How to be your own Source of Self-Esteem.

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” ~ Henry Ford 

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I am 19 (and just one year into college) when a friend tells me I’m losing my hair.

I laugh him off, then do a full inspection when I get home. I see some gaps, but it doesn’t seem that serious.

A few weeks later, I go to the barber for a haircut—short on the sides, with a bit more on top—and he suggests I see a specialist.

The thought of having no hair at my age—when girls are all about hair, as it’s the late 80s—is scary. I find a dermatologist, and he confirms my worst fears. “It’s receding quickly,” he says casually. He recommends I try a new lotion called Minoxidil—which is not yet mainstream—and gives me a prescription.

In the next few months, it’s obvious I’m losing my hair. Everyone, from concerned relatives to the postman, reminds me of my plight. I spend many sleepless nights wondering what to do. I was already shy about speaking to girls, but now I’m terrified.

There isn’t much I can do. Hair transplants are not yet as accessible or high-quality as they will become in the new millennium.

~

My self-confidence was shattered by that experience. Losing my hair young left me confused and angry.

But finally, after a few months of feeling sorry for myself, I started accepting my fate. I stopped the Minoxidil treatment and got a crew cut. I knew I had to change the way I valued myself and adapt to the new, bald me.

However, it wasn’t easy—and it left an indelible mark on my self-esteem. At age 19, I drew my confidence from my physical appearance.

In Pscycho-Cybernetics, world-renowned plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz, explains that while some people’s lives changed dramatically after he altered their appearance, many others’ lives didn’t. He learned that what differentiated them was their self-image—not what they saw in the mirror, but the images they had of themselves in their minds.

He went on to spend the second part of his life studying the psychology of self-image.

Self-image is the mental image—the blueprint—we have of ourselves. It’s built up of the beliefs we have formed unconsciously out of our past experiences, especially in childhood.

The experiences could be loving, such as a mother holding her daughter’s hand on her way to a new school—or traumatising, such as a father continually punishing his eight-year-old son for not being good enough.

Our self-image is like a thermostat in that it’s set at a certain point and influences us for the rest of our lives. All our thoughts, feelings, and actions become consistent with that self-image. We often feel as if we can only act within those limits.

The self-image becomes a foundation upon which our entire self-esteem and personality are built. Our experiences then verify and strengthen our self-image. For example, children who felt unloved can’t be loving when they grow up. It’s not in their makeup, and they often seek out people or experiences that verify their unloving self-image.

But we don’t have to stay stuck in this vicious cycle forever. We can change our self-image and improve our confidence by believing two major things:

1. We deserve to be happy.

>> We must not outsource our self-worth: We have to be the source. Self-worth must derive from our true essence—not external elements found in our environment. Our outer appearance will fade away just like my hair did. We will get bored of our material possessions. We can’t manufacture a sense of belonging by using sex, drugs, or alcohol; we must surround ourselves with real people who we love and who love us in return.

>> Become selfless: We must accept that not everything is about us. When we recognise that we are all in this together and not here to compete, we eliminate the feelings of ego that come with selfishness: anxiety, fear, and feeling like we’re not enough.

>> Prioritise self-renewal: We must take time out of our busy lives to take care of ourselves, engaging in activities that restore our sense of being—essentially, loving ourselves. Whether it’s having an aromatherapy massage once a week, taking Saturdays off for golf, or spending half a day reading in a public library, we need this time.

>> Cultivate an attitude of gratitude: This describes being always in a state of abundance, counting our blessings for everything that we have. It is the opposite of a state of scarcity, where we focus on everything that is missing and wrong. We can always find plenty of evidence to support either state, so a practice of gratitude can predispose us to appreciation.

2. We are competent and capable.

>> We must accept our imperfections: Perfectionism allows us to hide behind our fears and insecurities. We have learned (wrongly) that vulnerability is weakness, while perfection is strength. In reality, perfection stifles our growth, as it polarises our actions and pushes us to procrastinate. Once we accept that there is no perfection in life, we can act freely, even if that includes failure.

