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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
“ I will knock out my opponent in the 5th
“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
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
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
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
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
1…travel all over the world
2…get my specialization in psychiatry before my 30th
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
….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
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