mouthing gay people 'this' and 'that'.

I come from a big family where all of them expect 'a lot' from me. They want me to be a bigger man in our family, the one who be the pride. I just can't tear them down by coming out of the closet. Especially after my beloved Dad died several months ago.

I never had a relationship before, so I don't know about how it feels like. Honestly, I need someone to lean to. To share my feelings, my joys, and my tears as well. I am young but I am lonely. Slowly but sure, suicide is getting closer to me. I know it's a 'wrong' thing to do too, but do I have any choices here?

I talked to the priest, someone that I thought was wise enough to give me some courage to keep struggling, and he gave me a greater sense of guilt. I talked to my friends and they gave nothing but 'Go to the hell, dude." words. I tried to talked to my family, and they wanted to find my future wife based on their taste instead. What else I could do? Where else I could run into?

I am just hoping that my society will be more open-hearted to the LGBT people. It's getting harder, you know, since the idea of banning same-sex relationship was brought to the public several days ago.

Here is my response:

Anonymous, thank you so much for your interest in my blog, and for having the courage to leave such a wonderful comment. I am so grateful for that.

First and foremost, I must tell you that you absolutely CANNOT consider suicide as an answer to what you are going through. Let me repeat that: YOU CANNOT CONSIDER SUICIDE AS AN ANSWER. You cannot. I hope that message has gotten through to you loud and clear. No matter how bad it gets, you must not commit suicide. 

I want you to take a look at the following links:

It Gets Better

Make It Better

Both of these websites are filled with life affirming videos for every LGBT person. You will find thousands of videos from people just like you who made the choice to live, despite what they went through.  Their stories will break your heart, but they will also inspire you. These are two of the BEST resources I know of on the Internet to help wonderful, loving people just like you. Promise me you'll take a look. 

Above all, I want you to know YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You may think you are, but you are not. I understand the situation you're in, because my own situation years ago was probably much like yours today. I understand your isolation, your loneliness, the feeling no one understands you. But we all do. Anyone who is LGBT understands you. And, if we can get through it, you can, too. I hung in there, despite all the bullying I took, all the hopelessness I felt, and my life is spectacular, in part, because I get to hear from people just like you, and I have the opportunity to share what I've learned.

Since January of this year, I've written about twenty posts intended to help gay people like you to recognize how they've allowed themselves to believe all the negative things said about gay people; to realize how our worth has been destroyed; and to learn how to begin loving themselves again. I strongly recommend you read some or all of these posts (as well as the attached comments). I know you will feel better if you do.

Finally, I know you'd like to turn to your church during this difficult time, but you must know you will not get the support there that you need. Instead, please use the Internet as a lifeline. There are so many LGBT people reaching out to you at this very moment, through their blogs, stories, and videos.

And please return to my blog often. It is my goal to help LGBT people to love themselves. I pray you will take that journey with us. 

Please keep writing me. I will help any way I can.

Remember, IT DOES GET BETTER. Hang in there.  


I have one more thing to add.  I know you may not understand this, given the situation you're in, but I want you to give it some thought.

Gay or straight, most people don't have the ability to change their environment. What goes on around them is often out of their control.  So they have to live with it, whether they like it or not.    

So it is for you.  

The only control you really have, if you choose to take it back, is how you feel about yourself.  Yes, the world around you influences that, especially now when you are young, when your family and your church tell you what you must be, and when you believe you must please everyone instead of yourself. But they do not have to control your mind.  

It takes a strong person to love himself in the face of an intolerable life.  You must have an enormous amount of determination not to allow other people's expectations of you to erode your sense of self-worth, to compromise what you know to be true about you.  But you can do it.

And you do it by knowing in your heart, despite everything else, that you are a wonderful human being and a cherished child of God.  God loves you just as you are, make no mistake about that.  In His eyes, you are perfect.  In His eyes, you deserve to love yourself.  Now, you must believe that, too.

Even in the most horrific of circumstances, as many human beings have proven over the centuries, you can love yourself.  You can believe in yourself.  You can believe in the promise of your future.  

Everything looks dismal now, but, if you begin to work on improving your self-esteem, on learning to love yourself, you will gain strength, either to follow through with what your family wants you to do (if that is the path you must take), or to strike out on your own and live the life that was meant to be yours. 

Friday, January 28, 2011


As I read a passage from Golden Men: The Power of Gay Midlife, by Harold Kooden, PhD. with Charles Flowers, it occurred to me some readers might not see how important self-esteem is, or have an interest in improving their self-esteem, because of what Kooden calls other-esteem.  Kooden writes:

'Much of what we do to increase our self-esteem is really what I call "other-esteem," since it is the esteem of others that we really care about.  Dieting, makeovers, new cars and homes, or keeping up with the Joneses are all ways to get people to pay attention to us and reward us with their approval or envy.  How much of all that is about us and about what we want?

