What is Self Esteem?
“Are you all that and a bag of chips?”…A humorous statement that epitomizes one who presents as overly-confident or arrogant. Their self esteem appears to error on the side of presenting a false sense of self, as well as portraying what may be perceived as arrogance. In reality, these individuals have little self esteem. We see them cover up their sense of being with sharp cars, clothes, jewelry, and materialistic items. Their garb, their environment, defines them. In reality, very few people are truly confident and secure with who they are. Why? They haven’t a clue who they are. We do know, scientifically, that the male brain does not completely mature until its late twenties. The ability to make judgments and sound decisions are inhibited. Women mature quicker in this realm, which might account partly for risk taking, injuries, and bad decision making between the sexes.
In reality, maturity and a secure sense of self only happens when a few factors come together. These are age, life experience, an ability to introspect, and a willingness to see the dark side of our personality. Those who suffer with a shattered self esteem and those who suffer with arrogance and narcissism have a very similar history. Both have a very poor sense of self and both have chosen to react differently to their past and their own trauma. The arrogant narcissist overcompensates, and becomes the “all that and a bag of chips.” The individual who is hindered by fear of moving forward at the workplace or at school also has a difficult time believing they are worth the trouble and does not believe they can accomplish much. Some constantly try to overachieve, desperately trying to find that approval they never got during that “critical period” while growing up.
Self help books thrive on this personality injury that the majority of us suffer with. Millions are made every year by authors of such books. We all want to find that magical answer that will mend the wounded soul. In reality, the soul was never really wounded. We were expecting some support, some love, and someone to believe in us. When that falls short during those critical years, we develop doubt, hyper-vigilance, and may even seek out fulfillment in others. This may lead to bad relationships -a repeat of what we experienced at a younger age- then inhibits us from any further self growth.
To gain any semblance of self esteem one must be with one’s self. One must stay with one’s self for a period of time, giving back to one’s self and recognizing what others see as shortcomings. This ability to have insight is what many therapists mean when they say, “You must like yourself before you can like someone else.” That sounds all warm, fuzzy and accurate, but how in the hell do we do that? We do that by recognizing it WILL NOT happen in a matter of months. It is a life-long path. Any expectations that are shorter than that will allow you to wallow in depression and want to give up. One must risk, fail, risk and fail again. Realize that being humble and admitting you do not know something gains much more respect than making up an answer. Realizing that shrouding yourself with gifts; new vehicles, new stereos, new clothes, and materialistic items are a delusion. Realize that anyone who ever meant something to you, most likely gave you a moral gift, an ethical gift of life, if you will. Realize that happiness, a true sense of inner happiness, comes from sharing laughter, sharing tears, and sharing a friendship. All of mankind posses these emotions, no matter what. Yes, this is nothing new. It has been said many different times and many different ways. So why has it not instilled change? We are creatures of habit and are fearful of change. We are comfortable with what we know. Even if it is harmful to us and hinders us from progressing. This is one reason why the battered woman who divorces the alcoholic frequently remarries another alcoholic. If we do not know anything different, we have a tendency to repeat the same pattern.
This is a very sad scenario for adults who remain alone or repeatedly find bad relationships. There is no learning process and many times the arrogance becomes so ingrained that they have passed the point of no return. These individuals will not improve. When someone reaches their fourth and fifth decade of life and has recurrent bad relationships, angry outbursts and/or distances themselves from family members, this usually means their shattered sense of self is so ingrained that there is no turning back. There is always the exception. Hope springs eternal, however, if you are dating someone like this, caution is advised.
A good self esteem, a good sense of self. Everyone wants it. Everyone is looking for it. Some think they have it, but few really want to work for it. Working for it has an enormous payoff. That elusive word, “Happiness.” I am not referring to the happiness that one experiences when giving a gift at Christmas or watching a stand-up comedian, but an internal happiness that one can rely on at a moments notice. Happiness that can be shared and given to the next generation by role modeling.
Watch this same behavior in animals. A puppy filled with joy, raised in an environment of care and love, will bounce along the path with face in the wind, tongue dangling, and willing to do anything for it’s owner. If that pup grows up being beaten down, hit, or with a lack of attention, it will have “learned helplessness.” The puppy has no desire, except to eat, sleep and wait for the next day. Their owner may come home to just a thump, thump of a tail against the floor as opposed to a genuine happiness. Yes, dogs develop a sense of confidence, a sense of happiness.
