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Build your Self-Esteem by Nipping the Tall Poppy Syndrome in the Bud

You deserve to be proud of yourself, so here’s how you can build your self-esteem, and regain a healthful pride, when someone tries to cut you down to size.“Be proud of every scar on your heart, each one holds a lifetime’s worth of lessons.” ~ Wallace Stegner

Australians have a term — the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Have you heard of it? It’s the idea that poppies should all grow at the same height and speed. If one becomes taller than the others, it should be cut down to size, to maintain the uniformity of the crop. Do you recall a time when you were feeling on top of the world because you accomplished something wonderful; then someone threw a wet blanket on your joy, cutting you down to size? You’ve experienced the Tall Poppy Syndrome.

You deserve to be proud of yourself, so let’s examine how you can more fully build your self-esteem to withstand this pervasive attitude!

People don’t always mean to hurt you. If you had met me 30 years ago, you would have met a curious, eager, but really shy, 20-year-old. My husband says I wore my introversion on the outside — I barely spoke; I dodged compliments and avoided any kind of attention. 15 years later, I was still struggling to reclaim myself.

Growing up, my Italian mom would shout, “Abbassa la cresta” roughly meaning “Lower your comb” to any attempt of showing pride for an A at school or any accomplishment in general. I understand now that she was just passing on what she had learned herself.  

Women in particular have been conditioned to gloss over and downplay our accomplishments, so we “don’t get a swelled head”. We begin to believe that being proud of self makes us ugly and unlikable.

What can you do when you’re on the receiving end of someone trying to cut you down to size?

A message has two parts; a sender and the receiver. You can’t control the sender, but you can understand them better, so you, as the receiver, can mindfully filter out any harmful “noise” and positively tune-in to the beneficial elements.

  1. Understand the sender. To understand their motive, ask yourself the following questions:

Does this person love me and have my best interests at heart? Then you can thank them for caring enough to say something. If the message bothers you, live with those emotions for a bit and identify your truth with which you need to come to terms.

Are they speaking from spite or jealousy? Recognize that they’re not happy and they think by bringing you down, they’ll feel better about themselves.  Show compassion to them. It’s okay to share the glory.

Are they feeling challenged or threatened? Sometimes, you just have to let them deal with their own issues and move on.

  1. Understand the receiver — yourself. The way your body reacts to the message is telling you something about yourself. Are you feeling tense, uptight, defensive, or deflated? Identify your emotional reaction; then sit with it until you resolve your internal conflict.

When you do your best, you can, and should, take pride in all the little things you do each day. That involves seeing things in a whole new light for most people. We just normally tend to focus on the negative.

For example:

Normally, your definition of having a clean house involves the dishes being put back in the cupboard. So on the mornings you only can rinse breakfast dishes before running out the door, you beat yourself up, grumbling, “That’s just great…I hate coming home to a messy house. I’m such a lousy housekeeper. Then you spiral down the rabbit hole…I’m mad at my husband for making me late to work. I’m mad at my boss for…I’m mad at the world!”

Instead: Take pride in what you did do. “Lovely! I got those dishes rinsed; they’ll be so much easier to clean when I get home. You go, girl!”

Do you see how this approach sets you up for win after win? You’ll feel more satisfaction and contentment in life. You’ll see that you’re moving closer to your goals, albeit, one baby step at a time. Then each time you accomplish something huge, you’ll be ready to acknowledge, accept and delight in it! No more self-deprecation for you!

We see a good example in Pamela Anderson; she said, “I’m kind of proud of myself. I’ve been able to keep a certain grace about me, even in the times of disgrace and craziness.”

You can be proud of yourself without becoming arrogant and conceited. To be humble (from Latin humilitas ‘from the earth’)  means to be grounded in knowing who you are so you can grow and reach as high and strong, as you’re meant to be.

Continue to build your self-esteem so you’re able to consistently say, and believe, the following…

Not feeling it, yet? Try this exercise…

What made you proud of yourself this week? Seriously! List these things and fully experience your sense of pride. This will build your self-esteem. Take time to feel proud, feel grateful, feel fulfilled.

The most important thing is to be proud of the work that you put into something, and put the ego aside. ~ Alicia Keys

Transforming the Tall Poppy message into something more empowering has been and continues to be a daily challenge. Today I’m more able to stand tall and be proud of my accomplishments. I love supporting other women to feel the same — to really be proud of whom they are. If you haven’t done so yet, please sign up for my newsletter. You may also enjoy a visualization exercise I created with Louise Santiago, Daily Start to Gratitude & Empowerment. It will take only a few minutes but the ripple effect will be lasting…to your day and your life.

Positive thoughts - Negative thoughts, Self-Confidence


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