'A gay man may say, "It is about what I want:  a boyfriend.  If I don't have the right body or clothes, I'll never get noticed and I'll be single and bitter and old."  When I ask him why a boyfriend is so important, he'll say having a boyfriend makes him feel attractive, accepted, "normal."  But then I remind him no one makes us feel a particular way.  While our feelings are reactions to other people's behaviors, the pursuit of other-esteem is a reaction to our own feelings of inadequacy.  But no matter how desperately we crave it, other-esteem is a losing battle, a no-win situation, since we have no control over what other people will think of us [ p. 199].'

Need I say more about why self-esteem always trumps other-esteem?

Are You a Good Person?

Recently, I read a newspaper article written by Graham Hookey, a local high school teacher.  Titled "Worth is the root of self-esteem," the article talks about his interactions with students who think little of themselves.  More than anything, he writes, as teenagers, "we want to be accepted by a group of peers and we want to have options for courtship."

But, for so many reasons, many young people don't think they measure up. Hookey writes, "It is heartbreaking to me to see wonderful young people picked on, manipulated and damaged by insensitive peers.  It is frustrating to work with talented young people whose self-talk is destructive...."

The subject of Hookey's article may be young teenagers, but young teenagers become young adults, and, as many of us know personally, especially if we're gay and were victims of the bullying he describes, nothing automatically happens between our teen and young adult years to magically fix all of our self-esteem problems.  In most cases, those very same problems remain with us well into adulthood, when we ourselves make them far worse than any bully in grade school ever did.

That's what happened to me.  The kids who bullied me ended wreaking their damage (to use Hookey's word) when I graduated from high school in June 1977, but, because I was filled with so much self-loathing by then, for the next ten or twelve years, I continued their sick routine--beating myself up nonstop, repeating to myself all of the things they used to spew at me, reinforcing it over and over again.  In effect, I became my own worst bully.

The point of Hookey's article is an important one:  "More and more I find myself trying to force them [the students he talks to] to right the voice in their head that leaves them vulnerable.  It is their opinion of themselves that matters most because, ultimately, they must build their self-esteem from the inside out.  My most common question is to ask a student if he thinks he is a good person and I let him ponder that awhile.  It's often quite a struggle for a young person to answer that...and may take some time to evolve, but that is the ultimate root of self-esteem.  You have to believe in your worth."

What Hookey writes has direct application to the repurposing of my blog this year, in terms of helping gay men to raise their self-esteem.  Righting the voice in the head is critical to that process, and I write about it in more detail in the post titled "How to Love Yourself When You're a Gay Man (and When You're Not): Step #4, Take Baby Steps Forward."  I invite you to click here to read that post in its entirety.

For now, another point I take from Hookey's article is the source of self-esteem.  I think we'd like someone else to give us what we don't have--someone like a family member, a friend, or a life partner--because, one, we haven't been able to give it to ourselves, and we might not realize that's where it comes from anyway; and, two, if we are so enlightened, we believe giving it to ourselves might take a lot of hard work, which is counter to the time we live in where everything is instant, including, apparently, feeling good about yourself.

I could have waited, for example, until I met my partner, Chris, to tell me I was a good and worthwhile human being.  But I probably wouldn't have met him had I not already started to work on my self-esteem.  And, even if I had, what if he'd told me everything I'd always wanted to hear, but I didn't yet have an inkling it was true?  How much self-esteem do you think he would have been able to impart to me?  In fact, I probably wouldn't have believed a thing he said and might have found him insincere.

Moreover, I think the root cause of many challenges people in relationships face is low self-esteem--where fragile egos come together, desperate to feel love, because they have no love for themselves, and where insecurity leads to fighting for power and influence over the other.  Sound familiar?  I think this becomes the basis of many relationships (gay or straight), so is it any wonder why, built on such a flimsy foundation, they don't last or aren't good for either person?

And, finally, I want to touch on this whole question of whether people think they are good or bad, which, Hookey points out, is key to self-worth.  I think for many gay men, crucial to improving their self-esteem is believing they are good people. Because, as I've written before, for many people, particularly religious fanatics, homosexuality is a moral issue.  It's about straight being moral and good, and gay being immoral and bad.

Unfortunately, that message is reinforced in many different ways, and I think gay men, often being hyper-sensitive, take it to heart, believing, at least initially, that if someone in authority thinks it's right, like parents or the church, for example, then it must be true, and they have no choice but to believe it about themselves. Thus, moving from believing gay is bad to gay is good requires a monumental shift that is near to impossible to make, but it's critical in helping gay people to raise their self-esteem and to love themselves.

Ultimately, I think each of us who is gay must ask himself the question Hookey asks his students, and he must search his soul for the answer.  When I did many years ago, what came to mind first and foremost was that I didn't choose to be gay (that is, I chose to accept I was gay, but I didn't choose to be gay).  For me, the question of right or wrong, moral or immoral, good or bad, is a matter of choice, or a matter of consciously choosing one course of action over another. Thus, nothing is inherently bad or good, it just is.    