>> Build on strengths: People with low self-esteem dwell on their weaknesses; those with high self-esteem acknowledge their weaknesses, but accentuate and build their lives around their strengths. We get the most joy from doing what we’re good at, so why don’t we do more of it? One of my strengths is curiosity, and when I seriously started channeling that trait into writing and reading, it had a transformative effect on my life.

>> Expand our comfort zone: We can’t play the big fish in the little pond all our lives. We need to experiment and experience more. Wherever our fears lie is where we should go if we want to grow exponentially. I can still feel the tension, anxiety, and fear of waiting to go onstage to speak at TEDx Accra. It was a bittersweet feeling. I was nervous for a few minutes, but then I enjoyed it. However, the real bonus came after that talk. I left most of my fears backstage that night, and I’m now comfortable speaking publicly and have become much more articulate.

>> Visualise: In visualisation, we imagine a desired outcome in our lives. This process helps alter the neural pathways in our brain—and thus, we actually rewire our brains and make it easier to achieve our intention. Michael Phelps, American swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, visualised his races in detail, usually many times a day. He would “play the movie” over and over, so that all of the little things could go as smoothly as possible with little conscious thought.

At 48, I’ve never looked or felt better. Obviously, I’m physically no match for my 20-year-old self, but now the source of my self-image is all internal. Most of the time, I feel like I deserve to be happy. I’ve found the things—business and writing—that make me feel competent and capable.

I hope my insights will help you do the same.

The Simplest, Shortest & Most Powerful Parenting Philosophy I’ve ever Read.

When I was growing up, I belonged to the “Clean Plate Program.”

It meant that I ate everything on my plate—whether I wanted to or not.

When I was in school, I stood in line to get into class. I also stood in line to get out of class and to go to the bathroom.

When I balked because I didn’t want to do something, my father would point his hairy finger down at me and say, “Never say no to your father.”

Yes, it was back in the day—at a time when children were taught to be seen and not heard.

I realize this may sound archaic to some, and that today’s parents have left behind that “old-timey” way of raising children—or at least, they want to.

Because I have grandchildren who are still in the first grade, I am still interested in forging healthy relationships and being a good role model for them. I certainly don’t carry the parental burden that my daughter and her husband do, but I want to bring an attitude to my grandchildren that is entirely different from the one I grew up with—and perhaps even the one I used upon my own children.

Today, I found what is simply the single best parenting philosophy I have ever read.

What I like about it is that it’s short, simple, and to the point. It is also written by a mom (and teacher) who is both wise in experience and wise in her approach.

I share it here in its entirety, with permission from the woman who wrote it, in hopes that it will be of benefit to all the people who are raising children in today’s challenging environment—and who don’t want to use the old “children should be seen and not heard” school of thought.

“If a child is failing, it’s not their fault. It’s our job to set realistic, respectful, and meaningful boundaries. We must take into consideration our children’s developmental stage when establishing our boundaries. [Saying] ‘No, I won’t let you do x,y,z…’ suffices for a 15-month-old, but it’s not realistic to expect an elementary school aged child to take no as an answer—we want [those children] to talk back and ask why. We want them to play with the rules and experiment, push boundaries, and see how far they can go. It’s healthy and totally age appropriate! They’ll need those skills in the real world. Critical thinking, navigating social interactions healthily, making their voice heard. It’s annoying as parents to have to give reasons for every step we take, but let’s remember [our children are] practicing for the real world. Let’s empower them, not crush their being because of our own ego. If they’re failing, it’s because we are not giving them clear directions. It’s on us to offer a safe environment to let them thrive. Their job is to explore. Our job is to make sure they’re free to be themselves. This is respect for the child. It’s time to let go of ‘because I said so.’ It will save a lot of frustration and missed goals for sure.” ~ Lea Azevedo

Azevedo’s approach throws out viewing children as if they are little puppies who need to be trained, and it embraces the approach that children are equal beings who deserve our respect and understanding. (Nothing against my parents, or any parents.)

I can only imagine how much more relaxed, sure of myself, and filled with self-respect I would have been as a child if I had been raised by parents who utilized Azevedo’s approach.

I can only imagine how much easier my journey to becoming who I was meant to be would have been.

