According to Merriam Dictionary self-esteem means: a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.
Any person with a healthy mentality then should have high self-esteem, right? Then why is that so many people struggle with self (or professionally) proclaimed self-esteem?
In a competitive society in order to feel good about yourself you can get the feeling that you need to be better than everyone else in order to be satisfied with yourself. Your inner critic really beats you up when you mess up.
In a modest society, if you’re striving to be more modest, well it can lead to the same self-criticisms when you aren’t meeting your ideal.
It can be difficult to feel confident and satisfied when you are never achieving an ideal.
Of course there are many other reasons that can lead to low self-esteem, but I believe instead of striving for self-esteem, we should instead aim for self-compassion and acceptance of ourselves as we are.
This doesn’t mean we don’t continue to improve ourselves. As humans we strive for challenge and achievement, peace and ease, and enjoyment. Part of enjoying life is striving for self-actualization.
Along that path though we are going to mess up. WE ARE HUMAN! And what we need to keep us going is a good friend who will tell us what we need to hear, and do it in an encouraging, kind manner. Whether you have a friend like that or not, you should be that friend to yourself!
That’s why I believe striving for high self-esteem is so overrated. Besides it being nearly impossible to always feel confident and satisfied with yourself in this human condimtion, modern psychological research has shown that striving for this high standard can lead to disadvantageous and serious mental health problems such as depression and narcissism. Now, you may be thinking narcissists think only about how great they are. Well, as much as they may talk about themselves as being all that in public, narcissists actually have very low self-esteem.
So what’s the solution to this constant strife for an ideal? Well, let’s start with compassion for ourselves.
As Dr. Neff describes in her book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself (#CommissionsEarnedThankYouForYourSupport), she explains that self-compassion allows us to accept ourselves in all our messy complexity as human beings and enjoy life more. We can not just quiet the inner critic, whose job it is to help protect us from all kinds of dangers (including social rejection), we can be compassionate to her and thank her for doing her job while also asking her to be more kind.
If striving for high self-esteem has left you feeling alone, arrogant, or down on yourself, then why not try something that modern science has shown to make you happier? There is a lot more in Dr. Neff’s book, but here are some affirmations to help you be kinder to yourself right now:
- I am human.
- It’s okay to make mistakes.
- I celebrate being alive in this universe in all my complexity and wonder.
- I love and accept myself exactly as I am.
There is much more to being kind to yourself. Check out Dr. Neff’s book and see for yourself what a little kindness to all the parts of you can do for your life.