By Victor Amat
Translated by Sara Riesner
It is not uncommon for people to approach my office commenting on their lack of self-esteem and how that problem affects their life. Since the 70s self-esteem has been a good excuse to not take responsibility for oneself. In the years following the hippie culture, and in an American society distraught by the defeat of the Vietnam War, the American psychotherapist Virginia Satir, coined in the word “Self-esteem” in one of her workshops. She did this with the objective of helping one learn how to better communicate with oneself. Satir was hoping that we would be more lenient and loving with ourselves. This was not a bad suggestion in those days. As a result this idea took root in a world where the fertile human mind is quick to create labyrinths in which to lose ones sanity, and it grew so much that it lost its essence.
Time has passed, relentlessly, and self-esteem has been distorted from the original concept. It is remarkable what has happened with self-esteem. People are very aware of it but not quite sure what it is. It would seem that having a good self-esteem enables one to face life successfully. It does wonders for the way we view ourselves and how we are viewed.
Having a good self-esteem should feel like a fantastic trip into the stratosphere of happiness, and yet it almost never does.
Typically a very different discourse takes place. As people we usually have something that burdens us. When we show our pain, it is usual to feel inadequate and we are prone to label ourselves with those magical concepts that we breathe from the air as if they really existed.
To self-diagnose with «low self esteem» or worse, to get that diagnosis from good friend can be the start of a distorted search for insight.
“Improving self-esteem” seems like the logical cure for someone suffering from a meager amount of self-love and for this reason we go to such lengths to do things that translate into “loving ourselves”. To feel or think that one lacks self-love, to be one’s worst enemy or to have bad thoughts about oneself may have little to do with a damaged self-esteem. That would be having a very linear vision of life, and while life is many things it is not linear. Normally people get into loops such as, «when A happens, B follows.” Or, “when B happens it’s because of A”. Or what are essentially the same things, the more “A” one get, the more “B” and the other way around. This makes us believe that the best way to feel better is to reverse the loop. That’s why it is important to learn to think differently about things. As a great man once said:
«Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Let’s see what can be done. Let’s say a person with a normal life has a specific issue. If after confronting it, the problem is not solved, there is a great probability that self-worth will be affected, right? That’s it. We have a hypothesis:
«Anyone facing a difficulty unsuccessfully has a tendency to view themselves as being inadequate or inefficient. This diminishes self-esteem. (A more appropriate name might be «self-appreciation»).
Thus, self-esteem would seem less like the cause of problems and more as an effect thereof. If we think about it, complaining about a bad life or a terrible situation can be taken as a measure of self-esteem given that if we had no worth, we would not complain. If that were the case we would agree with our misfortune, feeling that it’s a reflection of our unworthiness. Isn’t i t interesting?
To flaunt one’s misfortune is often a matter of pride. It’s like saying, “Can you see how I suffer? (No one has suffered more or better than me).”
There are times where it seems like the person is on display. On these occasions, the argument for low self-esteem is false because deep down inside, the person feels a certain sense of pride in showing off their misery. Low self-esteem should lead to something else, perhaps resignation.
What do we usually hide behind “low self-esteem?” This is an easy answer: fear. To efficiently face fear can help us cope with the continuous process that is to improve one’s life. We have explained how to handle fear in another article http://www.cetebreu.es/afrontar-el-miedo/en. Here are three proposals to address it:
1. Recognize that you have fear. This automatically makes you stronger.
2. Avoid avoiding.
3. Do things with fear without trying to be brave.
4. Don’t let self-esteem be the pitfall that trips you. It’s a concept invented by someone that’s only interesting if it’s useful. Nonetheless, it is a good excuse.