Even if a parent picks only one of Azevedo’s suggestions, they can’t go wrong.

>> Take the child’s developmental stage into account.

>> If a child is failing, it’s not their fault. It’s our job to set realistic, respectful, and meaningful boundaries.

>> Encourage elementary-age children to talk back and ask why.

>> Help them develop critical thinking and making their voices heard.

>> Remember that growing up is really just practice for the real world.

>> Have the courage to accept responsibility for not giving clear directions.

The goal is to help our children become who they were meant to be—that is, fully themselves.

How to Touch Her.

 

She is a thousand light pink chrysanthemum buds, poised to unfurl one by one, like an ancient scroll of poetry in your arms.

She is a valiant purple lotus, bursting through the muddiest mud in a symphony of sweetness and sheer will power.

She is soft—her skin like silk—while her soul burns hot, raw, and passionate, like wildfire.

She looks at you with everything she’s got and sees deeply inside of you, into the shadow realms, the hurt, the beauty, the pain, the tattered edges of chapters that you’d like to forget—and she holds each and every part of you with love. Pure, unwavering love.

She isn’t an angel, and she isn’t your savior. But through the crowned glory of her femininity, she can—and will—change your life.

You know it.

You can’t un-know it.

You have fallen deeply under her spell—charmed by the way she is easily moved to tears, the way she takes no sh*t, lives passionately, the golden vibrance that envelops her when she is most herself.

She cares. She feels. She loves fiercely.

It’s sexy—it drives you mad in the best way.

How do you touch a woman like this?

A woman who knows she is magic—and knows you are, too.

A woman who makes you feel like all your dreams, even the distant ones you buried long ago, are budding into vivid, wild-eyed fruition.

A woman whose laughter is like springtime after a never-ending winter. It pierces your darkness and unravels all the threadbare places in your heart that told you to never open yourself to love again.

But you are utterly open to love. To her.

And this is a gift.

Oh, how you long to touch her. You can’t wait to feel her. To twirl her into your arms and press your body close to hers as the moon waxes full and ripe, like the kisses and cabernet you’ll share, staining your lips deep red, as your hearts swell with pleasure, like rubies.

Maybe you want to pounce on her like a hungry tiger, but waiting is better.

How do you touch a woman like this?

A woman you just might want to be with for the rest of your life.

A woman who makes you never want to utter any other lover’s name again. Just hers. Only hers.

Go slowly. Approach her with the utmost care, like the star-dusted goddess she is.

This is special. You knew it right away—by feeling the fireworks erupting in your gut when you first laid eyes upon her.

So touch her like you’ve never touched anyone before.

Touch her like it’s the last thing you’ll ever do. Like everything in the entire world depends on it.

Touch her like she is a storm about to sweep through the air, all promise, joy, and static electricity—the purest presence of your heart can make her rain.

Touch her like she is a celebration of life itself—all confetti, rapture, and ripe, dangerous curves.

Touch her like you’re weeping the tears you were always afraid to cry. Be humble.

Because you are not getting—or taking—anything by being granted access to the luscious rolling landscapes of her body.

It is about sharing the experience.

It is about all the sweet moments that lead up to kissing, touching, and sex. It is about the precious hours spent laughing. The adventures had. The deep conversations, leaving your souls perfectly exposed.

It is about trust. Surrender.

It is about making her feel as comfortable as possible. Soft sheets, handing her rich pink lilies, and a room bathed in candlelight.

To touch a woman is to worship her. It is to pray, as you plant your fingertips upon her, at the altar of her fantastic soul.

So pray, with the frenzied joy of your entire being—your eyes locked firmly on her, your lips trailing a symphony of kisses all over her arms, thighs, stomach, and neck—kisses that take root deep inside of her, blooming into roses on the surface of her skin.

It is not about your pleasure. It is about your every touch, every word, every whisper—opening her, petal by petal. It is about making springtime happen on her skin, her hips, inside her body, in her heart.

It is about respecting the vivid masterpiece that she is.

