Self-esteem is the relationship we have with ourselves. It is an inner-state of acceptance and okness about who we are—no matter what may arise. Self-esteem is closely tied to what we believe we are worth, regardless of how much money we make or how important we are from the world’s perspective—it is our inner value. Self-esteem is what’s left after we strip away all the houses, cars, big screen TV’s, vacations, money, power, beauty, athletic ability or whatever else.
The self-talk that happens in our minds after a hardship or failure is often telling of the shape of our self-esteem. For example, if I fail to close a new deal at work a healthy self-esteem might say something like, “Wow that’s really disappointing. What could I have done better? What did I do well? Did I spend enough time preparing? Did I have the right information? Would it have been more effective for me to bring in Jeremy who is an expert in this area? What can I do next time to work towards a more successful outcome?” A person who might be limited by a diminished self-esteem in the same situation might say something like, “What’s wrong with me. I always blow it. I am never going to make it as a sales person. No matter how hard I work its always the same—nothing good happens to me.”
Self-esteem is the inner worth that stimulates resilience to pick ourselves up after a failure so that we can learn and grow from the experience. In this situation effective self-esteem would offer result-driven, specific questions that may uncover new ideas or approaches to solving the problem differently—reminding us that failure is not personal, it is an opportunity to learn and become better. For example, “Next time I will ask Jeremy to be a part of our team since he has so much to offer with the specifics on this project. If he doesn’t have the time to participate I will ask him if he has an hour or so to go over my work and offer insight and suggestions.” Whereas the diminished self-esteem might take a very harsh and personal approach that may catastrophize the situation, “I blew it. I am so stupid. I completely ruined it. It will never work.” Diminished self-esteem is often handcuffed to shame that is triggered when failures happen. The inner dialogue caused from shame is very toxic and harmful, expressing extremely self-critical judgments and harshness towards one’s worth.
Ego-esteem is an evaluation of our worth based on how successful or accomplished we are; we are “ok” because we are smarter, prettier, make more money, drive a better car, run faster, earn a higher grade, or have the most expensive and impressive home. Often people with high ego-esteem mistakenly take their ego-esteem to be a healthy self-esteem yet if we stripped away their accomplishments, ability, or assets they would crumble. With self-esteem we are capable of functioning effectively or finding the resilience to keep on keeping on–even when the storms of life arise.
When the ego-esteem is the driving force of one’s psychological make up, losses may trigger severe depression or a myriad of self-destructive behaviors. An example of ego-esteem would be Warren feels like Superman because he just purchased a new $80,000 sports car. He is high on life. Two weeks later Warren is fired due to mishandling of funds at his investment bank, his assets are frozen, and the new sports car is repossessed. He manages to scrape together a couple thousand dollars to buy a budget-friendly car that he calls “junk” as he rebuilds his life. The high ego-esteem Warren would feel embarrassed and would most likely avoid seeing friends who run in his former affluent circle. He might lie about what really happened to his new sports car acting as if everything is “business as usual.” The sports car defined Warren’s okness, now that he drives a very humble car he is no longer worthy, he begins to hide from the world, so they do not find out the truth of who he is, “a failure,” and Warren beats himself up with brutal, unforgiving self-talk.
Ego-esteem is not bad, just like the ego it is essential for us to care about performing well, accomplishing goals, and having some success in the world. The key is to cultivate our self-esteem consciously so that the ego-esteem is not the leading force. When we have a heathy self-esteem and a balanced ego-esteem we can feel good about our successes and accomplishments but also know that those successes are not what defines us. The new car does not validate who we are—we are ok because we breathe, the car is just an interesting accessory for the time that it lasts.
We cannot develop too much self-esteem. That is like saying you are too physically fit. Self-esteem is the thing that propels us away from toxic relationships—we are worth more than the abusive relationship can give us therefor it is a relationship that no longer serves us. Self-esteem is the thing that pushes us to say, “No, that is too much work. I need to rest.” With a healthy self-esteem we are worthy of honoring our needs. Self-esteem is the thing that propels us to take care of ourselves without harming any other being. Self-esteem is something that also allows us to see the needs of others as we tend our own needs it becomes important to value and honor the needs of others just as we value and honor our own. Self-esteem is not selfish—it is balance. If we are acting out of selfishness to take care of our needs that is not an act of self-esteem. Self-esteem does not mean you always do what you want, get what you want, and are never uncomfortable—this would be self serving. Self-esteem knows our own limits, it sets proper boundaries so that we can takes care of our inner needs which gives us the resources to meet life wholeheartedly.
Does this article communicate a clear understanding of self-esteem? What is one thing you can do today to nurture your self-esteem? Please email me or reply to this blog.
May you feel peace and ease in life. May your path be brightened with light. May you become all you are intended to be.