Unalienable Self-Esteem

low self-esteem

Some parents resemble fairy-tale witches and wizards who cast spells that transform their children into psychological toads with poor self-esteem who believe “I’m worthless” or “I’m no good.”

Our society also casts a spell over the masses leading us to believe that self-esteem derives from what we do and what we acquire thereby setting us on an endless treadmill of doing and consumption.

The Sufis speak of “polishing the mirror”, a metaphor for cleaning the personality of its obstacles to reflecting True Nature. Similarly, if you suffer poor self-esteem, perhaps it might help to ‘polish the mirror’ of your understanding of the basis for self-esteem.

Is your value as a person really determined by what you produce or acquire? Or how other persons see you? Or your regrets for what you have done or failed to do? Or might your self-esteem derive from something more genuine and inviolable?

The self-esteem founded on what we do is as precarious as a bubble settling on a pin. Unemployed, disabled, and retired persons know this all to well. Often they experience low self-esteem, and are treated as second-class citizens.

Consider a dear friend of mine who suffered two car accidents which left her permanently brain-damaged. Once she enjoyed a career as a highly-valued commercial interior designer. After the accident she no longer could work. Until she found within herself a deeper source of value, she suffered a devastating loss of her self-esteem which had been founded on her identity as a successful business person.

Surely your inherent value or self-esteem has a more durable foundation than the economic function you serve. For reasons other than you – an accident, an economic downturn, an employer’s need to downsize – you may find yourself out of a job. But must your self-esteem be subject to life’s vagaries?

What about the opinions of others such as your parents, friends, associates and enemies? Does it matter to you whether or not they validate you? If so, to borrow from Shakespeare, your self-esteem is “as inconstant as the moon.”

Existential psychotherapist and author Rollo May notes, “If your self-esteem must rest in the long run on social validation, you have not self-esteem but a more sophisticated form of social conformity.”

Your opinion of yourself for what you have done or failed to do is just as erroneous a basis for self-esteem. That confuses who we are with what we do. Your self-respect or lack of it differs from your self-esteem.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights hints at the true basis for self-esteem when it declares the inherent “dignity and worth of the human person.” Likewise the Declaration of Independence notes all persons are endowed with certain unalienable rights.

So too Shakespeare’s Hamlet recognizes that truer basis when he proclaims, “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals…”

Given that you simply exist, by definition you are Being, expressing itself in human form – “human being”, remarkable in its faculties and form. Your worth, your value, your self-esteem is irrevocable, for yours is the inherent value of Existence itself flowering here and now as the particular ornament of Being that you are.

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