For she has a thousand folds, she is a kaleidoscope, swirling constantly, ever-changing like the sea—she is complicated, messy, wild, sad, shy, joyous, free, loud, angry, soft, sweet—and touching a woman is about touching every part of her.

Every piece.

The broken ones.

The dark ones.

The joyous ones.

The sweet ones.

It is touching her dreams. Her sadness. Her hopes and the spicy, exotic scent of her headiest possibilities.

To touch a woman is to feel beyond her skin, goosebumps rising like magic from the gentle weight of your fingertips—as you breathe in the mysterious galaxy she is.

It is not so much about touching her body—it is about tasting the magnificence of her soul.

It is about knowing her, reading her—page by page, kiss by kiss, caress by fantastic caress.

It is about giving her everything, but never making a promise you can’t keep.

It is about asking what she needs, who she is, who she used to be, what she regrets, who she is becoming.

It is about listening and taking your time. It is about the build-up.

She is to be cherished. Felt fully, with every ounce of your active attention.

For touching a woman is never about merely completing an act.

Oh, no, no.

It is about the joyous, creative journey of connecting. It is about the utter sacredness of your bodies folded sweetly together, the feathery softness of her skin against the roughness of your beard—for your bodies are bridges to your souls.

And when you kiss, when your lips meet, like two ruby pillows—everything changes.

The feminine meets the masculine.

Fireworks of blue and indigo violet go off in outer space—and energy is created in this connection.

A birth. A breath. It is bliss. The in-between. Ecstasy. Heaven. God. Goodness. Creativity. Love. It is healing.

Every touch, every graze of your fingers, every stroke, every lick, every kiss—it is about making her feel safe.

To touch a woman is to place your hands over her womb—and tell her with exactly no words that she is safe with you. That you don’t want to merely have sex with her—that you want to make love with her, make life with her, create art with her.

That you won’t take.

It is smelling the blessing of hope stained on her skin—and letting yourself surrender to the eternity of everything she is.

It is knowing that when you touch a woman, when your fingertips trace the edges of her inner thighs—you are entering a sacred space

Never forget this.

Bow down to her.

For together, you can create a sacred union.

Every moment, every sensation is about creating more connection—and this is what makes it feel good.

Every touch has a fiercely pure intention behind it—and this is what makes it feel really good.

Every kiss contains your entire, dripping heart in it—and this is what makes it feel really, really good.

This depth of emotional, soulful connection—this will get her off.

Your vulnerability is the most important component. Your presence is required, one hundred 100 percent.

And when you enter her—there is no rush. Take your time. Feel everything. When she is succulent and ripe and ready, like a summer berry in its vibrant prime, her every cell will vibrate with readiness. Wait for this prime moment. Let her open to you, as slowly or quickly as she wishes. And when you feel her open— know what a sublime gift this is.

Breathe together.

Feel the inhales fueling her body, feel the her essence dripping out. Feel what her body loves, what her heart needs. Follow it—like a map. See where it leads.

But know that she is the treasure. Not sex. Not finishing.

Simply being with her.

Simply breathing with her.

Simply knowing her.

Simply sharing this moment.

Listen to what she says, in the her raspy moans, but feel her speak with the movements of her hips, in the flushes of heat creeping up her neck, spilling onto her cheeks, painting her face with brushstrokes of rosy red.

Tune into her. There is only her—and you—and this moment.

There is no manual. She is your manual.

And after you make love—after your bodies lie spent and sweaty after joining in this epic dance of cosmic beauty—she should feel fantastic. And so should you. Fulfilled, cared for, and satiated—to the core. That’s really how we know if our hearts were in the right place, for this tender moment directly after sex exposes everything.

Continue to connect. Hold her. Don’t get up right away. Don’t fall asleep and face away. Lay together, limbs intertwined, hearts exposed. Trace her skin, connecting the dots of her scars and freckles, making constellations of all the atoms she is comprised of—the hot passion and lilac softness and incomprehensible beauty.

Always remember this—when you touch her, you are entering sacred space. A holy temple. The moment you forget this, she will feel the subtle shift and begin to close to you, her buds and leaves withering ever so slightly.

No—you want to make her bloom. Commit to that, dear lover.

