I don’t remember as a child hearing much about self esteem. Nobody really seemed to care whether I liked myself or not – they were concerned about whether I told the truth, was kind to others, got home on time, ate everything on my plate, got good grades in school, showed respect to others, obeyed my parents and so on. I can’t remember when I first started hearing so much about self esteem but now it seems to be a “catch all” for lack of success and placing blame–“I did it because I have low self esteem” or “I can’t do it because I have low self esteem.” “My father/mother did such-and-such so it’s their fault that I’m not successful–I have low self esteem, you know.”
So why do we hear so much about it now? As I think about it I believe the emphasis on self esteem comes from four sources: 1) the general acceptance of psychology as we know it now; 2) the change from wide acceptance of church doctrine and dogma to individual freedom of thought; 3) the influence of the news and entertainment media and 4) the raised level of consciousness we experience today. (I would love to hear feedback on this claim). Let’s take a closer look.
Modern psychology, with its focus on “what is wrong with me” tends to have us looking for those things about us that need to be “fixed.” It diagnoses us and puts labels on us that say we’re obsessive-compulsive, depressed, bi-polar, co-dependent and so forth. Those labels never seem to come off. I realize some of these diagnoses are accurate and allow people to get the treatment and protection they need. But sometimes they are harmful, keeping us trapped in the belief that “something is wrong with me and can’t be fixed.” “I’m not good enough.” “I don’t like who I am.” We are told we need to improve our “self esteem” and we need to come to them for help for a very long time.
The News and entertainment media which uses what I term “artificial intelligence,” has tried to mold us all into a stereotypical Barbie/Ken doll. It has put pressure on us to conform to a model that cannot be achieved and has put the emphasis on appearance rather than on character. It has also put a new spin on success that encompasses the acquiring of “stuff” to the detriment of achieving happiness by being a decent human being who has honor, integrity and compassion. We measure ourselves by their standard and come up short. “What’s the matter with me?” is the logical ensuing question. “I can’t like myself because I’m not like them.” And if I don’t have “high self esteem” I’ll never be o.k.
The Doctrine and Dogma of many churches steeps us in how truly “less than” we really are. We are told that we need the church to tell us what to believe and how to behave, and we spend a lot of time feeling our guilt and crying “mea culpa.” They portray God as an angry being who is poised to punish us for our shortcomings even if we’re just being “human.” The concept of Hell and eternal punishment is held over our heads lest we stray from their teachings so we don’t dare stray. They seem to forget the part that we are made in God’s likeness and image and that God is Love. We are taught that “Pride goes before a fall” and almost any self esteem on our part is considered to be pride. Being caught between the church that teaches we are bad/ wrong and psychology that tells us we need high self esteem but are defective can get quite confusing.
The Level of Consciousness we experience as human beings is on the rise. According to David Hawkins in his book Power vs. Force we are now, as a society, at a level where we can try new things and are able to cope with the opportunities of life. At this level self esteem and self reward become progressively reinforcing. We are more aware of ourselves as valuable. As we ascend into higher levels of consciousness as individuals we become less judgmental of ourselves and others, are more aware that we create our own reality and begin to understand the concept of “oneness.” (David R. Hawkins, Power vs. Force, Hay House, Inc. 2002, p 84 forward)
To get help figuring things out and trying to come to some acceptance of who we are is traditional psychology. Traditional psychology asks: What’s wrong with me and what are my problems? You are led to answer with negative responses. If you dwell on it long enough you will be a candidate for an anti-depressant or for a mood elevating drug as well as some expensive sessions. My question is “How can you improve your self esteem while you are focusing on what’s wrong with you?”
If I let traditional psychology reign in my life I would have to admit that I grew up in a family that was quite dysfunctional. I have had my share of upsets, grief, despair and depression. I failed at some things I set out to accomplish and made my share of bad judgments. Therefore, I am, perhaps, beyond help (just kidding).
Positive psychology – the new kid on the psychology block – asks the question, “What’s right about me? What are my strengths.” This leads you to a totally different set of conclusions about yourself and allows your self esteem to soar.
Ask yourself both sets of questions. What’s wrong with me and what’s right with me? What generates the most positive energy within you?
Neither my dysfunctional family nor my life upsets make me a failure or “less than.” I am still a work in progress and I refuse to wear a psychologist/psychiatrist’s label that limits me in any way. I’m not rich but consider myself highly successful. I’m no longer young and beautiful, lean and athletic or clothed in designer clothes. And I like me just fine. I have come to realize that I have a good mind and can use it creatively. I have friends and family that I love and they seem to feel the same about me. I have the things I need to feel safe and comfortable but I no longer need lots of “stuff” to make me feel good about myself. My body is much more ample than I like but it stays healthy most of the time and has very little pain or discomfort – it does what I need it to do. I can look back on some significant achievements, but putting them aside, I can still feel good about who I am. I am kind. I am considerate. I am generous. I like to laugh. Some days I feel a bit down and some days I feel indescribably joyful, What else could I possibly want or need? As a dear friend always says, “What’s not to love?”
What about you? What’s right about you? What are your strengths, talents, abilities? Be honest with yourself and find them all. Now, I ask you, what’s not to love?
Editor’s note: This article was first published in March of 2009. I thought it was time to look at it again. Irene