When I was a little boy, I remember having feelings I didn't understand around certain men.  Some of these men included family members, neighbors, teachers, life guards at the swimming pool, even fellow students.  For a reason that made no sense to me at the time, I was drawn to them.  I may have been drawn to their handsome face, their height, their muscular body, their facial hair, their masculinity, their hairy forearms and chests.  Invariably, something about them stirred something inside me.  I had no idea then, but this was the beginning of attraction.

I bring this up because I was a boy at the time, going with what was natural for me, and not making a conscious choice.  I did not know that my attraction to other boys and men was wrong, or immoral, or bad, according to some people (not as a little boy I didn't, anyway).  Later, when I did know, I hoped I'd grow out of it, that attraction would turn into admiration instead, and that girls would begin to appeal to me in that way, the same as it seemed to for most boys.  But that didn't happen. Instead, my feelings for men intensified.  And I began to realize not only did I feel connected to men in a way I would never feel connected to women, but also I was sexually aroused by them.

Children and innocence are often used in the same sentence.  The belief is that children enter this world pure in thought and deed.  I assume this means children are believed to be morally good because, at their young ages, they are incapable of making immoral or bad decisions.  Yet, there I was, unmistakably drawn to men, staring at them all the time, doing everything I could to be physically near them, practically begging them to notice me.  Women I socialized and felt a kinship with; men I wanted to love me.

When I ponder the question of whether or not I consider myself to be a good person, despite being gay, I don't see how I can answer any other way but yes.  I did not make the conscious choice to be gay.  What I have done is made the conscious decision to follow through on what is perfectly natural for me, which is to fall in love with another man and to share my life with him.  How can I be considered a bad person only on the basis of loving someone of the same gender?

The fact is, none of us can.  I'm not a bad person because I'm gay, and neither are you.  So give some thought to that when you answer Hookey's question for yourself, and don't let anyone or anything tell you you're not a valuable and worthy human being.  Remember, critical to raising our self-esteem as gay people is believing that to be true.  There's no reason why you shouldn't.  

(The quotes above are from "Worth is the root of self-esteem," by Graham Hookey, published in "The MR News," on Friday, January 14, 2011, located on p. 20.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Five Steps to Love Yourself When You're Gay--Summary

Today, I completed and published the fifth and final post in the "How to Love Yourself When You're Gay (and When You're Not)" series.  For the benefit of those who haven't read one or more of the five posts, I thought I'd take a moment to summarize briefly why I wrote the series and what's included in it, with the hope you might find something that interests you.

Why I wrote this series?

I don't think any of us can deny many gay men are filled with self-loathing.  Have you ever wondered why that is?  If you think about it, it makes sense.  Ever since we were children, we received the message, in many different ways, that being gay is bad, immoral, an abomination.

Maybe your parents said something negative about gay people; or someone in your church said homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God; or kids bullied you at school, calling you a fairy, a homo, a faggot; or you heard someone on the news say homosexuality is a sin.

Over time, as you began to realize you were gay yourself, you made the connection between homosexuality being bad and you being bad.  In other words, you internalized the messages, accepting they were true about you and affecting your self-worth in the process.

Self-worth is at the core of self-esteem.  If you don't have a sense of your self-worth, your self-esteem is lowered.  And, instead of loving yourself, as we all should, you hate yourself, leading, in the case of gay men, to all manner of dysfunctional behavior, including promiscuity, risky sex, and substance abuse.

I believe the greatest opportunity we have as gay people is to recognize what has been done to us for decades, to take responsibility for ourselves, and to do something about it.  Sure, let's continue the fight for our human rights, but let's accept the greatest battle we may face is to love ourselves.            

Five Steps to Love Yourself

In this series, I identified five steps that were instrumental in helping me many years ago to raise my self-esteem.  Direct links to these five steps are found below.

I hope something I wrote above resonates with you, and that you'll take this opportunity to read the information in some or all of the posts.  Most of all, I hope if the love you have for yourself is not where it should be, you'll accept the challenge to work on yourself, thereby improving every facet of your life.

If you'd like more information on the Five Steps, please see:

1.  Step #1:  Recognize the Problem (and the Need to Change) (click here);
2.  Step #2:  Live Consciously (click here)
3.  Step #3:  Turn Intention into Action  (click here)
4.  Step #4:  Take Baby Steps Forward  (click here)
5.  Step #5:  Believe in Yourself  (click here)

Step #5. How to Love Yourself When You're Gay: Believe in Yourself (Conclusion)

The Story So Far:  In Part One of this series, we covered how recognizing the problem of having low self-esteem is critical to improving it.  Frankly, if you don't see your self-esteem is low and needs to be raised, you'll probably never do anything about it.

