Monday, November 20, 2017

The Problem with Self-Esteem

As a traditionalist and somewhat of a cynic, I have been confused by and questioned the whole modern idea of self-esteem.

The truth is, even within the scientific community, the notion of self-esteem seems ambiguous. What does it mean? Put simply, self-esteem is another term for self-respect, confidence, and even dignity. Assertiveness training is a term I ran into while researching self-esteem. Being assertive means you’re willing to stand up and be counted, not that you insist on being the first in line.

Having a strong sense of self means you are willing to accept the risk of expressing yourself and humbly, even calmly, standing by your word, your opinions, and your principles.
It seems that to have healthy self-esteem, one first needs a sturdy belief system. You can’t defend your principles and standards if you don’t have any.

Those who report a healthy self-respect tend to benefit from happier, stronger relationships and  enjoy more promotions and commendations at work. One of the benefits of building self-confidence is the demand it places on others to respect you. Others tend to treat you with dignity if you are seen to defend your own dignity first. Standing to defend your own values requires specific standards of good, better, and best, because only with a strong sense of good can you recognize wrong and develop a sense of honor, duty, and sacrifice. Having a grounded sense of who you are and what is expected of you provides a steady supply of endurance in hardship and through difficult times.

Failing to stand up for yourself and your beliefs can leave you with a sense of loss that can make you even less assertive in the future. Those with low self-respect tend to lose hope easily, give up easily, have overwhelming fear of failure, experience a great deal of tension and anxiety, and are highly defensive when critiqued or receive negative feedback.

Many experts suggest building self-esteem through changing the inner-voice, the one that tells you unhelpful, over-critical, arbitrary things that cut into your courage, confidence, and self-care. I find, though, that repeating mantras and saying nice things to yourself is barely even a bandaid to the deep issues that poor self-respect comes from.

There seem to be two genuine causes for poor self-esteem.

The first one is unconditional love or mother-love, basic trust, as psychologists call it. Unfortunately, this primal love can’t be replicated by teachers and caregivers, as hard as many noble teachers try. Teachers teach, support, demand, guide, and reprimand, but they cannot provide that first and foundational building block of basic trust that every child requires from their parents. Parents that fail to build a sturdy structure of family culture which a child relies on during childhood, and carries with him when he leaves, starts their adolescents out in life with far more questions than answers. “Where do I stand? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? Does it matter that people don’t like me?” These are good questions, but if you don’t trust where you came from, it’s much more difficult to find your purpose and your value.
It is essential that parents work to provide unchanging structure at home. Kids rarely like it while growing up, but they will use it and it will become a guide to them as they find their way. They won’t need to start from scratch and walk blindly through their teens and twenties and beyond wondering if right and wrong have changed. They won’t follow friends off of a cliff, so to speak, because their parents have given them roots.

The second cause of poor self-esteem is lack of real accomplishment. I can tell you right now, my opinions on this may not be popular. I believe the prevalent idea of everyone winning is destroying children's (and therefore adults) sense of self. It is wrecking our basic construct of justice that begins at nine months old when we first recognize ourselves in a mirror. The next step after our first step is a strong sense of justice. “Thats mine!” Of course, for a toddler, the senses may be off a bit because not everything you like is “yours”, and there are other important rules to learn like kindness and courtesy. However, when children are given medals which they did not earn, it is teaching them that they don’t have to excel, they needn’t even work hard, to be rewarded. This is actually a lie and results in a type of environment which is a lethal and fragile combination of arrogance and ignorance. There is no excellence to be found within this unjust system. Children do not grow respect for their leaders in this atmosphere of arbitrary good feelings and injustice. Children have a natural sense of justice, and being raised in schools, homes and, increasingly, workplaces, where the feelings of the individual are paramount, the world turns inside out.

In athletics the good of the team is number one. Essentially, everyone together is number one. Those who underperform are putting the team at risk, and should either be benched or removed from the the team. This individual has a choice. They can quit trying or they can work harder. It may not be the sport for them. No harm in a child trying different things until they find something that they like.

In a family, and marriage, the unity comes first. This requires each member to lay aside their own desires for the good of the family or the union. It is the only way to win at sports, marriage, and life. Self-sacrifice. The most confidence-building thing in my life has been my husband’s unwavering, unchanging devotion to our family. He gives his all for us, and it makes me want to give all for us too. He puts me before him, and us before me, as it should be. It keeps me standing up day after day. Today, happiness has trumped holiness, and therein lies the heart of the issue. People can’t move as one and achieve great things because they seek first their own happiness. After all, that is what they were taught by receiving a last place medal.

