We all have struggled with self-esteem issues at some point in our lives. Our perception of our own competence gets skewed. We start questioning our worth and believing in a lesser version of ourselves. A rollercoaster ride with emotions comes as a part and parcel of being human. Doubting our own selves is a natural outcome of the pressure to be the best when all we have to do is accept our unique selves and keep growing.
I am a writer with Inspire the Mind and other magazines and today we shall explore facets of self-esteem. Is it embedded in our genetic coding? Is it overrated? Does cultural upbringing have a role to play? Are there any ways to work around it?
Who, me? Self-esteem?
Self-esteem is mostly a situational trait that develops as the child grows up. As you would expect, parents and guardians have a significant influence on self-esteem; unconditional love, care and support from parents who allow their kids to voice their opinion from the early stages of their life help them develop a stable sense of being. Then, these feelings translate later into healthy self-esteem.
But a lack of these factors is not the only cause behind low self-esteem. It may emerge due to other adverse situations in life as well — a personal loss, a series of rejections, belief systems, social media, perceived emotional and physical well-being, or serious illness, to name a few.
“Self-esteem is made up primarily of two things: feeling lovable and feeling capable.” — Jack Canfield
Is it possible that we are born with the self-dislike gene?
While the Tabula Rasa theory, supported by great thinkers and psychologists, that we all are born blank slates and that our characters develop over time, shaped by our families and the societal environment we grow up in, UCLA life scientists identified a particular gene’s link to self-esteem, optimism, and a sense of mastery.
Before we blame genes, scientists would like you to know that genes may predict behaviour but do not determine it.
What would happen if you help a butterfly to get out of the chrysalis? Most probably, it won’t be able to fly. It must struggle out on its own and go through the whole process so it can spread its wings and not fall on the ground. That’s how our journey is. The tough environments and struggles were a part of what determined our life path and transformed us into the wonderful human being that we are today.
The aim is not to have ‘a lot of’ self-esteem but just ‘enough’. Just enough to help us to trust ourselves and take the next step even when it’s foggy ahead. Just enough to make our inner voice whisper confidently ‘whatever it is, I can face and cope with it.’
Many studies have concluded a link between a spiritual belief system and healthy self-esteem. Perhaps it is because it provides perspective on how everything is interlinked and the unique role of our existence.
Too little or too much, both can create issues.
I heard a real-life instance where a mother of an eight-year-old expressed how she went overboard in praising her kid, telling him he’s the best in everything, thinking it would be healthy to do so. One day, the kid played piano at home as usual while everyone was busy with their own chores. The kid had a huge meltdown demanding everyone to clap. Unknowingly and unintentionally, the parents created a mindset of seeking validation when self-esteem simply means the opposite. No one is at fault here. It’s a fragile line and at times, we have to correct the needle of self-esteem ourselves when we grow up.
Also, parents aren’t supposed to be perfect.
There is a stark cultural difference when it comes to understanding or applying the significance of self-esteem. For instance, Asian culture eldersmight give you a raised eyebrow and a look of disapproval if you tell them the ways to build self-esteem in kids. Childhood is a championship race.
The only therapy they believe in is discipline. Lenora Chu, in her book, ‘Little Soldiers’ explains this difference in great detail. Times are changing of course, and new-age parents understand the significance, but the percentage of these remains less.
Researchers from the London School of Economics and CWR University figured out discrepancies between high self-esteem scores and poor social skills. This led them to consider that self-esteem might be overrated and at times might be the culprit. They concluded that people with low self-esteem may do just as well in life as people with high self-esteem. In fact, they may do better, because they often try harder.
There were interesting results published by Roy Baumeister in Stanford Social Innovation Review 2005. Self-esteem doesn’t make people nice or popular. Instead, people with high self-esteem run a greater risk of thinking “Wow, they loved me,” when others are thinking “What a narcissistic jerk!”
The new research rejected the earlier popular claim by the psychologist Nathaniel Branden who stated that every psychological problem — from anxiety and depression to fear of intimacy or success, to spouse battery or child molestation — is traced back to the problem of low self-esteem”. The paper, ‘Rethinking self-esteem’, also specified no correlation or at times, the opposite correlation between the use of alcohol, drugs, violence, and self-esteem issues.
There is no one sure-shot way to address self-esteem issues but, surely, it can be raised by working on ourselves and increasing the dose of self-care.
Rejections aren’t a question on your abilities but a compatibility error. Comparisons have no end. Know that no one has it all together. Social media is a façade. It’s your living room where everything is kept tidy for display. The dishevelled cupboards and the insecure shelves are kept hidden. Life is not meant to be conquered, just to be lived in all its emotional capacities.
Try therapy if you feel a support system is required until you can walk without help. Learn a new skill that provokes your interest; it’s a good way to help esteem that’s dented due to certain let-downs in life.
Apart from various intervention-based therapies that show results when done by a skilled psychiatrist, there is a Japanese response-based therapy called Morita therapy that personally gels well with me. It is based on the premise that all emotions — even negative ones — are a part of the human experience and they guide us to live a more authentic life by helping us grow and develop by accepting emotions and seeking a balance.
Begin with the journey of self-awareness and liking the person you see in the mirror. What you believe, would be your worth.
To a better version of us!