In Part Two, we talked about living consciously, particularly as it relates to working on learning to love yourself.  If, as you work on raising your self-esteem, you continuously fall back into the same pattern of self-loathing--because you don't know you're doing it--any chance for improvement will be compromised.

In Part Three, we discussed the need to move from having the best intentions to taking action. It's not enough to want to improve your self-esteem, to want to learn to love yourself; you have to be motivated to follow through on the steps you'll need to take in order to achieve that goal.

In Part Four, we reviewed how difficult, but important, change is, particularly when working to improve self-esteem, and a number of suggestions, or baby steps, were offered to help you start to change the perception you have of your self-worth, which is at the root of self-esteem.

If you'd like more information on these four Steps, please see:  
1.  Introduction and Step #1, Recognize the Problem (and the Need to Change)  (click here);
2.  Step #2:  Live Consciously (click here)
3.  Step #3:  Turn Intention into Action  (click here)
4.  Step #4:  Take Baby Steps Forward  (click here)

Step #5:  Believe in Yourself

If there's one thing I learned for sure in the process of improving my self-esteem, it's how much work was involved, and how long it takes.  My intentions were good from the beginning, because I knew I needed to do this work on myself, but that didn't make the job any easier.  

Plenty of times, I was frustrated because I thought I had it, and then I didn't.  Just when I let my guard down, I said something negative about myself again.  Even today, I catch myself saying, "You stupid idiot" when I've done something that disappoints me.  Hopefully, that's when the concept of living consciously kicks in again--when I prevent myself from going any further, and when, if I have the presence of mind, I try to say a positive affirmation to replace the negative one I just uttered.       

Especially at first, the work involved in raising self-esteem can seem daunting, and the temptation to slide back into old behavior patterns greater than ever. Think about it.  For many years, you've accepted negative comments tossed at you, either directly or indirectly (many from yourself), because you thought you had no choice.  Even when people weren't talking about you, I bet you thought they were.  It's become second nature to feel badly about yourself, to deride and insult yourself, and to accept all of it as the truth.  

So how long do you think you'll need to stop the negative talk, to repeat positive affirmations, to stop inappropriate comparisons to other people, and to do nice things for yourself before you turn the tide of negativity you've directed at yourself for years, and to start your way back up the mountain again, where you firmly belong?  A few days?  A few weeks?  A few months? Honestly.  You'll be at this a long, long time.  

But it won't be challenging forever, only at the beginning, as you work to turn a long-term, dysfunctional routine into a positive, reaffirming one.  Every day you remain on the track to self-esteem is yet another day under your belt--another successful day of tearing down the past, of building a solid foundation for the future--in short, one day closer to your goal.

You'll get stronger as you go along.  The new reel that will play in your head may not always repeat positive affirmations over and over, but at least it won't be filled with the tripe you tell yourself now.  You will break yourself of the habit of comparing everything in your life to someone else, and you will learn to do things for yourself naturally, for no particular reason, just because.  

You'll get to the point where you don't need to wait for someone to say something nice about you to feel good about who you are.  You'll be able to say something nice about yourself--and believe it.  And that will reinforce all the good things you've come to know are true about yourself.        

And so, not only am I asking you to take this journey and to believe in the process of improving your self-esteem, but also I'm asking you to believe in yourself, and in your ability to make this significant change in your life.  You can do this; I know you can.  If I can do it, so can you. Anyone can.  And, as we covered before, only you can do this.  No one can give you self-esteem.  It's up to you.  

In Step #4, Taking Baby Steps Forward, we talked about you being the most important person in your life (you knew I'd get that in there again, didn't you?).  It's true.  That will never change, no matter how old you become.  But remember, at the end of the day, this is not about being selfish or arrogant or full of yourself. Rather, this is about being self-full--about knowing who you are, about loving who you are, about being satisfied and content and fulfilled with that knowledge, and about being the best you can be, first, in your life, and then in the lives of all the people you hold most dear.  

There is no substitute for self-esteem.  In our world of material possessions and instant gratification, you cannot buy something at the store to replace the self-esteem you don't have. Retail therapy may make you feel better at first, but that sensation will wear off soon enough, as it always does.  Nothing of this earth will make you feel worthy.  Not a new house, or a new car, or a piece of furniture, or clothing. Nothing.

Self-esteem comes from one place and one place only--inside you--and it's not conditional on anything outside of you.  If you don't have it now, there's no better time than this very second to decide you need to do the work on yourself to get it. Hands down, this will be the best investment you've ever made, one you cannot afford to pass up.   

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Step #4. How to Love Yourself When You're Gay: Take Baby Steps Forward

The Story So Far:  In Part One of this series, we covered how recognizing the problem of having low self-esteem is critical to improving it.  Frankly, if you don't see your self-esteem is low and needs to be raised, you'll probably never do anything about it.

In Part Two, we talked about living consciously, particularly as it relates to working on learning to love yourself.  If, as you work on raising your self-esteem, you continuously fall back into the same pattern of self-loathing--because you don't know you're doing it--any chance for improvement will be compromised.

