Last week I asked one of my female patients,

    “How do you score your self esteem? Zero being the lowest and ten being the highest?”

    “Four out of ten” she said.

    “I am surprised.” I responded. “I was hoping you would say eight out of ten. Why do you think it is so low?’

    “My parents always put me down as a child” she tried to explain.

    “But now you are an adult. Now you can treat yourself special. Do you like yourself?” I pursued the issue.

    “No, I don’t. That is why I do not have any female friends and I do not have a boyfriend. I do not see any reason why someone would go out with me.”

    “That is not true. You are a wonderful person. You are intelligent and charming. You are also a successful teacher. Your students adore you.” When I looked at her she seemed sad. “Do you have difficulties accepting compliments.?”

    “Yes, I do.” There was a silence for a few seconds and then she asked me, “ Do you like yourself Dr?”

    “Yes, I do, very much” I smiled. “My philosophy is that if I do not like myself then how can I expect others to like me.”

    “That is true. I never thought it that way. What do you think is the secret of positive self esteem? How can I improve it?” She asked another question.

    “The secret is to do all those things that you love to do and become friends with those people who bring out the best in you.” I responded.

    “That is wonderful. I will try to act on your suggestion and tell you more in our session next week.”


    That evening when I was sharing our client’s story with my co-therapist Bette Davis, I also asked her, “How do you score your self-esteem out of 10?”

    She stared in the space for a few seconds and then said, “8 out of 10”

    ‘And how would you score my self-esteem?”

    She chucked and then said, “ 15 out of 10” and we both laughed.

    After that Bette and I discussed how the issue of self-esteem relates to people’s emotional health and well being. I shared with her that I was quite impressed by the writings of Harry Stack Sullivan who believed that negative self esteem is the corner stone of all emotional problems and to help people with mental health issues we need to help them improve their self-esteem and feel good about themselves.

              After discussing the issue from a professional point of view our discussion became more personal and we started sharing our life experiences. At one stage of the dialogue Bette asked me,

    “Did you always had such a high self-esteem?’

    “No, there was a time in my childhood when I felt shy, weak and vulnerable. That was the time I was living in Frontier province of Pakistan surrounded by tribal Pathans, who were tall and strong and carried guns. I used to be bullied by older boys in the street.”

    “Then how did you deal with that situation? How did you overcome the problem?”

    “I have to give your question some thought”

              After that dialogue with bette, I started reflecting and when I asked myself, “ What were the significant life experiences that contributed in my developing such a high self-esteem and self-confidence, I came up with the following: 

    A, Family Encounters

    I was lucky to be born in a family where every one loved and adored me. My mother was the oldest daughter of her family and the first one to be married. I was her first son. So when I was born I had aunts and uncles and grandparents who showered me with their love and affection. That happened for the first couple of years and then my dad was offered a job to teach mathematics in a college in Kohat nearly 300 miles away from. That is when we moved to a place where we were surrounded by tribal people and my parents did not speak their language. Although I learnt Pushto as a child but I was still teased and bullied as I was not ‘one of them”

              The positive side of that experience was that every summer I went to Lahore to see my extended family to receive my annual dose of unconditional love and affection from my extended family. I think that love compensated for some of the prejudices I experienced. That profound love of my extended family set the foundation of my positive self-esteem.

    B. A Turning Point as a Teenager

    Of all the experiences as a teenager the one that stands out most vividly in my mind is the one when I was in grade 9. I must be nearly 13 at that time.

              One day I went to school and when my teacher asked me about my homework, I could not find my notebook in my bag.

    “Where is your homework?”

    “I forget it at home”.

    “You have not done your homework.” He challenged me.

    “No, that is not  true.” I insisted.

    “You are a liar” he persisted.

    That was the moment of my meltdown. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. I knew I had done my homework. I knew I was innocent. I felt very hurt when I realized that my teacher, who I had a lot of respect for, questioned my integrity.

