The Importance of Self-Esteem
Who Are You?
What is a Self?
Before birth a self does not exist. The evolution of the human being progresses from an undifferentiated part of mother in the womb, to individuation and autonomy as an adult. The self is the complete emergence and separation from another, the formation of an I through physical and psychological boundaries. The self is a continually evolving creation, an unfolding of potentials and possibilities that takes a lifetime and can never be said too be finished.
With the evolution of the personality comes the evolution of ever-increasing layers of consciousness; personality and consciousness are inseparable.
Consciousness exists as a seamless continuum, flowing and interacting on many levels—from the chemical reactivity of a bacterium to human volition: making choices.
There is risk in making choices: uncertainty. Uncertainty in a chaotic, random, unpredictable universe necessitates the need for a grounding force: self-esteem.
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is the foundation of the personality, a fundamental essence that supports everything about you. Seelf-esteem is a relationship with the I, an assertion to consciousness—a consciousness not only of the external world, but of the true inner self. Self-esteem is to think independently, living through your own perceptions and evaluations of how the world is
Self-esteem is built on two principles: self-acceptance and self-concept. Self-acceptance is basic, primitive and shared by most other living things. It is unconditional and is required before self-esteem can develop. Self-acceptance is not a denial of a need for change, improvement, or evolution—it is simply a recognition that you are.
Your self-concept develops from self-acceptance. Self-concept encompasses your beliefs, convictions, concerns, everything you like about yourself, everything you don’t like, your capabilities, skills, talents, as well as your limitations.
From self-concept grows self-esteem. Self-esteem meeans accepting yourself in all of your many facets, without resorting to self-repudiation, self-oppression, or deception of yourself or others.
Nothing is more important to your core of existence than what you think of yourself. People will come and people will go, but you will always have a relationship with yourself. To quote an often-heard truth: No matter where you go, there you are.
Everything you feel, think, and do is influenced by how you evaluate yourself, and affects how you relate to
Self-esteem is a fundamental sense of efficacy and worthiness, and is evidenced in competence, self-reliance, and self-assurance. It is trusting your mind to make correct decisions and life-affirming choices. It is an orientation towards the self, not only for self-preservation, but for self-furtherance—progress towards goals. People with low self-esteem do not progress: They stagnate. It takes self-esteem to change, progress towards goals. As a happy consequence, progression towards goals builds yet more self-esteem.
To have self-esteem is to be committed to your right to exist, to know that your body, your mind, and your feelings do not belong to others and that you are not here to live up to others’ expectations.
Self-esteem begins with psychological visibility. As infants and children we need feedback—an adult mirroring us back to ourselves; we need to know that we exist, to know that we matter. As children, others must perceive our value so that we may continue to value ourselves as autonomous adults.
Self-esteem is not a constant—it is not experienced with a consistent intensity at all times. Self-esteem fluctuates, and is a matter of degree—it is not an either/or proposition. There is high self-esteem and there is low se
Having self-esteem means honoring your potentials, embracing the discovery and exploration of all that is uniquely you. People with high self-regard seek out stimulation through challenge.
Though high self-esteem does not guarantee success and happiness, it does guarantee that these will be pursued with enthusiasm.
Self-esteem is not based on external success and failures, it is internal. Though appreciated, people with high self-esteem do not require approval, understanding, or positive reinforcement from others.
Having high self-esteem does not make you immune to uncertainty, despair, or anxiety—it simply makes it easier to tolerate and handle them.
People with high self-esteem seek out high self-esteem in others. They do not fear competency or uniqueness in others, and are excited with the challenges of another complex and self-actualized personality.
Truth and honesty build self-esteem. You must not be prevented from recognizing facts as facts; facts cannot cease to be facts if you choose not to acknowledge them. Convictions an
We all judge and are judged by some standard based on facts; we cannot be exempt from a value system. Failure to meet standards creates great anxiety in us, and makes us suffer through loss of integrity. High self-esteem allows, even insists on satisfying standards and maintaining integrity, but only if we are in total harmony with those standards. When we are not in agreement with the standards, but feel pressured to accept and live by them, we are at risk of betraying ourselves, as well as displeasing those who impose the standards.
Betrayal of our values, standards, and convictions leads to evasion and denial of the self, a surrender of one’s values to the value system of another. At the same time, pressure to comply to another’s standards may intensify, producing anger and resentment towards others for the imposition. This creates a split that is felt as guilt. Self-esteem means refusing to accept unwarranted guilt, and striving to correct earned guilt—if this is not accomplished with all speed, a degradation in self-esteem results.
Poor self-esteem is a feeling of being inappropriate to life—of being all wrong.
Self-alienation—absence of self—is at the root of all human misery. Feelings of detachment, of not belonging are a manifestation of decreased consciousness, a consciousness deliberately shattered by attacks aimed directly at one’s sense of self-worth. Denunciation of the self comes from others as well as from within ourselves.
The lower the self-esteem, the more likely disappointments will be regarded as sure evidence of worthlessness. Low self-esteem generates more low self-esteem—it feeds on itself. People so afflicted find existence frightening and overwhelming, and are unable to meet the challenges and trials of daily life, becoming defeated and paralyzed by them rather than energized to solve the problems.
People with low self-esteem seek safety in the familiar and undemanding. They are sleepwalking through their existence; they are extras in their own lives, instead of the stars.
People with low self-esteem show a disparity between what they profess to feel and their overt actions. “No, I’m not nervous,” he says as he jerks his arm to the side, smashing a lamp to the floor.
Nervousness and discomfort in the company of others is indicative of low self-esteem, as if there were something loathsome inside that must be caged, hidden, controlled. Unwarranted tension conveys an internal split, a self-denial or disowning of the self.
People with low self-esteem operate in a diffused consciousness; they are unfocused, their minds leaping from phrase to incomplete phrase, idea to unfinished idea, leaving a wasteland of unconnected thoughts and abstractions for those around them to wade through and somehow correlate.
People with low self-esteem are ruled by fear—of themselves as well as others. This is because of conflicts between a value imperative and a belief in their own inadequacy. Must/should thinking collides with fantasies, wishes, and desires that contradict the imperative.
People with low self-esteem are especially attracted to others with low self-esteem. They frequently avoid those with high regard for themselves, labeling them arrogant and conceited.
For people with low self-worth, thinking is often used as an excuse for inaction—it is evasive rather than constructive. Isolation, though often necessary in the healing process, is sought as a refuge from the self, an evasion and denial of possibilities.
False Self-Esteem: What Self-Esteem is Not
Self-esteem is not your image; it is not a function of how others perceive you.
False Self-Esteem: “I am confident I can do this.” When your self-worth is wrapped up in how you perform, you are seeking approval from others, rather than regard from yourself.
Genuine Self-Esteem: “I trust myself to make life-affirming choices.” This applies to all areas of your existence, not just a job or task that must be done properly using particular skills.
Self-esteem does not mean feeling superior to others. Those with high self-esteem are not pretentious or arrogant; pretentiousness is a disguise for deficiency.
Self-esteem is not the same as pride. High self-esteem says, “I am worthy of life.” Pride says, “I have” or “I am.”
High self-esteem is not comparative or competitive, and is certainly not self-glorification at the expense of others. Self-esteem does not mean diminishing others to elevate the self. Overestimating abilities, arrogance, boastfulness, and conceit are disguises for low self-esteem and are meant to conceal self-doubt.
False self-esteem is a façade adopted by those who see themselves as failures. Self-worth is generated through duty, altruism, stoic endurance, wealth, and sexual prowess. It serves to diminish anxiety, but inspires rationalization and denial of feelings, ideas, and memories that could unfavorably affect self-appraisal. People with false self-esteem are habitually brilliant in one part of their lives, and abysmally stupid in other parts—the parts they feel most defensive about. False self-esteem obliges one to achieve to avoid pain. These people need to be held in awe and worshipped by others, seeking to escape and denigrate moral values and standards. These people demand forgiveness and acceptance, and are obsessed with making others love them. They are highly manipulative and seek to overpower others. The person embracing false self-esteem survives in a void, stripped of any semblance of humanity, constantly holding the dread of exposure at bay.
American society not only sanctions false self-esteem, it encourages it. Pretended self-esteem relieves the burden of responsibility and denies individualism, making people good citizens—obedient and dependent. This may be expressed as:
· selfless, unquestioning service to an authority
· becoming a martyr for others, accepting adoration to fill the void
· being experts on everyone else’s opinions, themselves uneducated and having no opinions of their own
· sexual advertisement and boasting
· identity through another’s prestige
· excessive philanthropy and volunteerism as substitutes for courage and self-actualization
· image consciousness
· religiosity to the point of self-denial
· dependence on clichés and quotes to express oneself, rather than relying on independent thought.
Loving others often requires that you be able to love yourself first. However, that one may be able to love others is not evidence of self-esteem: Some may be able to love others but unable to love the self, valuing others above the self.
Humans are the only animals that judge themselves, that can make judgments about how to act, and then do the opposite. We are the only species capable of disregarding the facts of reality, of betraying our values. Because of this, humans require an intact self-esteem to live to full potential. We are not deterministic beings, are not passive reactors to external influences, though much of our unconscious behavior can be a response to present as well as past circumstances. As conscious adults, we have free volition: Our choices determine our self-regard, and are determined by it.
Most importantly, self-esteem is not an instinct. Self-esteem must be learned and cultivated. Man not only needs himself whole, but he needs to feel a part of something bigger than himself, a belongingness that at last quells his fear of insignificance. He needs to believe that his life, and his death, have a purpose. Humans need meaning. It is up to the individual to create and sustain that meaning, to generate his own purpose in life.
Copyright © 1994–2003, Lily Splane
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