Photo: Todd MacMillan
Most of us have learned to find our identity in our relationships, work, accomplishments, possessions, personality and body. This is known as "object-referral," which means that we identify with objects outside of ourselves. By their very nature, these objects are always changing, and as long as we tie our identity to them, we will never know our true unlimited self. We may feel happy when things go our way, but we'll always feel an underlying current of instability or insecurity, because part of us knows that the source of our good feelings can disappear at any moment.
The opposite of object-referral is self-referral, which means that we identify with our inner self, the unchanging essence of our soul. Self-referral is an internal state of well-being that doesn't depend on external circumstances.
When we're living from an awareness of our true self, we feel connected to all that exists; we experience infinite creativity; we feel free of limitation; we are fearless and willing to step into the unknown; we experience the spontaneous fulfillment of our desires; and we view ourselves and the world with compassion.
True self-esteem comes from discovering that who you really are is infinite spirit, unbounded and eternal. Once you've awakened to your essential nature, you will let go of the ego's struggle to build an external sense of self-worth. Your true self doesn't need to be improved, changed or even healed. It is whole, perfect and complete, exactly as it is. Shifting your sense of identity to your true self frees you to create a life of abundance, joy and fulfillment. You can create this shift by practicing the following steps.
Step 1: Notice What You're Doing
You can cultivate compassionate awareness of yourself by paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and reactions throughout the day. Remember that awareness is the key to change. As you witness yourself getting caught up in familiar emotional reactions, gently witness the habitual patterns without judgment. Notice when you're wounded by small slights or you feel anxious or unhappy when someone you love doesn't give you the attention you want.
Most people are trying to earn the approval of others, repeating a pattern that goes back to our early childhood, when we believed we had to earn our parents' or caregivers' love and approval. We unconsciously believed that our survival depended on it—and it may have. But now we are adults and can start to let go of the false need for approval.
Next: How to connect to your true self