Psychologists have found that self-esteem goes along with being confident and assertive, having good physical health, and pleasing relationships. Yet some people have low self-esteem. They feel bad about themselves. What do you think of yourself? Are you pleased with who you are or ashamed? When someone makes critical remarks about you, is it water off a duck’s back or do you fold inwardly?
How can one feel better about oneself? The answer depends on who you are.
A way for those feeling low self-esteem
Many people with low self-esteem may not necessarily think they are `worthless’ but nevertheless they do feel as if they do not matter much and have little to offer. As a child you may have had somewhat critical parents and taken on board their repeated judgments about you. Perhaps you rushed home from school proudly telling mum or dad `I came second in class’ only to be asked about who came first. How crushed a child would feel — especially if the parents found it hard to express warmth and affection.
If we have a poor sense of self-worth, we often experience an inner voice unfairly criticising our thoughts and actions.
This voice makes snap judgments and jumps to conclusions merely on the basis of superficial information. It prevents us from trying new things and puts us down. It compares us unfavourably with other people and attributes any success we may have merely to chance. Our failures are only to be expected. If we interpret what we do as a failure, then it is a short jump to saying `I am a failure’.
Cognitive-behavioural counselling might help those who are able to learn to recognise this unhelpful voice, challenge it and find more realistic habits of thought.
A way for those feeling low self-esteem
Repeated abuse, whether verbal, emotional, physical or sexual, drums in a message that the child is inherently bad, and deserving of punishment. If this was your experience of childhood why not try to get some in-depth psychodynamic counselling to explore the roots of your problem? You can be helped to see past experience through the eyes of an adult and find a more realistic and coherent narrative about yourself. You can’t change the past but you might be able with professional help to come to terms with it and learn to move on.
Self-esteem for Christians
If you are a Christian and do not feel good about yourself, you may be wary of self-esteem as promoting too much self-centredness or disguising the need for God. The trouble is a punitive idea of God is still around and some Christians have felt what they believe to be their basic sinful human nature deserves his condemnation.
If your relationship with God is undermining you then perhaps you could ask whether your image of God is at fault and needs ditching in favour of one that makes more sense. Why not replace him with a God who is not harsh like the one depicted in the Old Testament, and not one with anger appeased by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
An alternative religious view sees us as being neither inherently good nor bad, instead, being born with both positive and negative inclinations. We recognise in the baby’s ignorance of right and wrong an innocence of all blame. We are surrounded by a complex interweaving of problematic situations, interpersonal difficulties and social wrongs that influence our behaviour. We cannot be personally responsible for everything that is wrong in life. We need to distinguish between unrealistic and realistic guilt.
According to this view, the justice of God can only hold us accountable for the things we intentionally do believing them to be wrong.
Self-esteem for the spiritual sensitive person
I would say to the spiritually sensitive person that feeling good about what you do is very different from feeling you are good. We can humbly acknowledge that all that we achieve that is good in our lives is due to a spiritual force which is greater than we ourselves.
Paradoxically the result of this is that we would experience a greater sense of worth. We would see that all the worthwhile things we do is a result of being a willing channel for the power of divine love and wisdom.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems