written by Stephanie Padilla July 9, 2016
Do you have a self-esteem problem? If you said, ‘Yes’, you probably think your self-esteem problem is a poor self-esteem. One where you do not think well of yourself, are critical of yourself, and do not think you deserve to have good things in life. If this is true for you, you do have a problem and you do need to let go of some unhelpful thinking patterns.
However, if you said, ‘No’ to my question, then you probably think pretty well of yourself and think you are deserving of good things in life. You might even think really well of yourself and feel pretty entitled to all that life has to offer. If either of these are true for you, you also have a self-esteem problem. It is just not as obvious to you what the problem is.
The reason the poor self-esteem is readily seen as a problem is because it feels really bad to look at oneself with lots of judgment and criticism. It clearly damages the person’s ability to enjoy life. However, the goal of most self-esteem interventions is to teach the person how to have a pretty good or really good self-esteem. The reason for this is they will feel so much better. A good self-esteem is certainly preferable to a bad one.
So why do I say that you still have a problem? It’s because all self-esteem takes tremendous energy to maintain it. Let me demonstrate how self-esteem really works.
How to Build a Self-Esteem
Step 1: Create self-image. You have to have an image of a self to build your esteem on. This is whatever attributes that you are going to look at and call you. This includes anything from how your body looks, to your personality, to your intelligence, to your character, to your accomplishments, to your material possessions, to the type and number of friends you have, to your gifts and talents, etc.
Step 2: Evaluate the self-image. Self-esteem is essentially the amount of value or worth placed on your attributes. Therefore, you must evaluate these attributes. The most common way people evaluate these attributes is to compare themselves to others.
Step 3: Choose where to focus. Most people do not rest their self-esteem on the evaluation of all their attributes. You choose the ones you think are most important. If you choose to focus on attributes that compare favorably to others, then you will tend to have a ‘good’ self-esteem. If you focus on attributes that compare poorly to others, then you will tend to have a poor self-esteem.
Step 4: Seek validation from others. Interestingly, whether your self-esteem is good or poor you will still seek for the world to confirm your evaluation. It is generally not real to us, unless others agree! (Have you ever noticed how agitated someone with low self-esteem can become when you compliment them? You are disagreeing with their evaluation of themselves which makes them uncomfortable.)
Now, let me reveal the problems embedded in each step:
Step 1: The image is illusory. The image that you are looking at to build your self-esteem upon is just that, an image. It is not what you really are, it is something that you are observing and calling you. All of the attributes that you refer to are transient and often change with time. There is no stability to what you are looking at. If your ‘good’ self-esteem is resting on something that does change, then there goes your self-esteem with it!
Step 2: The evaluation scale keeps changing. The evaluation of the attributes that you are calling you is ultimately arbitrary. When you are comparing yourself to others, your self-esteem often depends on who happens to be around you. Once someone who is better than you comes along, there goes your self-esteem.
Step 3: The focus can be easily shifted. All it takes to hurt your self-esteem is for someone to focus your attention on the attributes that do not stack up well when compared to others.
Step 4: On-going validation is necessary to maintain it. You can’t maintain your self-esteem unless you are frequently getting validation from others. Self-esteem is like a tire with a leak in it. You will need other people in your life to continue to pump it up. Good self-esteem can only be maintained, but never arrived at.
In summary, regardless of what kind of self-esteem you have, it is illusive, fragile and must be constantly maintained. All of this takes energy and effort. And even with this effort, it can be easily hurt and damaged. What tends to go unnoticed by most people is that it is actually unnecessary to define a self or evaluate a self. You really don’t need to have any kind of self-esteem at all. You could simply accept whatever experience you are having of yourself as being perfectly OK.
If you are ready to stop draining your energy away maintaining your self-esteem, a Belief-Shifting Practitioner can support your journey of self-acceptance.