For you are not here to take anything.

You are here to give.

But mostly—you are here to share this experience together.

To touch a woman is ecstasy. It is heaven. It is the most beautiful thing in the world.

Don’t ever forget it.

The Nitty Gritty Truths no one ever tells us About Divorce.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t dream of long, white gowns and tulle veils as a child.

My father left my mother for another woman shortly after I was born, and the litany of men my mother brought back to our Northern Italy home, when we had one, were the antithesis of husband material.

Unsurprisingly, my first two marriages were defined more by their brevity than by their beauty: unaccustomed to tranquility, order, compromise, affection—the hallmarks of a solid marriage—I went out of my way to destroy them.

But I was a different person when I met my third husband—at least this is what I told myself. I had gone through years of intensive therapy. I had left behind my tumultuous past in Italy for the brighter shores of California. I had learned English and found success in the high-tech world; I even owned a home in the center of ultra-pricey San Francisco.

Whatever trauma I carried with me from childhood seemed to give me an edge, not a fragility. I was, from the outside looking in, a woman emphatically on top of her game.

I have no doubt that this is what attracted my husband—my first genuine love, at the age of 35—to me. And for the first 21 years of our marriage, this is the side of me that dominated, if not dazzled. We had our heartaches—some profound, like our stillborn second child; some quotidian, like our conflict of interest when it came to movies. But, for the most part, we were a solid, successful couple with the accouterments to show for it—from the zip code to the vacation pics to the circle of cultured, accomplished friends.

But another side of me emerged after our equally solid and successful daughter left for college.

Marooned in a house that suddenly seemed offensively (and oppressively) large, the old wounds I’d kept at bay for two decades reopened. Turns out I was fragile as hell, and still desperate for the love and attention my parents had so spectacularly failed to show me. At the same time, my husband grew even more obsessive and preoccupied with work. I fought for love and comfort; he fought for space and silence. After years of unhappiness, our separation felt less like a devastation than a huge, exhilarating, even promising relief.

Call it the pink cloud of marriage recovery. Call it hormones. Call it a survival mechanism. What mattered was that the first nine months of our separation offered more thrills than tears.

After the honeymoon phase of singlehood ended, however, the grief of our separation (and, subsequently, divorce) set in with a strength that floored me. And though I was given advice from friends, strangers, bank tellers, and baristas—ranging from “you’ll get over it” to “try Tinder”—I mostly just wanted someone to commiserate with. Someone to offer me the truth of what they had experienced—and of what I could expect. Misery doesn’t just love company, after all; it also offers a particular kind of guidance.

With that in mind, I’ve pulled together the top five things no one tells you about divorce—but what you may want to know if you’re in the throes of one yourself.

1. Insomnia is inevitable.

Chances are, unless you and your partner reached the point of no return and were sleeping in separate beds for months before your split, you were accustomed to bedding down next to your spouse. Not happily, mind you, but within close enough proximity to provide you with a sense of comfort. Likewise, you were probably also habituated to a nightly routine that may not have overjoyed you but certainly kept you grounded.

When these are taken away, sleep may become—as it did for me—close to impossible. Without another human being breathing beside me, I heard only my heartbeat knocking about in my chest and couldn’t get my mind to stop racing; when I opened my eyes, I felt like I was staring into an abyss.

The cycle this created was unnerving: I’d sleep in late the next day and then find myself cocaine-alert while the rest of the world was slumbering. Loneliness reigned. I also looked like sh*t.

It wasn’t until I created an evening routine—and stuck to it—that sleep became normalized (and less terrifying). That, and I more or less handcuffed my cat to the pillow beside me. The sheer presence of another being’s breath and heartbeat can modulate your own and prove to be calming. (And who said that being had to be human?)

2. You’ll call every single thing about yourself into question.

Suddenly living alone after nearly three decades of co-habitation created more restless, agonizing hours than I thought conceivable. And I say agonizing because they were—when we’re alone, the negative voices in our head become amplified.