Self esteem. Dr. Phil makes a living on it, it is difficult to measure, we use the word way too often, and we ignore how severe the impact can be on our children. It is clearly carried into adulthood and can be rectified, but the want and desire to change must be there and one MUST try to give it it’s due diligence. Not just therapy once a week, a few self help books or dropping some money on an unorganized sweat ceremony. Crystals in Sedona will not enhance your self esteem, nor will this article. Only your want and desire to stop the same old path you have been walking will get you started. What is the best purchase to begin your new path? Go out and buy some good walking shoes. Allow them to carry you down a path -any path – as long as it is not the same one.
How does one improve Self Esteem?
Before improving our self esteem, one needs to come to an understanding it has taken a long time to arrive at your place in life. Your personality took years of enjoyable moments, traumatic moments, good and bad role modeling, an inundation of media, progress, and some destructive bad habits as well as some good. So, to improve upon your present situation is NOT something that will take a few months. Improvement of one’s self is literally a life long process. When this is understood your journey can begin with realistic goals, expectations, and the knowledge that perceptive failures by you and others will be an awesome learning process. Yes, failures. Failures are good, that my friend is how we learn. I had a fifteen-year-old patient who came in with her mother for a complaint of sore throat, and cough. Two times during the exam the mother stated, “My daughter is third in her class, she needs an antibiotic so she will not miss or be sick for finals.” After the second announcement of her daughters academic prowess I firmly stated,” I do not care if your daughter is a straight “A” student or is failing, I am here for her health.” Mother was clearly put off. This child is clearly driven by her mother, she sat on the exam table, hands clenched and anxious. What will be the effects on her self esteem over time? Time will tell. I am not claiming that trying, working for grades are not important; however in this case it clearly seemed more important to the mother than the student.
The journey, the experience, can be a learning experience, and an improvement on your true self, if you are open to it. So what does being “open to it” mean? It means the ability to introspect, and realize what is holding you back from improving. This can be described as a kind of out of body recognition of yourself when you interact with others. Listen to yourself, what are you trying to communicate, what visceral feeling do you get when someone is speaking with you? Do you become guarded, feel wounded, become defensive and feel that you may need to argue your point? Do you walk away speaking bad of that person with your spouse? To become someone with positive influence towards others, you must recognize how you become effected by your environment. Your self esteem will NEVER improve if you are not able to see your shortcomings.
Improving your sense of self becomes very difficult if you have narcissistic traits. This can be a very thick brick wall to break down. Please review Narcissistic Personality in Peace and Healing’s topics. The defended individual has been wounded so severely that to honestly look inside is too frightening and filled with too much pain. These individuals have a poor prognosis when it comes to improving any altruism or caring qualities.
For many though, improvement can be accomplished with dedication, and risking. One must risk new ventures, and one must look at their “Dark Side.” As Luke in Star Wars was repeatedly asked by his father, “Come to the Dark Side Luke.” In that deep baritone voice, with hoarse breaths, echoing through his dark mask between words. In reality Luke did look to the Dark Side, he had to see for himself what it was, what was his past. All of us MUST explore the dark side, and find out what we need to change. The rear view mirror in our car is for looking at approaching vehicles, we need to look at our past before we change lanes in life and before we proceed on a new path. When we do, we now know certain areas that have impacted us, and where we need to spend the most time focusing.
For myself I needed to see how my abuse clearly effected how I chose partners, and how I re-created a victim role. I allowed myself to be victimized if you will, even in adult life. I became a door mat, and had a pathological need to fix the wounded woman. This tore my self esteem apart over time. Marriages failed, and I ended up feeling like a failure. Our path, and life experience happens for a reason. Pay attention to small interactions, and how those interactions lead to positive or negative outcomes. If it was not for my poor judgment, I would not of sought out treatment, I would not of met the love of my life and I would not of stopped playing the victim role. That is change. That is how self esteem changes over time. This took many years for me to realize I can still give back, but I will not over extend myself at the expense of my “self.”
It is not easy. If it was there would be so many individuals that are self actualized that therapists would not exist. To fully have a running chance at self esteem improvement one must be open to many formats of treatment. Traditional therapy, medication, spirituality, philosophy, and alternative means of healing are all important avenues. One cannot close their mind to any possibility of benefit. Being open is actually a major part of improving your self esteem. Being closed minded will work against you at a frequent pace, and cause you to regress right back where you started. Be open, risk, prepare for failure, learn from your failure, realize life is a journey, the journey is the learning process, and begin to love life and you.