We have all heard the never-ending talk about Self-Esteem and in general we have all agreed that it is important. So, how come there is an epidemic of low Self-Esteem infecting our society and especially our young today? Governments have attempted to address this issue in schools by abolishing competition (although they leave in assessment and exams!) And encouraging teachers to tell students that they all have the "right" to be equal and that no one is better than anyone else. On the surface this seems like a wonderful idea. After all, if we level the playing field and don't compare any one in competition "we're all equal – aren't we?" In theory, this should ensure a healthy Self-Esteem because no one is compared and we are all the same. Except, Self-Esteem doesn't work this way. Self-Esteem grows out of Self-Love.
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-Esteem is the measure of how we value our self. It is how we view our self, our gifts, our weakness, and our strengths. It is the way we view the package we call "me".
When we say someone has a great Self-Esteem, we mean that they know who they are, and they accept themselves for being just the way they are. They believe in themselves. They are resilient, and they always seem to bounce back from any setback quickly and easily. It is something we all want for our self.
When we say someone has poor, low or negative Self-Esteem, we are referring to the fact that they don't view themselves in a positive and loving manner. They often criticize themselves, put themselves down or live in constant fear of someone else criticizing them. They are often unhappy, aggressive, or withdrawn. This individual often has difficulty acknowledging the good aspects of themselves – all they can see is the negative. They continually look at what they can't do or aren't very good at, and rarely, if ever, celebrate what they've done well.
What makes up Self-Esteem?
Self-Esteem is made up of three components. They are: Self-Love, Self-Acceptance and Self-Worth. At a quick glance, these three components seem to be different ways of saying the same thing. But each is subtly different.
Self-Love is the ability to be kind and loving to our self. It binds Self-Acceptance and Self-Worth together and gives us Self-Esteem. It is critical to having a great Self-Esteem and I will discuss it in depth below.
Self-Acceptance is the ability to acknowledge our strengths and our weaknesses and accept them as equally valid parts of our self.
Self-Worth is how valuable, useful or worthwhile we view our self – it is the measure we use to determine if our contribution to society will have any meaning.
Now that we've defined what Self-Esteem is – both good and bad, we can answer the question of 'Why is it so important?'
The Importance of Self-Esteem
Self-Esteem is the backbone upon which we build our lives. It is meant to be the stable foundation which launches us into successful lives. It is the yardstick or guidance that indicates whether we are on track or not. When we feel great, we are expansive, giving, loving and sincere. When we feel lousy, we know that things need to change and that we need to look at our life and how we are living it.
Why then, do we have so many issues around Self-Esteem? Why do we have difficulty in talking about and acknowledging the importance of Self-Love, Self-Worth, and Self-Acceptance? Whenever I discuss these issues with my clients, there is an uncomfortable silence and then either embarrassment or anger. There seems to be many misconceptions around these concepts, so perhaps I should clear these up before we go much further.
So, why aren't we taught to love ourselves? Why are we taught that we are bad, naughty, wrong? Why do we create a stigma around the very thing that will bring peace and harmony into our lives? Why are we embarrassed and angry and defensive whenever the topic is raised?
I believe that much of the embarrassment and anger comes from the mistaken belief that it is "selfish" to think of ourselves and to put our needs first. We are taught to put others before ourselves, to make sacrifices for others, to be victims. Then, when we do put our self first we are shamed, ridiculed and called names. No one wants to be known as "selfish". However, the unfortunate truth is that unless we put ourselves first, take care of our needs and nurture our self, we are of little use to others – an empty shell of what we could be. When we always put others first, when we give and give and give and never take, our "emotional tank" runs dry. We have nothing left to give and are left with bitterness and anger.
So what is Self-Love?
Self-Love isn't detrimental to others. Self-Love empowers us to help others more effectively. Self-Love acknowledges our strengths and our weaknesses and accepts them all equally as valid parts of our self. Self-Love doesn't criticize our self or others. It doesn't put us down or tell us we're bad, horrible people. Self-Love empowers us to be whoever we are meant to be: unique, wonderful, different and diverse people who respect and honor ourselves and others. No one with a healthy Self-Love mechanism has poor self-esteem, an ego that is out-of-control or harms another being through thought, word or deed.
Self-Love is being gentle and kind to our self, it is being tolerant of our mistakes and forgiving towards our self and others. It is being aware of what we truly need to be happy and fulfilled and then allowing ourselves to have those needs met, without feeling guilty. It is being grateful for our gifts and tolerant of our weaknesses. Self-Worth and Self-Acceptance allow us to share our gifts with our society, in a manner that helps us all. We can be different and shine and NOT take away from our fellow human beings experience of life. In fact we can ENHANCE their experience.
Now that we understand what Self-Love is, we can begin to understand the importance of Self-Esteem. Without healthy Self-Love, Self-Acceptance, Self-Worth and Self-Esteem our society, our families, can't function at their best. When we persist in criticizing ourselves and others, we create an environment that is detrimental to the development of a healthy Self-Esteem.
Criticism is the Number One enemy of a peaceful, loving, supportive relationship with our self. For most of us the steady stream of criticism has become background noise. We are not even aware that we are doing it to our self, or others. We think it is normal, when in fact it is a habit that we have developed in order to gain momentary surges in our own opinion of our self. We all have wounded opinions of our self, moments of self-doubt and self-pity. For those with a strong healthy Self-Esteem, they rebound quickly and don't get bogged down in the mire. For the rest of us, we become trapped in feelings of not being good enough and we perpetuate the circumstances which put us there in the first place.
Observe the rising rates of suicide, drug and alcohol addictions, smoking, teenage pregnancy, eating disorders, underage sex and obesity. Not to mention the increase in cancer and AIDS, heart attacks and old age dementia. As a society, we are criticizing ourselves to death. We hide our pain through addictions and violence – towards our self and others. Then we pile more guilt, more blame, more anger, self-righteousness and prejudice on top of it all.
Now, for a moment, imagine what the world – or even just our family – would be like if we had healthy self-love, forgiving self-acceptance and great self-esteems. Would we be happy pursuing those things that we had an interest in and talent for? Would we be supportive, caring and kind? Would we show and receive respect, dignity and recognition? I believe we would. I believe that by having healthy self-love (caring for ourselves and never criticizing ourselves or others, accepting and celebrating our strengths and weaknesses and taking responsibility for our own thoughts, words and actions) we can create a positive environment for our self and our children. We can lead by example and show them how to honor themselves and others.
No longer would we need the crutches of modern society to make ourselves feel better. We wouldn't need to escape into virtual worlds on-line or on computer games. We wouldn't need to view excessive amounts of TV or consume excessive amounts of food. We wouldn't need to be compulsive spenders or drinkers or smokers. We could be free to be ourselves and know that who and what we are, is good enough.
Basically, the crux of our Self-Esteem problem is that none of us feel that we are good enough. We might be good at something but we compare our self to someone who we perceive to be better. We can't accept that we are good enough, we feel that we must search to find fault within our self.
Healthy Self-Esteem is the antidote to many of today's society's ills. When we give the cultivation of healthy Self-Love, Self-Acceptance and Self-Worth the priority they deserve, we, as a society can move forward into a more peaceful and fulfilling future.