From My Bookshelf – Day 60
The Problem of Low Self-Esteem
We therapists talk a lot about self-esteem—how to raise it, how it impacts behavior and choices, where it comes from—but I’m not sure we define it clearly for ourselves or our clients. By my definition, and at risk of stating the obvious, self-esteem is the ability of a person to see himself or herself in a realistic, positive light; to see limits that protect his or her boundaries; to form meaningful, reciprocal relationships; and to trust both head and heart.
A person with low self-esteem sees himself or herself in negative terms. For example, women often value themselves more for body shape and looks than for their internal qualities. We’re not here to tackle these demons—volumes have been written on this subject. But, put simply, when we value the package more than the contents, that’s low self-esteem. Furthermore, when we believe other people value the package more than the contents and then we act accordingly by obsessing over being thin enough, young enough, or pretty enough, that’s even lower self-esteem.
Sometimes people who have low self-esteem give just the opposite impression. They may brag about accomplishments or inflate their own importance. They might also attack others verbally with criticism or devaluing. People whose self-esteem is low often compare superficial traits and possessions to make themselves feel more powerful or richer or better. What they do not do is accept themselves or others.
People who have high self-esteem aren’t threatened by the achievements, accomplishments, possessions, physical attributes, or assets of other people. They don’t judge, and they accept others unconditionally. When they talk about their own accomplishments or achievements, they keep them in perspective without diminishing other people. People with healthy self-esteem make appropriate emotional connections with other people. Those relationships are clearly defined, emotionally available, head- and heart-connected. People with healthy self-esteem also trust their heads and their hearts. They have the ability to recognize truth and honesty in others and are able to be truthful and honest themselves.
Perhaps one of the most central features of healthy self-esteem, however, is the ability to set boundaries. Good boundaries are integral to good relationships and, conversely, bad boundaries make for terrible relationships.
Bryn C. Collins — Emotional Unavailability (pp. 67-68)
Low self-esteem is something we can easily spot in certain people. Other people seem to hide it well and it only comes out in specific situations. Then there are others still who never appear to struggle with low self-esteem.
However, I’m amazed when someone I assume has boatloads of self-esteem sheepishly admits they don’t. On the outside they appear to have all the confidence in the world—they aren’t cocky or overcompensating—yet, they admit they often struggle with low self-esteem.
I’ve noticed my self-esteem wavers depending on the situation I’m in and the people I’m around. When I was a younger, I struggled quite regularly even when I appeared I was fine. I led with confidence in most situations even though I may have been scared to death inside. The more I applied myself to my own growth and development, the less I have struggled with low self-esteem. I basically spent years in therapy and read hundreds of books to get where I am now. It certainly didn’t happen overnight.
Something shifted for me when I didn’t have to be “perfect” anymore. The world conditions us to assume we have to appear perfect in every situation otherwise we’re a complete joke. We put all kinds of pressure on ourselves to give this public perception that we’ve got our crap all figured out. But, in most cases, everyone is simply doing the best they can with the tools they were given.
Something else I have noticed about myself is the healthier my self-esteem got, the easier it was for me to set healthy boundaries. Understanding what I need in all my relationships in order to be healthy allows me to focus on my own half of the relationship—that’s the only half I have any control over anyways. Just like Collins said, “Perhaps one of the most central features of healthy self-esteem, however, is the ability to set boundaries. Good boundaries are integral to good relationships and, conversely, bad boundaries make for terrible relationships.”
By the way, just as the cover shows, the many characters in this book who are emotionally unavailable will leave you astounded. If you can get your hands on this book sometime I would highly recommend it. I saw a lot of myself described in the pages of this book; and I saw plenty of other people I know as well.
Have a blessed day.
Peace and Love,