In Part Three, we discussed the need to move from having the best intentions to taking action. It's not enough to want to improve your self-esteem, to want to learn to love yourself; you have to be motivated to follow through on the steps you'll need to take in order to achieve that goal.      

If you'd like more information on these three Steps, please see:  
1.  Introduction and Step #1, Recognize the Problem (and the Need to Change)  (click here);
2.  Step #2:  Live Consciously (click here)
3.  Step #3:  Turn Intention into Action  (click here)

Step #4:  Take Baby Steps Forward

So you recognize you have a problem loving yourself as a gay man, and you want to change; you realize, in order to change, you need to break your unconscious routines and live more in the moment; and you are as gung-ho as you could possibly be about turning your intentions into action.  Now what?

If I've learned anything about change over the years--particularly as a manager, routinely selling big changes and leading forty-plus people through them--it's the importance, among other things, of taking change slowly and helping people adjust to it.    

It's human nature to resist change.  Change can seem threatening, especially if you haven't fully bought into it, or you don't know what's in it for you, or you're not sure what the outcome will be.  Change is upsetting.  Change is frightening.  After all, change is counter to what we're used to.  What we're used to is comfortable.  When change happens, we're not sure how we'll be affected, what life will be like after the change.      

Well, let me put to rest any fears you might have about changing, or improving, your self-esteem, or the capacity you have to love yourself.  If ever there was a change that is good for you--that's universally good for every human being--it's raising self-esteem.  Going in, you must believe that wholeheartedly.   

As I've written in a number of posts here already, loving yourself is the root to every good thing that will happen in your life--from building fulfilling relationships with family and friends; to realizing greater success at work; to finding that relationship you've always wanted--but, most of all, to feeling peaceful, fulfilled, and whole.  There is nothing you can't do when you love yourself, and almost everything is dependent on it.  

So, let's move confidently forward with this change.  (By the way, this is the "good stuff" I wrote about in the previous Steps to this process, the meat and potatoes.  Keep reading and see if you don't agree.)

Just like any change, when improving self-esteem, it's baby steps all the way. What do I mean by that?  Baby steps are tiny, careful, calculated, precise, but definite, movements in a direction different from the one you're used to.  They allow you to embark on a journey different from the one you've been on for a long time, one that will bring you closer to where you want to be.  (And, even if they don't, they are good for you because 1). they move you out of the status quo, which you've decided is unsatisfactory anyway; and 2). they lead you to make further shifts in the directions you take toward the achievement of your goal.)  

The baby steps I'm about to share with you are the exact ones I took myself years ago as I worked on improving my own self-esteem.  They worked for me, they've worked for countless other people, and I know they will work for you.  

Don't be deceived.  Don't think for a moment the steps I recommend are too small, or too simple, or too insignificant to make a big difference.  Each one, if done diligently, if done with commitment and consistency, if unhurried, will set you on a course you cannot fully imagine at this very minute.  

But that course will become apparent over time.  The deeper you get involved in this process, the brighter the light will be at the other end, eventually becoming a compelling beacon.  Every day you'll see improvement, incrementally, but improvement nonetheless.  You've no doubt heard about the tortoise and the hare?  Well, believe me when I tell you, slow but deliberate baby steps will take you exactly to where you want to be.  

So, take that first baby step now.  Choose one or more from the list below, because they go hand-in-hand and can be done in tandem.  Alternatively, because you may not yet have confidence in this process, choose just one from the list and focus on doing it to the best of your ability.  Don't overdo it at the outset.  Taking on too much at one time can be overwhelming and frustrating.  If you focus on just one baby step, and do it to the best of your ability over time, you will see change happen in your life, before your very eyes.  That's all I'm trying to help you do at this point--introduce a small change, with a big impact, over a period of time.         

Baby Steps to Raise Self-Esteem

a).  Negative Talk:  This is the endless reel of crap you keep saying to yourself, about yourself, in your head.  You know, lines like: "You're a failure.  You're useless.  You're no good. What made you think you could do that?  You're lazy.  You're stupid. You're an idiot.  You're hopeless.  You've just proven to yourself again that you're all those things.  Why try?  You'll never do it.  You'll never amount to anything." You get the idea.      

A bit harsh, isn't it?  The problem is, I did this all the time, day-in and day-out.  It was as much a part of my daily routine as getting up in the morning, going to work, and preparing dinner every evening.  In fact, it was so much a part of my routine, it defined me, and I didn't realize I was doing it.  It was a habit I'd gotten used to, and, if someone had asked me whether or not I did it, I probably would have answered no.  That's just how unconscious I was.  

I bet you do the same thing.  People with low self-esteem constantly put themselves down.  It's what we do.  And the reasons for putting ourselves down are endless; nothing is off limits.  The more insulting, the better, because--here's the kicker--we think we deserve it.  Would we accept someone else saying these things to us?  Well, we might, so low is our self-esteem.  But hopefully, we wouldn't, because we'd recognize we shouldn't be treated so badly.  Yet we do it to ourselves.  How do we get away with it?  

