Jump to the following topics:
- What is self-esteem?
- What are the benefits of self-esteem?
- Self-esteem is not wholly self-generated and unconditional.
- The techniques for creating self-esteem.
- Further resources.
- Innate value. We know that we are important simply for being a part of life. We believe we have an "inalienable right" to be here, to express ourselves, and to be happy. We believe that we are good. We are certain that we have a purpose for living (although perhaps we have not yet discovered that purpose). We have dignity and poise, regardless of our physical appearance, financial status, possessions, occupation, and accomplishments -- and things which we cannot control, such as other people's judgments of us. Self-esteem exists within a part of us that is so deep and fundamental that it can't be touched by outside events, and it does not need to be subjected to any standard or rational explanation. We value all aspects of our life:
- Our inner life: our thoughts, our emotions, our physical body, etc.
- Our outer life: our activities, our possessions, our friends, our community, etc.
- Because self-esteem is a characteristic of the ego, we gain the benefits which are derived from a healthy ego (as explained in the chapter regarding the ego). For example (as explained in that chapter): we can approach people from a position of strength and abundance and vigor, rather than from neediness and emptiness; we can be unpretentious; we can endure input from the other parts of the psyche, and from other people.
Self-esteem is not wholly self-generated and unconditional. We might believe that we have inherent value regardless of anything that we become or do, but this self-esteem is difficult to maintain if we contradict other factors in our life:
- Invalidation from other people. In childhood, our family and acquaintances responded to us in ways which indicated whether we were "all right." We established self-esteem if they accepted us as a real person whose thoughts and feelings were valid, and if they respected our unique individuality. (Paradoxically, we developed self-esteem if our "individuality" was somewhat restricted by parental limits and discipline -- because those things indicated that our parents "took us seriously.") While we created our ideas about ourselves, we were particularly vulnerable to other people's teasing, insults, rejections, and shaming. As adults, we are less vulnerable to the same assaults; ideally, we have learned that we are responsible for our own self-esteem. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." And yet, because we are social creatures, it is difficult (if not impossible) to have self-esteem without support from people -- at least from the people whom we respect.
- Invalidation from our system of values. For example, if we value honesty, and we violate that value, we might be damaging our self-esteem, if we respond with shame instead of guilt. Guilt is merely an impersonal "alarm mechanism" which informs us that we have violated our values; it does not condemn us nor does it tell us to hate ourselves. When guilt is triggered, we can consider various options:
- We can try to correct the action. For example, we return the money which we stole. If we correct the faulty action, our self-esteem is restored and even enhanced because we have indicated to ourselves that we are competent in living life fairly and directly.
- We can question the values which were violated. We might realize that our values are ineffective for the purpose of enhancing our life; if so, we can change them.
- We can shame ourselves. Shaming is a harmful act in which we proclaim that we are innately flawed and incapable. In one sense, shame is the opposite of self-esteem; it damages self-esteem.
- We can do archetypal field-work:
- Self-talk. We can use the ideas in the first paragraph of this chapter, to develop affirmations regarding our innate value and our innate potential.
- Directed imagination.. We visualize ourselves in situations where we have poise, self-confidence, self-love -- and an ability to interact effectively from a base of soulful power.
- Energy toning. We develop the energy tones of poise, self-confidence, self-love, self-appreciation, joy, etc.
- The as-if principle. We act as if we have self-esteem.