A friend of mine wrote about self esteem in an unflattering way, saying it’s not necessary, and it really got me thinking. Is self esteem important? Does it contain value? Is there really any reason to seek it out? And, taken to the extreme, can it actually be counterproductive to seek self esteem?
Or if it is productive, what self esteem activities will help me the most?
The main issue as I see it is that self esteem stands as such an elusive concept. We don’t really know what it means, we don’t really understand its value, and we don’t really have an effective way to develop it. If we did have the answers, there would be no need for the hundreds and hundreds of books and programs designed to help us with our self esteem building activities.
Just the fact that so many products exist should prove the fact that we as a society don’t know much about self esteem.
Self esteem exists as a binding agent. Or a bonding agent. Or a cohesive force. It’s like glue. It brings together dispirit energies into a unified whole. Energies such as –
- willingness to be more conscious
- self image and self identity
Self esteem is the glue that holds together your character, and your motivation.
Self esteem concerns itself with the realm of conscious evaluation. So you could say everything that has to do with the conscious mind (as opposed to your subconscious, or your unconscious, or your ego) falls under the domain of your self esteem activities.
To say it as succinctly as possible, self esteem is the love you earn from yourself.
The mechanism of self esteem comes from an emotional, subjective evaluation. That’s why its so elusive and hard to understand. Emotional. Subjective. Evaluation.
Most people misunderstand all three of these concepts.
Emotional. Boy, I could write a book about why emotions are so misunderstood. Oh yeah, I did. And I continue to write about it all the time.
Very few people ‘get’ the value and purpose of emotions. Most of us try to suppress our emotions. Or explain them away. Or hide them away. Anything but feel them!
But if you have a faulty relationship with your emotions, it’s going to be difficult to understand and work with self esteem.
Subjective. Here’s the next problem. We’re taught and conditioned to be objective. Or try to be, anyway. I’m not sure it’s even possible to truly be objective when you’re in a human body. If you’re looking through your two eyes, then you’re going to be subjective. But if you’re trying to be objective, then it skews your vision. And self esteem goes out of focus.
Evaluation. To evaluate you have to make a value judgment. But judgments are bad, we’re told. Don’t judge! Of course, we do it all the time anyway…
But we’ve all got it in our heads that we should not be judgmental people.
The difference between evaluations and judgments comes down to whether or not you spend the time to think and feel about what’s being judged or evaluated. See, judgments as most people use them, are designed to end conversations, end thinking, end feeling, and inflict punishment. Evaluations, on the other hand, are designed to help us understand more and function better in this world.
But if we don’t understand the distinction between judgments and evaluation, then it will be harder to work with self esteem.
So what do we evaluate?
Everything we possibly can!
And this too can make productive self esteem activities more elusive. Because some things about ourselves aren’t worth evaluating.
“Why does everybody treat me so badly?”
“How come life is always so hard?”
“Why do I always have to suffer?”
Believe me, those are not the types of questions you want to be asking yourself!
Useful self esteem activities involve asking the right questions.
Now, as if we don’t already have enough reasons as to why self esteem is so elusive, let me add just one more…
The great thinkers of our modern age, who brought the very concept of self esteem to mainstream consciousness, didn’t have a very good grasp of what self esteem is.
Abraham Maslow was one of the first to study the healthiest, most exemplary humans, to find out what made them tick. He also developed a hierarchy of needs, and one of those needs was self esteem.
But he believed a major part of our self esteem came from how others treat us. Which simply isn’t true. How others treat us is a function of which parts of our consciousness are creating our reality.
Self esteem activity is much more a function of how you treat other people rather than how they treat you. And it’s mostly a function of how you treat yourself.
You have to be a doormat to yourself before anyone else can treat you that way.
You don’t get self esteem by being treated with respect by others. People treat you with respect because you already have a healthy self respect (not self esteem). Conversely, you can be treated like dirt by everyone around you, and still have a strong, healthy, self esteem. Absolutely you can.
And I would be remiss to not mention the greatest critic of all when it comes to self esteem; Albert Ellis. I believe he shares the same problem as the greatest cheerleaders for self esteem. Namely, they may be great thinkers, but they seem to have little imagination or willingness to see beyond their own egos. And they don’t bring feelings into the equation. At least not in a healthy way. In other words, they didn’t temper their thoughts with feelings and imagination.
