The Issue of Self Esteem

Self esteem is a natural psychological and emotional quality for a healthy ego. When we have a healthy lifestyle, a good work life balance, and meaningful personal and professional relationships, we feel fulfilled and self esteem comes easily. But the quest for self esteem can sometimes be misguided.

Common to low self esteem is negative self talk as both a cause and an effect. While self belief is essential and positive self talk very helpful, they can also hinder when used to battle with the negative self talk. The result is that we are engaged in a battle with ourselves which cannot be won, and must perpetuate low self esteem.

Inseparable from the issue of self esteem is comparing ourselves to others. This causes us to use others to judge ourselves and keep us away from authentic relating. If we are gaining self esteem from feeling higher or better than others, we are most likely trying to cope with a narcissistic wound. This is also the case when we feel less than others. Neither stance allows us the freedom to authentically be ourselves. And so there is often a good reason for our negative self talk. It is a way of coping with suffering but without really addressing the suffering. We may not even know what it is or why we are suffering.

Carl Jung stressed the importance of working with the shadow side of the human psyche. He said that “the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.” Essential to healthy self esteem is self acceptance, self care, self love and self appreciation. Self acceptance enables us to befriend aspects of ourselves that we would rather get rid of. The attempt to get rid of parts of ourselves creates an inner separation, a dissociative gap which produces anxiety.

Self appreciation helps us to know our own worth. Essential to self appreciation is self care and having healthy relational boundaries where we make sure that we have the time to take care of our own needs. Michelle Obama said that “we need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own to do list.” Many feel unworthy of this level of self attention, which is often a defence against allowing the humility it might take to fully appreciate life.

Self love is neither narcissistic nor selfish. It is essential for healthy relationships because we cannot give to others what we will not give to ourselves. It helps us to recognise equality.

Although much of our issues with self esteem seem to have their roots in childhood when our basic need to be seen, heard and valued for who we are have not been met, there is however a deeper level to our issues of self esteem; that being the spiritual level – the Self or essential Being that is beyond esteem. According to all spiritual traditions, at this level we are free, and in our freedom we feel safe, secure and certain – beyond doubt, because we are beyond question. However, we must be careful that we don’t try to find this level as a way of bypassing psychological wounding. This is commonly known as spiritual bypassing and leads to dissociation. Contact with the essential Being frees us from any need to esteem ourselves, and may also reveal wounding that needs acceptance, care, attentiveness and healing.

If you are suffering from low self esteem and would like help and support, please call 020 8780 9449 or use the contact form.