Way back when I was a “family therapist”, personal counselor or performance coach—yeah, different names, different audience but similar processes—I noticed some common patterns in people who sought third party “expertise” in solving their problems. The most noticeable were: on their list of “who’s to blame”, the same someone was always missing; someone was always to blame; they had no clear standards with which to compare themselves; they assumed that the public behavior of other families, couples or individuals was typical of their private lives; and of course, the corollary of the last point was “my life is worse than theirs.”
A well-known social media site has decided that from now on it will not publish how many people “liked” what people had posted on it because some posts attracted many more “likes” than others, thereby wounding the self-esteem of those whose posts were not much “liked.” From now on, the only person to know how many “likes” his post attracts will be the person who posted it. He will not be able to compare himself with others and will therefore be able to continue to think well of himself. “Thinking well of oneself.” Called self-esteem. Definition of self-esteem from Merriam-Webster: 1- a confidence and satisfaction in oneself. Synonyms for self-esteem: ego, pride, pridefulness, self-regard, self-respect. A more “psychological” definition from Psychology Today: Confidence in one’s value as a human being is a precious psychological resource and generally a highly positive factor in life; it is correlated with achievement, good relationships, and satisfaction. I would say there’s a very thin line between negative aspects of self-esteem—pridefulness, egotism—and the positive aspects—respect, confidence. The problem, as always, is beginning with “self”.
My personal favorite, the one which inspired this post, is not so much a definition as a commentary, by psychiatrist and writer Theodore Dalrymple: “A lack of self-esteem can be blamed for almost any human failing, from arrogance to self-effacement, from exaggerated risk-taking to cowardice, from drug-taking to puritanism. No patient ever complained to me that he had too much self-esteem and requested a treatment by which it might be reduced, though it is obvious that any self-esteem at all is too much; but many patients claimed that their problem was lack of self-esteem. What they usually meant by this was that they continued on the same self-destructive path despite their knowledge that it was self-destructive. They were complaining not of lack of self-esteem, as they thought they were, but of lack of courage.
“Self-esteem is a psychological, or pseudo-psychological, concept or characteristic; courage is a moral one. People much prefer to think that they are psychologically deficient rather than morally deficient; among other benefits, psychological deficiency turns their problem into a technical one that someone else should have the means to solve. But where does courage come from? It comes from the decision to exercise it and to take the consequences of having exercised it. It is true, of course, that many people have been constantly denigrated in their lives, told repeatedly that they cannot do this or that, and so forth, and seem to have absorbed the message; they behave as human doormats. But it is still courage that they need, not self-esteem, for the latter is a quality that is believed to be deserved irrespective of what a person does, almost as a human right. It is like the right to have an opinion irrespective of whether one knows anything about the subject on which it is an opinion, rather that the right to have an opinion on that subject because one has studied it and knows a great deal about it. Freedom of speech is a human right, but an opinion based upon knowledge is a locus standi.” He summarizes by writing “self-esteem is one of those psychological concepts by which we empty the world of moral meaning, hoping for a technical solution to our discontents—a world in which the number of likes is the measure of all things.” I agree. The opposite view, one I disagree with, is taken by the following, my comments in bold.
1stHolistic.com says this: The human race is exhibiting low self-esteem in epidemic proportions. Nearly everywhere you go, you see and hear signs of low self-esteem including people complaining, avoiding, or judging one another. It is time for people to begin recognizing where they may have low self-esteem and start believing in themselves in all areas of their lives. You mean like American students rating themselves as better in math than Korean students, when in reality they are nowhere close in performance? The following 10 symptoms of “low self-esteem” are assumed by the author to be the effects, rather than the cause of it. What if those behaviors are actually the cause?
1. Walking with your head down. If you’ve ever seen someone walking with his head pointed downwards, with his chin scraping the front of his body, then you have witnessed low self-esteem. How can you know that? There is no objective measure of self-esteem. This is typical psychobabble. Especially if they’re using a metal detector on the beach.
2. You don’t make and/or sustain direct eye contact with others. Someone who shifts his eyes about and/or is unable to make direct eye contact is communicating low self-esteem. Maybe, then again the other person may simply be ugly or sporting a huge wart on the nose.
3. You do not accept compliments well. “Oh no, not me”. Responding to a compliment with a statement of denial is another sign of low self-esteem. Isn’t it more often both a form of false modesty and a way of fishing for more compliments?
4. You apologize and feel guilty. If you say the words “I’m sorry” often, then you are apologizing for living. Apologizing a lot usually goes hand in hand with feeling guilty. Guilt is a major low self-esteem growth hormone. No idea pisses me off more than “guilt is a feeling.” No, it’s a judicial conclusion, either you are guilty or not guilty. What if the feeling we call guilt is more often our reaction to a failure to do the right things, or forswear doing the right things?
5. You get frustrated, impatient, or angry often. When you do not feel good about yourself, you tend to have very little patience with others. This is the worst, blaming your behavior on some immeasurable internal state. Those are bad habits which can yield to training of good ones.
6. You use negative, hopeless language. Low self-esteem seeps in to one’s daily language. Examples of negative, hopeless, low self-esteem language include phrases like: “It figures”, or “If something bad is going to happen, it will happen to me”, or “I’m only human”. A close second to #5 in the self justifying sweepstakes, don’t people substitute such phrases for the effort required to do better?
7. You are depressed. Chronic, pervasive, and extended bouts of low self-esteem are often precursors to depression. Cause effect reversal. Much if not most chronic, severe depression can be chemical or hormonal. I used to believe this one, but having lived with some seriously, chronically depressed people, including bipolar, I now disagree. Unfortunately, most people taking antidepressants are not clinically depressed, but unhappy and looking for a cure.
8. You take things personally. The lower your self-esteem, the more you will feel unsure of yourself. The more unsure you feel about yourself, the more apt you will be to take what other people say personally. This one is often close to the truth. People in my life who do that, and see that I never do, accuse me of being “unfeeling “. Why should I take anything personally?
9. You do not engage with others. Your lack of belief in yourself may motivate you to choose to hide away from reality or cloister yourself away from other living, breathing humans. The people store is a pain in the ass. How many of us normals would prefer less interaction if it weren’t required?
10. You do not take risks. Some people respond to low self-esteem by avoiding taking risks in their personal and professional lives. Some truth here, though more often those people will risk using a “preemptive strike” as a fallback.
In conclusion, your worldview is either moral or therapeutic. If you look at our world and despair of how idiotic it often seems, maybe what is needed is a return to a moral worldview. Whose morals you ask? That’s a complicated question. My worldview is Biblical. You can start by asking people you know what principles they subscribe to, then ask yourself, “whom would I rather spend time with?” It’s a start.