The Self-Esteem Series: Part One
Ah, self-esteem. Only over the last few years have I consciously started to pay attention to what constitutes this illusive beast. When I was younger, I would hear about self-esteem as something that was either high or low. On a surface level, I understood this to mean that confident folks had high self-esteem whereas unconfident folks were on the lower side of the scale. Besides that, I never really gave it much thought.
Turns out there’s much more to it.
My personal experiences of self-esteem have tended to be on the lower end of the spectrum. Of course, there are moments when it feels higher, but they usually don’t last for very long. As someone who has low self-esteem, I obviously want to increase it. I mean, everything around me seems to point to high self-esteem as being the bee’s knees way to be. But I could never quite nail down the answers to a few questions that seemed to impede my journey for the higher road; what exactly is self-esteem and how does one increase it?
“Self-Esteem is the immune system of consciousness.”
When I read the statement mentioned above in Nathaniel Branden’s book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, I was shook. Never had I ever thought of self-esteem in such a way. It seemed so complex yet I understood its significance immediately.
What does it mean though? As Branden articulates, self-esteem is the invisible mechanism that regulates how we experience ourselves and our realities. Kind of like how our immune system keeps us safe from sickness or fights colds and flus when we catch them, our self-esteem functions as a tool to combat internal and external threats and governs our sense of self.
If you have high self-esteem, you could experience something negative like a job loss, a break-up, or a devastating hit to the ego and not be overly swept up in it. You might think, “Wow, this sucks, but I can find a job that suits me better.” In other words, you feel the blow but it doesn’t paralyze you. On the other hand, if you have low self-esteem you may have the same experience but think the exact opposite. Something like getting fired from a job may translate into you being an outright failure with no hope of recovery.
Self-esteem is the filter in which all our experiences pass through.
Much like if we have a strong and healthy immune system that keeps us from falling ill to sicknesses, if we have a healthy self-esteem we are better equipped to deal with the many hurdles life throws at us. This is because we see them for what they are, challenges, and not as evidence that we are inadequate at a core level.
This is a working model for me. While I understand it theoretically, it’s much harder to put theory into practice. This is especially true on days when my self-esteem seems to be at it’s lowest. However, it’s a good framework for me to work within and allows for self-compassion to take place as well as a gentle curiosity into what causes my self-esteem to be ‘unhealthy’. From here, I can begin to figure out what things I need to build up in order for it to be healthy, strong, and capable of taking on the toxic environments that I sometimes can encounter. Which is what I’ll dive into next week in part two.