Rather than filling my time in my new, girly apartment with things I’d long dreamt about—writing poetry, reading all those novels I’d put off for years, watching rom-coms my husband would have ridiculed—I ruminated. I obsessed over spots on my hands, wrinkles on my face, hairs on my head. I questioned every choice I’d made and every compliment that had ever been given me. These were wasted, lamentable months, for which I have nothing to show besides empty boxes of chocolates; meanwhile, my self-esteem felt shredded to pieces.

Avoiding long spells of isolation (and the inescapable picking yourself apart that comes with it) should be rule number one for the newly single. Sure, give into those chocolates here and there, but remember that you’re grieving a relationship, not yourself.

3. You will be very angry.

The freshly divorced tend to be painted as melancholy souls walking their dogs alone in pine-filled, foggy parks—or tear-stricken women gazing out at the moon and pondering love letters. This may be true for some but it certainly wasn’t the case for me.

Wine-soaked, punching walls, screaming at cupboards, crafting nasty emails to my ex, leaving irate messages on his voice mail, thisclose to thrashing him on social media, accusing family members and mutual friends of betrayals (here’s another truth: friends and family members do, and will, take sides)—that’s more like it.

If you, too, are more prone to spiteful texting than contemplative bike rides, know that you’re not alone. Moreover, know that this anger is actually a vital part of the process.

According to Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W. and author of Stronger Day by Day: Reflections for Healing and Rebuilding After Divorce, feeling hatred is not only normal in divorce but also needed: “Some people need to feel this hatred in order to justify leaving the relationship. Their intense anger is used to separate (or even repel) them from their spouse.” Didn’t do the leaving? “When we are hurt,” she explains, either through your spouse’s dissatisfaction, rejection, or betrayal, “one natural reaction is to become angry. Hate stems from this anger.”

While I’m still susceptible to acute, god-awful, I-hate-everyone-and-everything bouts of anger, I will say that they’re arriving less frequently (and are becoming easier to overcome when they do emerge). I’ve discovered this not through walks through pine-filled, foggy parks, but through really recognizing the roots of my rage.

Divorce fundamentally dysregulates our nervous system because our two most basic needs—safety and belonging—are thrown into hazardous territory.

Even if I realize that I am safe, that I belong, that I am indeed loved (by my daughter, by my friends, by my family, even by my ex-husband), my nervous system doesn’t. The awareness of this alone has a soothing effect; it also builds compassion.

4. You will relentlessly compare every new interest to your ex.

At the behest of close friends—and, let’s be real, out of pure loneliness—I began dating someone shortly after my separation.

Physically, it was fantastic. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, it left me vacant. This new man I was suddenly sharing meals and bodily fluids with was the exact opposite of my husband—open, talkative, demonstrative, needy, flexible, excitable. And a part of me hated him for it, even if these qualities were precisely the things I wanted more of in my ex.

In time, I realized that there wasn’t anything wrong with my new lover, but, rather, that I was still distraught over my collapsed marriage. Unless you meet just the right person after your separation—and good on you if that’s the case—dating is totally futile when you’re grieving. Plus, you aren’t quite sure who you are in the absence of your significant other—a person who has borne witness to your life, probably played cheerleader on your personal sidelines, and, if it wasn’t an abusive relationship, supplied you with security, comfort, and, well, definition. (Who are you, just you, without this?)

Which brings me to my next point:

5. You will have to learn to love yourself.

It’s such a cliché—I know it.

But the old adage—you can’t love someone else until you love yourself—has never been more true than for people who have endured the pain, shame, distress, and shakiness that unavoidably arrives with a separation.

You will have to take care of yourself in ways you probably never conceived of because they seem so basic, from going to bed at a decent hour, to watching how much you drink and eat (it’s amazing how savage we can become when alone), to practicing the essentials of self-care even when you don’t’ give a flying f*ck what you look or smell (or are behaving) like, to sitting with your emotions, oftentimes in solitude.

And the more you practice these tasks, the more they turn into a routine, and the more you discover about yourself—and learn that you are so worth loving.

Because here’s another thing no one ever tells you: Divorce cultivates resilience like few other calamities—leaving you with a fortitude that’s far more beautiful than any long, white gown or tulle veil out there.