So I stopped the negative talk.  I decided if I couldn't say something positive about myself, I couldn't say anything negative, either.  At the very least, I'd create a neutral space in my head, which would be a vast improvement from before.  And, in so doing, I cut off the endless supply of negative energy to my psyche, the constant battering to my very being, effectively ending the energy that feeds on itself and perpetuates the negativity.    

So, no more negative talk.  Stop it.  Right now.        

b).  Positive affirmations:  For those of you unfamiliar with this term, they are statements or assertions that are positive in nature, which, in the case of raising self-esteem, are directed at yourself from yourself.  And they are intended to be repeated time and time again until they become not just words but truth.   

Now, I know what you're thinking.  Sounds a little airy-fairy, a little new-agey, a little out there, especially in comparison to more tangible or concrete steps taken to affect other changes.  After all, you may think, how can repeating positive statements to myself make a difference?  In fact, if you're anything like me, repeating positive words or ideas to yourself feels fake or phoney.  So if I don't buy into what I'm doing, how will it help?         

I understand how you feel.  At the best of times, I have difficulty being positive, let alone repeating positive affirmations to myself.  I've always been a cup half empty kind of guy, seeing the negative in everything, always finding something to complain about.  So being positive, let alone repeating positive affirmations to myself, is just about one of the most difficult things for me to do.  

But let me give you some examples of what positive affirmations might look like, and I'm sure you'll begin to understand how helpful they are.  Using some of the negative talk above, "You're a failure" becomes "You're a success."  "You're lazy" becomes "You're hardworking."  "You're an idiot" becomes "You're intelligent." And so on.

Of course, the positive affirmation you tell yourself should be something that's true, or something you're able to accept.  For instance, if you really are lazy--and you don't just say that to insult yourself--then you shouldn't repeat "I'm hardworking" over and over, because you won't believe it.  You have to be sincere in what you repeat or you'll end up undermining your efforts.  Instead, select positive affirmations that really apply, and keep repeating them to yourself.

What if you feel so little about yourself, you can't find even one positive thing to say?  Well, first of all, I find that hard to believe.  As low as your self-esteem may be, surely there's something about you that you like or admire.  In my own case, for example, I knew I was good to and respectful of other people (sometimes at a fault, sometimes at my own detriment).  So, among the positive affirmations I told myself were, "I'm good to other people, and I readily show my respect for them."  That was something positive.  At the very least, it wasn't something negative.  

At first, as you repeat positive affirmations to yourself, you might not totally believe what you're saying.  Even if you don't, keep doing it.  In effect, what you're doing is ending a bad habit, and exchanging the negative information you've put in your head for so long with something positive.  It will take time.  It may takes lots and lots of time, considering the damage you may have already done.  

But here's the beauty of positive affirmations.  They convert the negative energy you've directed at yourself into positive energy.  Little by little.  Bit by bit.  And that can't be bad, can it?  Just keep telling yourself, over and over:  "I am smart."  "I am handsome."  "I'm a good person."  It will get easier and easier, and, even though you may be only going through the motions at first, you will start to believe it.

Positive affirmations are like planting seeds in your brain.  After you plant the first one, and keep nurturing it through constant repetition, it begins to sprout.  Then, as it grows and flourishes, it takes over, crowding out the garbage that was there before.  If you plant enough seeds and keep nurturing them over time, you'll be surprised what will happen in terms of changing your whole attitude toward yourself.

Give it a chance.  It really works.

c).  Inappropriate Comparisons:  Okay.  You know what these are.  They're when you keep comparing yourself to everyone else, and, honestly, we all do this.  

You see that guy over there.  He's better looking than you, right?  And that one over there.  He looks like he earns more money than you (or he doesn't mind racking up his credit card debt so he appears to earn more money than you do). And him over in the corner?  He just looks like he's smart, a lot smarter than you, right?

I did this all the time.  Some fellow I saw was always better looking, always more masculine, with a great set of sideburns, a full beard, a hairier chest.  The comparisons to other men, who, in so many ways, seemed to be everything I wasn't but desperately wanted to be (especially straight), always had me in a tailspin of despair.  How could I ever compete?  No one would ever look at me as long as men like him existed.  I had no business being on the same street as him, in the same city, on the same planet.  I was nothing but a poor excuse for a human being.  

Inappropriate comparisons to other people is one endless rut, because, yes, when you get right down to it, someone will always appear to be better off in some way than you are (appear is the operative word here).  That's just the way it is. That's life.

But, looked at another way, someone else will always be worse off than you, too (not that you should try to make yourself feel better, or try to improve your self-esteem, by comparing who you are with someone less fortunate; that doesn't work either).  What's important is to see how much you have going for you and you alone, not in relation to someone else, and to be grateful for everything you have.