              That was the time I said to myself, “Sohail. You are weak and vulnerable. Why did you let your teacher affect you so much emotionally.” I felt embarrassed as I could not help crying. That was a turning point in my life and I decided to do something about it. I decided to become strong and confident. So I went to the library and borrowed a few books on human psychology. That was the time I read Dale Carnegi’s popular boo about making friends and influencing people.

              After reading Carnegi I also read Freud and Jung and Adler. Adler talked about those people who suffered from inferiority complex and then found ways to overcome that complex. So I decided to use that painful encounter to better myself and improve my self-confidence. After that experience my journey of self-growth became more conscious.

    C, Introduction to Mohammad Ali Clay

    It was during those teenage years that I developed a keen interest in sports. I started running long distance and playing soccer, cricket and floor hockey and watching boxing. As I watched different boxing matches I got introduced to Claucius Clay. He shocked the world when he won the World heavyweight Championship with his knockout punch to Sony Liston in the first minute of the game. Before people settled in their seats paying 100 dollars, the game was over.

              After that game Clay announced that he had embraced Islam and changed his name to Mohammad Ali Clay. For a number of years Clay remained my role model and I watched every game he played. I enjoyed his charm, his charisma, his agility, his confidence. He was a great source of inspiration. He also had a great sense of humour. I remember whe he told a journalist,

    “ I will knock out my opponent in the 5th round.”

    “Why 5th?” the journalist was curious.

    “I get up at 5 in the morning

    I pray 5 times a day

    I drink 5 cups of coffee daily


    My daughter is 5 years old.

    So I will throw a knockout punch in the 5th round.”

    Clay was not only a boxer, he was also an actor and a poet and I loved that about him.

              What I learnt the most from Clay was that he could let his opponent win the first few rounds. His admirers used to get upset. They were afraid their hero might lose. But Clay was always confident that he would win. He was a born winner. After the match he shared his hidden strategy and told journalists that he was just making his enemy tired and waiting for the right moment to throw his knockout punch. He had the attitude of a marathon runner. Watching Clay play helped me develop my self-confidence and also my charm and charisma.

              Clay always believed he was the best and the greatest. Some considered him arrogant and self-centered. I admired him as he was the only one who won the championship more than once.

              Clay was not only a sportsman, he was also a political activist. He made a political statement by refusing to go to Vatican to fight a war. He lost his title but stood firm by his principles, jhis values and his ideals. As a teenager I was impressed by his idealism and his willingness to give sacrifices for his ideals.

              I identifies with Clay when I read his story that when he was a little boy and had rented a bicycle, an older White Boy snatched his bicycle and deprived him of his right to ride. At that moment Clay decided to become the strongest man in the world so that no White Man could hurt or insult him again. Clay wanted to become the  physical heavyweight and I wanted to become an emotional and intellectual heavyweight.

              In my teenage years I went through a metam0orphosis. It was during those years that I decided to plan my future, my goals and my dreams. I wanted to:

    1…travel all over the world

    2…get my specialization in psychiatry before my 30th birthday

    3…become a write and publish books

    4…make friends from different communities and cultures


    5…have a charming sweetheart.

    I not only had dreams I was also confident that my dreams will come true.

    Today, on my 55th birthday, when I reflect upon my dreams I saw 40 years ago, I can see how they came true in the form of

    …my residing in Canada and traveling around the world

    …working as a psychotherapist in my clinic and serving my community using my Green Zone Philosophy

    …publishing more than a dozen books in Urdu and English

    ….having a circle of close and sincere friends


    …having a charming sweetheart Bette Davis that I am very proud of.

    If I die tonight I will die peacefully with no regrets.

              As I gained my self-confidence and positive self-esteem in my life I decided to help and inspire others by bringing out the best in them. I try to do that as a psychotherapist in my professional life and as a writer and a friend in my personal and social lives. I want people to feel proud of their accomplishments. I want them to feel special as human beings. I believe we are all special, some of us are more aware than others.


                                                                       July 9th, 2007