Since we can’t go back to childhood, choose our parents, and change the way we were raised, how can we start from where we are now and build a stronger sense of self?

  1. Acknowledge your flaws. Sorry, no one is “enough”. We need to change. We need to improve, we need to love more, give more, sacrifice more for the family and stranger, alike.
  2. For those of us that only see flaws, acknowledge your strengths. The inner-voice of low self-esteem is notoriously negative, and most often a big fat liar. Identify the truths and the lies. Talk to a counselor if you can’t find your way alone through the unreasonable, unuseful, dishonest self-talk. Find the true achievements you’ve made in your life and allow yourself to celebrate them.
  3. Stay humble. Remember that true, humble, honest self-worth is never built on something which itself is flawed and weak, like another person’s good opinion. What others think will always be important to us, on some level, and that shouldn’t be denied. Pleasing others plays a part in the maintenance of peace. But your personal value was built in by a passionate creator and your purpose fixed with perfection. Perfection exists only in the Person of Jesus Christ, and he is the perfect and essential standard. Attempting to build a healthy self-esteem outside of the context of God’s perfect order leads to a fragile ego, or worse, selfishness and self-obsession.  
  4. Serve others. Many people who do not know God find peace, purpose, and a healthy sense of fulfillment within His perfect order by serving others and purposefully sacrificing for the good of others.
  5. Everything isn’t your fault. Stop taking responsibility for other people's mistakes. (Moms, ehem). This practice causes more harm than good to these people and yourself. Allow others to carry their own burdens. As lifters can tell you, it’s only through increasing weight-loads that we get stronger. I know it’s difficult, but it’s okay for your children to hurt, feel rejected, lose, and fail. They become stronger, and so do you. Be there to comfort and support and love them, don’t be the crutch that they use to keep themselves from true healthy growth and achievement. This only perpetuates the cycle of damaging self-esteem.
  6. Don’t let your failures define you. Get to the heart of the issues that keep you from success. Actually say, “My failures will not define me.” Ask for forgiveness and boldly stand upon your missteps to get closer to the person you are working to become.
  7. Fearlessly let go of all the things that you’ve not been given to control. Focus completely on the trials and challenges that are yours.
  8. Set realistic goals. Nothing is more deflating than trying and failing again and again because your goals were unrealistic. You then blast yourself with a barrage of self-loathing and name-calling for failing again, where, in reality, all you need is better goal-setting skills. Goal Setting
  9. Find out what you believe. So many people don’t know what they believe concerning God and the spiritual reality. As a result of this distracted indecision, as many don’t realize, they are set adrift on a sea of reaction and frustration, tethered to nothing, and trodden on by circumstance and stronger personalities. They can’t be certain, can’t tell right from wrong, only repeat things they’ve heard others say, develop fear of the unknown, fear of confrontation, and even fear of quality conversation. Never stop seeking truth. It is first and foremost the way to “know thyself.”
  10. Love your family unconditionally. Especially if you’ve had a difficult childhood, stop the cycle of turbulence and anger in your family. Work to create a solid haven for your children. Equip them with beautiful and strong traditions that they can turn to and stand upon when they need guidance in their own lives.
  11. Get strong. Begin habits in your life that bring real achievement and a strong sense of accomplishment. Every time you workout you’ve one more small victory. These add up and result in building your self-esteem. A strong body gives a strong mind momentum. It encourages boldness, courage, and a belief in your own capabilities. Essentially, getting progressively, physically stronger tells you, without a doubt, that you have been given power, choice, and ability to make real, effective, lasting changes in yourself and the world around you. Fitness is the best way to discover what difficult and amazing things you are capable of. A fitness habit builds within ourselves and within our children strong character, mental endurance and fortitude, self-control, and self-mastery. There are no better, accessible tools for building strong self-esteem.

The best thing we can do for ourselves and our kids is to develop habits that support a strong and real sense of self and purpose. Knowledge of self-worth has its primal roots in familial and societal units. God speaks to us through the order of these units. They are for us. Find ways to build your home-life into a place of certainty, order, and solid traditions. The foundation of self-esteem lies in knowing where you come from and where you are going. True self-esteem is in part earned and in part instilled in you from a young age.

As an adult, focus on moving forward, one step at a time, toward the things you want to achieve. Experiment, take chances, practice gratitude, healthy habits, and help others along the way.

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