Gratitude is the key here.  It changes your line of thinking from one of lack to one of abundance. When you begin to realize just how much you have, and how much you have going for you, you will be well on your way to assessing your worthiness as a human being more realistically and loving yourself a whole lot more.                  

So...stop, stop, STOP comparing yourself to other people.  It doesn't do you any good.  What you must focus on is being the very best you, because, in the end, no one can do you better than you can.  Your gifts are no less valid or important than anyone else's, and you'll do your greatest work toward raising your self-esteem, and learning how to love yourself, by realizing just how fortunate you truly are to have the gifts you've been given, and to figure out how best to use them in the service of others.  But that's another conversation altogether.       

d).  Do Something Nice:  Actually, that's do something nice for yourself, even something small. It's often the small things that make a big difference.

Here, I'll turn to a comment one of my readers left on another post.  Doug from Vancouver wrote:  'For me, the cure [for low self-esteem]...was to be my own best friend. I imagined myself living with my best bud who needed cheering up. I dragged him out for a walk, I bought him a vitamin-packed smoothie, and treated him to an uplifting film. It wasn't easy being my own best friend..., but I made it my "job." Day by day my heart did thaw, and other people became more drawn to me.'

As I wrote to Doug, I couldn't have said it better.  At the same time as you're turning negative talk into positive affirmations, and learning how not to inappropriately compare yourself to other people, you can start treating yourself like the most important person in your life.  Because you know what?  You ARE the most important person in your life.  Full stop.  Let's repeat that, because you really need to get this message.  In fact, let's make sure this one goes out over the mountains and the seas.


If ever there was a positive affirmation you need to repeat to yourself, it would be: "I am the most important person in my life."  Because, yes you are.  And no one will ever treat you better than you should.  If you don't, and no one else does, then who will?  Who will be there for you when you really need someone?  Who will be your greatest supporter?  Who will cheer you on? Who will lift you up?  Who will be there for you when no one else is?  Who can you rely on more than anyone else?

So start treating yourself like you are the most important person in your life.  As Doug suggests, do little things for yourself only.  Don't wait to do them with someone else, because you may never do that.  In fact, these things are not meant to share with someone else.  They are for you only.  Because you're worth it.  Because nobody deserves them more than you do.  Over time, the effort required to do nice things for yourself, just for the sake of doing them, will become easier and easier, until they seem perfectly normal and natural.    

Take yourself out on a date.  Go to a fancy restaurant and have a meal for one. How about treating yourself to something special, like a day at the spa.  The point is, it's not what you do, or how much money you spend doing it.  Because you can find all kinds of things to do for yourself by spending little or no money at all. Like Doug suggests, go out for a long, reflective walk, and take in everything you see in a way you may not have before.  Go for a bike ride. Take a great book out of the library, cuddle up with yourself in a big, over-stuffed chair, and spend the afternoon reading.  You deserve it.  

Remember, you are the most important person in your life.  Start treating yourself like you are.

Graduating from Baby Steps

Finally, when taking baby steps forward has begun to feel good and built its own momentum, as it will over time, you might want to consider taking some giant leaps forward, which is what I did.

Here are brief descriptions of the two I took:

1).  After blaming my parents for years for not having my teeth straightened when I was twelve, in my early thirties, I arranged to have it done, paying for it myself, including jaw surgery to correct a severe overbite which resulted from not getting braces when I was younger.  And,

2).  After putting on a few more lbs. than I liked, I changed Chris's and my eating habits, watching our fat intake, and I started to work out, including cardio and weight training.  That was nearly twenty years ago.  I still eat healthier and engage in some form of exercise today.    

Honestly, had I not done the work required to improve my self-esteem, I would not have taken these on.  The key to making important changes in your life is recognizing you're worth it.  Like I said before, everything is connected to self-worth, in one way or another.        

Stay tuned for Step #5:  Believe in Yourself

Monday, January 24, 2011

Step #3. How to Love Yourself When You're Gay: Turn Intention into Action

The Story So Far:  In Part One of this series, we covered how recognizing the problem of having low self-esteem is critical to improving it.  Frankly, if you don't see your self-esteem is low and needs to be raised, you'll probably never do anything about it.

In Part Two, we talked about living consciously, particularly as it relates to working on learning to love yourself.  If, as you work on raising your self-esteem, you continuously fall back into the same pattern of self-loathing--because you don't know you're doing it--any chance for improvement will be compromised.    

If you'd like more information on these two Steps, please see: 
1.  Introduction and Step #1, Recognize the Problem (and the Need to Change)          (click here);
2.  Step #2:  Living Consciously (click here).

Step #3:  Turn Intention into Action

So you recognize you have a problem loving yourself as a gay man, and you want to change it. And you realize, in order to change it, you need to break your unconscious routines and live more in the moment.  Now what?

Now, you need to commit to turn your good intentions into action.

