• PAIRS: Because great relationships don't happen by accident.
  • PAIRS Essentials in Fort Lauderdale June 25-26, 2016.
  • PAIRS: Because great relationships don't happen by accident.
  • PAIRS: Because great relationships don't happen by accident.
  • PAIRS.
  • PAIRS: Because great relationships don't happen by accident.
  • PAIRS: Because great relationships don't happen by accident.

The Mission of PAIRS is to teach those attitudes, emotional understandings and behaviors that nurture and sustain healthy relationships and to make this knowledge broadly available on behalf of a safer, saner, more loving world.

Improving Self Esteem

What do we have to do to be able to hear complaints or criticism without becoming defensive? We first have to be willing to know and accept ourselves. We really have to believe that we are good enough, lovable, and entitled--entitled to be happy, to make mistakes, and to ask for help.

"I am good enough" is not a response to criticism; it's what enables us to hear criticism. If I know that I am lovable and good enough, then if you tell me something that bothers you, I can listen to it because it doesn't mean I am a failure. I can hear, consider and understand criticism, and look for and negotiate solutions. But I have to start feeling good enough about myself so that when you tell me what bothers you, I don't hear it as an indictment or as an indication that I am unworthy.

If I don't feel good enough about myself, and I think your criticism implies that I am not good enough, then I won't be able to hear what you say. I will have to negate what you say, or respond with, "Who are you to tell me all the things that are wrong with me? I have a whole list of things that are wrong with you."

There is a crucial difference between love and approval. We look for approval in the area of competence--whether it's competence at playing basketball, practicing law, or cooking a meal. And as children we need to hear a lot of approval for work well done or efforts made in order to feel validated. If we get the kind of validation we need as children, as adults we don't really need to turn to other people for approval: the only approval we need is our own. We do need other people for love; that we can't provide for ourselves. But we can set our own, realistic standards for what is "good enough."

You don't need to be good at everything, and you don't have to become unrealistic about how good at any given thing you have to be. You can be "good enough" at being a human, "pretty good" at being a cook, "not so good" at dancing, and "terrific" at balancing a checkbook. As long as your basic sense of yourself is that you're okay, it won't be painful or humiliating to admit that in some areas you're not that great. When the standards you set for yourself are too high, you'll never be good enough at anything. It's okay to say, "I'm not good at A, B, and C." It's when the feeling of being inadequate, the fear of being found out, is pervasive that you have to look at the ruler you're measuring yourself by. When you can be brought down by any criticism or negative comment, and imagine them where they don't exist, then you have to look carefully at what's going on inside yourself, as sustaining an intimate relationship becomes very difficult.

PAIRS Talking Tips App Can Help You Learn to Ask for What You Want

Approval has to do with what your own standards are for yourself. It has to do with competence out in the world. Sure, one kid is not going to be as good at basketball as another kid. That means that in the area of basketball, he's not at the top--but that doesn't mean he's not lovable. It doesn't mean he's not good enough to be loved. As a matter of fact, for most of us it's easier to love someone who's not perfect. People who are perfect are often not loved; they're envied, sometimes respected, but often not loved. Often the ones you love are the ones you feel need you, and you have something to give to them. People give all kinds of love to their pets because they feel needed and can nurture them.

To say, "I'm good enough. I'm lovable," is to say I'm good enough to be loved. I don't have to conceal. I don't have to make excuses. I don't have to say that I never made a mistake. One of the things that often goes wrong with couples is that they can never say, "I'm sorry" because it implies that I'm defective in some way--instead of indicating compassion. (I'm sorry you're hurting.) We can give compassion to our partner, who is hurting, even if we don't agree with them -- because agreement isn't the issue: understanding is, wanting to know.

Our Secret Fears

Most of us walk around with one of two secret fears: I am not lovable, or, I am not good enough.

Some of us walk around with both of them. Because of those secrets, we don't feel entitled to get our needs met, we don't feel entitled to love; we don't feel entitled to exist as a separate person, we're afraid to be known. We grow up believing that we shouldn't "make waves," "be selfish," "cause a scene" -- In dozens of different ways, we restrict the expression of our needs, desires and feelings. We limit our capacity for intimacy.

Our behavior is conditioned largely by attitudes we acquire as children, many of which are limiting, by nature, so that we become censors of our own happiness. It is important as adults to learn to develop positive attitudes, so they will get through to our unconscious, where a great deal is filtered out because of earlier messages that said effectively, "this is dangerous" and "that is forbidden."

Among the positive attitudes we need to instill in ourselves:

"I exist." I am a human being unto myself. I am not my mother, and I am not my father. I am me. I am unique.  By virtue of being born, I am entitled to exist.

"I need." By virtue of existence, I have needs. I am entitled to have them and to try to get them met. I can help other people, but I will not wrap my identity up solely in meeting other people's needs and I will not wait for someone else to come along and take care of me. I am in charge of myself.

"I am entitled." I am entitled to pursue getting my needs met, to be happy, to make mistakes, to be imperfect, and to ask for help.

"I am lovable." You may not love me, but I am lovable. I may even have unattractive qualities, but if I can begin to be honest about revealing who I really am, and stop presenting my defenses to the world, you will find that I am lovable. First I have to realize it myself.

"I am good enough." I am not perfect, I am certain to make mistakes and I can learn from them, I may well need help, I may not be the best at any given thing. But I am good enough.

More on improving self-esteem.

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