Self Esteem is for Nut-Heads

The particular advantage of having a WordPress blog is being provided daily statistics to help determine my readers’ interests.  This graphic representation of the highs and lows of my blogging adventure, at a glance, tells me when readers yawn, when they sit silent and when they applaud. For example, over the recent holidays I could tell my readers’ interests were elsewhere.  I could have written a detailed map leading to Blackbeard’s loot and not even a pirate would have bothered investigate.  Regardless, I was astonished to find a true treasure trove hidden in my trendy numbers. It seems each time I write about self-esteem there is a colossal spike of interest.

Shall we?

It may be that when I talk about self-esteem, I try to wring the life from it.  This at a time when to question the unparalleled value of self-esteem on emotional health borders on blasphemy. It is my best judgment, however, that the modern- day concept of self-esteem has been grossly distorted, socially mismanaged and left entirely unregulated.

I find the same phenomenon has occurred with the word gender, which has somehow come to mean biological sex.  The word gender was never intended to have such a strong connection to the word sex.  It was, however, intended to describe a psychological mindset defining one’s notion of masculinity and femininity. The word is now used to avoid the word sex, replaced instead with the word gender which is, apparently, more delicate–sounding.  The problem is, the mismanagement of the word gender has entirely distorted its use in its original context. Like the word gender, self-esteem has become like a paste, or a layer of concrete, used not to enlighten us, but to protect us from from reality.

Personally, I am more inclined to weigh my own human value using less of a buffer and a bit more clarity.

Well then.

When the imaginative concept of self-esteem was first introduced to the world in the early to mid 1960s, people benefited a great deal from it.  The term was intended to celebrate the revolutionary idea that humans are an amalgamation of flawed, less flawed and nearly flawless characteristics.  Where prior to the concept of self-esteem our personal rating system was held against the strict, singular standard of success and failure, perfect and imperfect, the self-esteem movement offered an alternative to labeling oneself the sum total of h/er most recent failings.  The idea that we could be a combination of traits, good and not so good, all at the same time, was revolutionary!  People, it seems, as long as they lived, according to the original idea of self-esteem, were each works in progress and, therefore, wholly unratable – especially where children were concerned.

We should have stayed there.

Our modern use of the term self-esteem is not only utterly hopeless in its regard for children, it is at odds with a number of other widely held, entwined social constructs.  For example, parenting, for the most part, is a system of teaching children right from wrong, good from bad, best from better.   Children are supported in these lessons through appraisal and the subjective opinion of ostensibly knowledgeable adults.

“Am I good?”

Yes dear.  You’re a good, good boy!”

“She didn’t play as good as I did.”

“Yes dear.  She’s a bad, bad girl.”

“Yes.  She is bad and I am good.”

“Stay good dear. I don’t manage well when you’re bad.”

“I will.  I promise.”

As children grow and learn, their audience grows larger and includes, among others, teachers and peers.  Adolescence and young adulthood is a period of judging oneself against an often harshly narrow social standard. Adolescents respond, as expected, by assessing their social competence against an externally driven appraisal system that is limited to either good or bad.  Why not? During childhood, there is very rarely a single moment in the child’s social education dedicated to developing anything but an external focus for their personal value.

“Everyone says I’m fat and stupid and lazy.”

“Oh that’s not true. You have a pretty face.  You are also good at cheese carving.  You just need to boost your self-esteem. Let’s make a list.  You’re just going to have to learn to stop listening to everyone. What matters most is how YOU see yourself.  Ignore everything else!”

This period of early human development is the start of the life-long struggle that most of us continue to experience every day.  We have not been trained, nor have we taken the time to manage our personal value using any other system of measurement than good or bad, derived from external opinion.

And here lies the foundation for my idea that the original, very innovative idea of self-esteem has been bastardized.  We are left with the notion that in order to have healthy self-esteem we must think of ourselves as perfectly good IN THE FACE OF CLEARLY CONTRADICTORY EVIDENCE.  In truth, each of us holds within us a psychological and genetic makeup that is a mixture of strengths and weaknesses.

To live outside that knowledge is to live as a free-range nut-head.

And so, we are left with no alternative but to abandon this out-of-date idea of self-esteem and replace it with the more modern concept of self- and other-acceptance.  We might begin our own journey by telling ourselves: “I can accept myself even though I am not perfect, good, better or best.  And, because I can accept myself as imperfect, I can accept that you are not perfect either!”

It will take the strength of will to do this.


11 responses

  1. Pingback: I Am Good Because I Am Smart |

  2. Bravo Doctor!! I agree with you. The conception of “good & “Bad” are false values. Accepting the pretty and the ugly within our bodies and on the outside is really about accepting our authentic selves.
    I had the fortunate experience of chronic illness causing me to take a real personal inventory, As a child part of good was being well, not with illness. I had to wrestle with this when in 1984 I was slammed by a physical illnesses. That was when my excavation of myself began.

    You have maybe one of the most interesting and thought provoking blog on WP. I will enjoy getting to you further through your words here.
    Thank you kind sir for following alone with mine as well.
    Isn’t life fascinating?

  3. From the title, I didn’t think I would like this post, but you are right on.

    I admit I am guilty of blurring self-esteem and perfection in my blogs. I will be more careful to clarify in the future. You are quite right that we must learn to accept (an try to improve on when possible) our imperfections.

    I truly like the idea of replacing the term self-esteem with self-acceptance.

    Thank you for a most intelligent and thought-provoking post. Look forward to more.

  4. Pingback: My Blissful Imperfect Self |

  5. Pingback: My Blissfully Imperfect Self |

  6. Pingback: Hello, My Name Is « Mental Health Food

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s