Sure, it's great to want to lose weight at the beginning of a new year.  How many of us don't? We eat our way through the Christmas holiday season, we anticipate the approach of summer beach weather, and we know January 1st, a new year and a fresh beginning, is the perfect time to get down to business.  Our plan is a simple one:  to eat healthier and to join a local rec. centre or gym to work-out.

This is our year, right?  We've been talking about losing weight and getting healthy for so long. This time will be different.  We'll make it happen, we tell ourselves.  Our intentions are great, and we're all fired up, especially as January 1st approaches.  But, by the end of the first week of the new year, if not sooner, we've all but lost sight of our goal.  What happened?   

I don't need to tell you what happened.  There are as many explanations, or excuses, for why people don't stick to a plan to eat healthier and to work out as there are people planning to.  The point is, we can say we want to do something all we like, but if we don't actually get off our rear-ends and do something about it, it won't happen.

So, when it comes to raising your self-esteem, I'm asking you to commit to make it happen, not at the beginning of a new year--because, as of the writing of this, January 1st, 2012 is almost a year away--but immediately.  That's right.  This very minute.  Because think about how much you'll accomplish between now and then.  You'll be way ahead of the game, and you'll enter 2012 feeling so much better about who you are.  

Really, when it comes to learning to love yourself, any day of the year can be January 1st.  Any day of the year can be that fresh start you need.  Any day of the year can be the one on which you take those first tentative steps toward not only improving your self-esteem, but also toward feeling better about yourself and your life.

So, commit to make this happen right now.  Turn your intention into action.  I promise it will be the best thing you've ever done.  You will never regret the effort you put into improving your self-esteem.

Stay tuned for Step #4:  Take Baby Steps Forward

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Step #2. How to Love Yourself When You're Gay: Live Consciously

The Story So Far:  We've covered that you know you have a, opportunity, which is what we used to call a problem when I worked for one of Canada's largest financial institutions. That is, an opportunity to improve your self-esteem, to learn how to love yourself.  That's half the battle--if you don't recognize you have an opportunity to improve, you'll never change.  But what now?

Please indulge me one last diversion.  I want to give you a tool you'll need during this process, one you can use throughout your life, not just while improving your self-esteem.  Bear with me--the good stuff is coming.

Before reading this step, please see the Introduction and Step #1, Recognize the Problem (and the Need to Change) (click here).

Step #2:  Live Consciously

Imagine yourself driving to work one morning.  Depending on traffic, your commute normally takes, say, about half an hour.  You arrive at work and suddenly realize you remember nothing about the trip.  You have little to no recollection of the time between leaving your apartment or house and walking in the door of your workplace.  But there you are, saying good morning to your colleagues.  You must have known what you were doing because you got there safely, after all, but that doesn't stop a shiver from running down your spine. What if you'd been in an accident and had injured or even killed yourself or someone else?    

This is the opposite of living consciously, and it happens to all of us.  So used to our daily routines are we, whether driving to work or preparing a meal in the kitchen or whatever the case may be, that we could do them in our sleep, which is literally what we do.  Somehow, our bodies are trained to move through our myriad of routines, while our minds are somewhere else altogether.  It's a miracle more of us aren't the victims of serious accidents, on the road, at home, wherever we might be.

If you're going to do anything constructive around improving your self-esteem, or learning to love yourself, you'll have to get engaged in your life again, or, at the very least, with the parts related to the negative feelings you have about yourself, and the steps you take to improve that. Because, the second your mind wonders and you're not one hundred percent in the moment, routine thoughts of self-loathing will move in, taking up their familiar place in your psyche, shifting your spirit in the wrong direction, and compromising the actions you take.

What I'm saying is, as you work through the five or six steps I've identified in raising self-esteem (based on my own experience), more than anything else, you need to be conscious of what's going on in your mind, because your mind controls everything.  You need to assume the position of your own champion, you need to be focused on the long-term goal (while not losing sight of the short-term ones), and, frankly, to use the driving-to-work metaphor again, you can't afford to take your eyes off the road.

This is especially true in the beginning, while you try to deconstruct the old routine while building the new one, comprised of turning negative notions about yourself into positive ones, and of manoeuvring your actions to support your new and improved thoughts.  It's all about breaking bad habits, and you can't do that if you live unconsciously, allowing everything to happen to you rather than taking a firm grip on the wheel of your life and going the places where you really want to be.

So commit to yourself here and now that, during the process of improving your self-esteem and learning to love yourself, you'll be present in the moment one hundred percent.  You'll be in tune with your thoughts, which can be your greatest enemy or your greatest ally, depending on how conscious you are, and you'll be in control of your actions.  This commitment to yourself is the only way you'll achieve your goal.  When the negativity starts all over again, as it will, you'll need to recognize it's happening, and you'll need to actively divert yourself back on the right track to respecting and loving yourself.

Stay tuned for Step #3:  Turn Intention into Action