Whether or not you have healthy self-esteem will directly determine your ability to love, celebrate, and cherish the people in your life. It will directly determine how you think and feel about everyone else around you, even strangers.
That doesn’t seem to make any sense!
Too many of us believe that having healthy self-esteem will make us selfish and conceited, but the very opposite is true. For this to make sense I think we need to define some terms.
Self-Esteem/Self-Worth is how you feel about yourself – about who you are as a person. In healthy self-esteem our value comes from our existence. We are born with it. We are valuable just because we are human. That means I can make mistakes, not be good at something, or not look like what our culture holds up as beautiful, and my value is unchanged. When we have healthy self-esteem we are able to hold a position called “same-as.” I have the “same-as” value as you. I am no better. I am no worse.
Unhealthy self-esteem comes in two forms. Low self-esteem or a sense of shame, and high self-esteem or a sense of grandiosity. Low self-esteem holds a position called one-down. Other people are better than me, look better than me, have better things than me. High self-esteem holds a position of one-up. I’m better than everyone else around me, and I will freely judge them for their failings.
Probably most of you reading this struggle on the low end of this continuum. We live in a one-down position, and if we wander into one-up it’s only to make us feel better in the moment. If I am judging you, then in that moment I feel just a little bit better about myself.
Healthy self-esteem is a tricky thing to achieve. We are constantly being reminded by social media, magazines, TV, and random people looking all cute at Target that we don’t measure up. Maybe we grew up in a family where our parents sent us the message that we weren’t good enough, or maybe we got the message that we were the best thing since sliced bread and no one could compare to us. Maybe we were bullied in school. There are so many things that can knock us off that small center of holding onto our value as a human being. But if you can get there, it is so worth it. There is freedom in healthy self-esteem. There is freedom for you, but there is also freedom for the people you love.
Here are some of the dangers of unhealthy self-esteem:
- Everything becomes a competition. If I place my value in what I do, what I look like, what I own, it becomes very difficult for me to celebrate the successes of those around me. Their successes feel like my failures. They feel like one more way I am not measuring up.
- We can only feel good about ourselves if others feel good about us. If that’s true then I can’t let you have your feelings, because they are threatening to me. I have to manipulate and control my relationships to maintain my ability to feel good. That could be by doing things that look really good on the outside like voluteering for every committee or ministry opportunity, but if our motivation is to feel better about ourselves it will never feel like enough.
- We can’t say no. All other areas of health flow out of our ability to love ourselves and hold our value as within us unrelated to external things. If I am constantly worried about winning the approval of others, then I can’t say no even if it is the right thing for myself or my family.
- We are judgemental. I know this one seems crazy, because it would seem that people who struggle with low self-esteem would be the least judgemental people there are, but when we can’t hold onto “same-as” then we can’t gift it to other people either. We are constantly walking through life evaluating where we stand in relation to other people. Are they better than us? Are we better than them? It’s absolutely exhausting.
No one is perfect. You will hear me say that in almost every blog post I write. No one is perfect. Perfection is not even the goal. The search for perfection is a way to get to the one-up. We don’t like feeling one-down, and one-up feels like the only other option.
Holding tightly to our true value as human beings – the value that resides in all of us is not easy. We are often fighting against years of conditioning to believe that we are not enough. But there is hope. I tell my clients to start with just noticing when they are going one-up or one-down. Pay attention to why that is happening, where it is happening, when it is happening. Are there any patterns? A question I ask all the time is, “What do you notice about that?” You can’t fix a problem that is undiagnosed.
Then comes the tricky part, actually growing in your self-esteem. Treatment is almost always more difficult than diagnosis. For me some of this has come with age and maturity, but the biggest impact on my ability to stay in that same-as center of the continuum has been leaning into God’s love for me. The more that I connect with the unconditional love of the God who created me, then the more I am able to hold onto that core of value INSIDE of me – that core that can’t be touched by outside mistakes, failures, and disappointments.
Doing my own therapy has also helped. It has been invaluable to walk through past or current hurts in my life with a professional with the distance and wisdom to help heal those old hurts.
If you can’t go to therapy, I once again have a book recommendation. Any of the books I recommended in last weeks post, which you can get to by clicking here would be really helpful. I have also personally been helped by:
What is the hardest thing for you when it comes to staying in the center with your self-esteem? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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