It becomes like blind men trying to describe an elephant. In my opinion, Ellis was at the rear of the elephant. He, like all the rest, simply lacked the vision. (Although I’m more than happy to stand on their shoulders so I can see the parade better!)
It goes back to what questions are you asking yourself? Because so many seemingly pertinent questions are really traps.
Am I good enough?
Do I deserve?
Am I worthy?
These are all traps. Just like the other examples I gave above. If you ask yourself those types of questions, then you just put yourself in a little prison. And flipping the question around, so you ask, “How can I be good enough?” is not the answer!
Again, positive self esteem activity is all about asking the right questions. And just because they’re open-ended questions doesn’t mean they’re going to build your self esteem.
Now, getting back to the almost embarrassing limitations of our great thinkers (too bad they weren’t also great feelers!) let’s look at a popular current definition of self esteem:
Self esteem comes down to a ratio between your successes and failures.
If you believe that, then you will likely never have a healthy self esteem. Self esteem is about what’s going on inside you. It has very little to do with worldly events.
At the risk of sounding trite, everything you see is illusion. We’ve all heard it a million times, whether we believe it or not.
Here’s my vision:
The emotional wellspring flows the raw material of life into my consciousness. All the parts of me huddle and jostle and elbow each other to drink from this wellspring. The ego, the inner child, the inner martyr, and many others all want some of my flow. And the more they drink, the more of a voice they have. Some parts of me are loud, others less so.
The parts of me raise their voices, which come together and form what appears to be a tunnel or tube of resonance. I stand in the middle of this cylindrical flow, and I am surrounded by a constant stream of data moving past me.
This data stream is called ‘reality’. Even though it’s actually illusion. It’s just feedback from all the parts of me that participate in creating my reality. (And notice all those other parts of me are nowhere to be found when the rubber hits the road. Thanks a lot, ego!)
Anyway, trying to get your self esteem from the data stream is somewhat ludicrous. It can’t give you esteem. Esteem comes from conscious evaluations. At best, the data stream gives you feedback. It gives you more data so you can make better evaluations.
But if you don’t know it’s just a data stream, then it will be harder to separate fact from fiction. And thus, it will be harder to build self esteem.
Here’s what I’m saying: everything you experience with your five senses exists as nothing more than a stream of information that was created by all the various parts of you. It’s feedback. Your reality is just feedback to let you know how you’re doing.
Now, you can get an ‘A’ on the test, and that can certainly make you feel good. And it can reaffirm your self esteem. But it doesn’t build self esteem. That’s an important distinction to understand.
The feedback lets you know if you’re ‘getting it right’ or not. So of course it has value. Just don’t give your power away to it, by telling yourself all sorts of cockamamie stories about what it means that you got a ‘C’ instead of an ‘A’.
Again, it all goes back to asking yourself the right questions if you want to truly build your self esteem.
And getting back to the original question of this article, why bother with any self esteem building activities?
Because it gives you the motivation to live and reach for more. That’s the most fundamental reason. If you had no self esteem you would die. Because you would have no reason to live.
See, you’re going to be evaluating yourself one way or another, anyway. You can’t help it. It’s innate. It’s part of your make up. It’s part of what it means to be human. You will always question yourself. But here’s the kicker:
You can either do it the right way, or the wrong way.
Do it the wrong way, and Ellis becomes correct when he says seeking self esteem is counterproductive. Do it the right way, and you can soar far beyond what Maslow called a ‘human need’.
Your self esteem can become a living, breathing energy that exemplifies the best of you. It can become real enough for you to lean on. It can be a tool to help you through trying times. It can be your anchor. It can be a place of stability inside, when the world outside becomes more and more chaotic, due to forces beyond our control or comprehension.
One thing I left out of the diagram above was the influence of outside forces. It’s like we have ‘overlapping realities’ with other people, and other consciousnesses. Having a healthy self esteem can make us much better equipped to deal with the overlapping forces currently in our lives, and more importantly, the ones that are coming in the future.
So how do you build self esteem the right way? Which self esteem activities really help?
I put together a program on it, called Self Esteem Secrets, which you can find out about here –
From reading this article you might get the idea that self esteem activities are difficult or time consuming. They’re not. It really comes down to asking yourself the right questions. I cover it all – and exactly what to do – in the program on Self Esteem Secrets.all the best,
Mark Ivar Myhre
The Emotional Healing Coach
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