I'm Not Good Enough to Have Self-Esteem!
study Zen is to study the self, to study the self is
to forget the self, to forget the
to be enlightened by all things.
Dogen. 13th Century Zen Master
essence of low self-esteem is that one lacks a basic sense of
depends for one's sense of self-worth on sources outside
oneself. Since these sources are beyond one's control, one's
sense of self is fragile, at the mercy of others and of circumstances.
without a strong sense of self tend to place an inordinate
value on the opinion of others. Sometimes they are excessively
feeling that others are
more important than they, or afraid that others will "see through them" and
realize their basic inferiority.
the other hand, some cultivate a large acquaintance among people
as "cool" or "important," feeling
that "if so and so
likes me, I can't be all that bad."
some actively seek positions of power. They surround themselves
with flatterers who are always willing
to applaud and assure the fragile ego that
to something, however empty it might feel.
self-esteem is painful for individuals, it is probably good for
the economy. Much of consumer marketing
is based on selling people stuff
help them feel good about themselves. You'll feel good about yourself,
the ads tell
us, if you buy a Lexus, wear Nike sneakers, or lose those unsightly excess
But trying to prop up a fragile ego by getting stuff is like scratching
your head when your foot itches. There's nothing wrong with scratching
but it won't help your foot. In the same way, there's nothing wrong with
money or fame or having a nice car or an attractive mate, but none of them
a feeling of self-worth if the basic sense of it is lacking.
psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut believed that a healthy sense of self
originates with the
unconditional love of one's parents. The child looks up at its
mother and sees the gleam in her eye that says, "I love you, not
because you're the strongest, the brightest, or the most beautiful. I
many people don't get a chance to experience this kind of unconditional
love. Too often the message they get from
is, "I love you
as long as you get 'A's', or look nice, or behave yourself." Often,
parents may not even be aware of the messages they are sending. But
the message is clear — you alone are not enough. If you want
to be loved,
you had better
If we don't
get unconditional love from our parents, we probably won't get
it anywhere else, except perhaps from children and dogs. Mature
based on mutual care, respect and esteem. To succeed in adult relationships,
we must accept the give and take of adult love. The alternative is
isolation or a succession of affairs that burn brightly for a short
while, then go down
what can be done about low self-esteem? I believe it is counterproductive
to try to replace a poor self-image with a
better one. Self-images,
however positive, tend to be brittle and limiting. Although it is
have some picture
of the way we are, we're better off with an image that is a quick
sketch, constantly subject to erasure and revision, than one
that is carved
in a block of ice.
of experiencing who we are solely in terms of an image, it's
helpful to begin to experience who we are in terms of what's going
on right now.
What are we seeing, hearing, smelling, experiencing? Most of all,
what are we feeling?
Since the only place our selves really exist is in the present
moment, the present moment is the logical place to begin to work
on our self-esteem. Can we respect
our experience? Honor it? Enjoy it? Can we even bear it?
we can experience who we are, right now, we can begin to meet
needs that arise and to treat ourselves as if we are someone
care and attention.
And when we treat ourselves as if we are worthy of care, after
a while we begin to believe it.
of all, when we start taking care of ourselves, we can begin
care of others too. Slowly,
we develop a sense of inner
wealth that overflows
our family, friends, neighbors and the world. We are now ready
in the world as confident adults, and have freed ourselves from
the unappreciated child inside us who will do just about anything
a pat on the head.