Jake has a problem. He’s a popular kid in high school with many friends and acquaintances. His eye found an attractive young woman that he shared a couple of afternoon classes with. After discussing it with his closest friends, he asked her out to the upcoming prom. She agreed and they joined three other couples for an evening of dining, pictures, and dancing. They both enjoyed themselves, but for some unknown reason to Jake, she declined to go out with him again. Surprised, he took it hard and he succumbed to a slow spiral of self-doubt and negativity. How could something that seemed to go well end up Jake to question his self-worth and confidence?
I am grateful for the amount of self-esteem that I have for myself. Although I have good and bad days, I am usually positive about life and about my options. In a certain sense, it all comes down to self-regard, or the value we for ourselves. It is difficult, if not impossible to value others more than we value ourselves. We have to see the positivity, the possibilities within ourselves before we can recognize them within other people. Put another way, we only develop the outward nature of ourselves to the degree that our inner, private selves are developed. Although we can develop a facade to hide the hot mess of our inner lives, it cannot last and it is only a matter of time before the cracks in this shell become apparent. In Dr. Covey’s classic work, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” private victories or the development of character proceed more obvious areas of success that are visible to the masses.
This leads me to a second area that I am indebted to self-esteem: it is the precursor to achievement. Jake’s preoccupation with his prom date and pessimism led him to withdrawing from school and sapped the very energy that used to drive him. Self-esteem drives competence, or at least the willingness to put ourselves in situations or with people that we would otherwise avoid. It is responsible for much of the success that we experience in life. Self-esteem creates energy and drive that we can use to fuel our futures. What I find truly fascinating is that although certain factors come into play in its development, it doesn’t have to be based on anything tangible. In fact, people can develop self-esteem when they have nothing to base it on at all.
Another reason that I am grateful for self-esteem is that we can choose to have this sense of worth and we can choose what to base it on. The important thing is to anchor it to something that is not going to change and leave us defenseless. For example, if a person bases their self-worth on putting forth their best effort into everything that they do, they will lead a better life than an individual who bases their life on what others in their social circle feel about them – or what the individual thinks that those others feel about them. Unfortunately, most don’t take the effort to consider the foundations of their self-esteem and often find that it rests in the temporary and the fluid.
A fourth reason that I am grateful for self-esteem is because it governs the quality and the depth of my relationships. Just as a pitcher of water can only fill a cup if it has the requisite amount of liquid within it, we can only develop relationships to the degree that we posses enough self-worth. If we lack self-esteem, then we are not able to forge deep interpersonal relationships because we lack the emotional resources that it needs. True relationships require vulnerability and openness and if we have low self-esteem, then we will lack the courage to expose ourselves to potential harm.
Lastly, our sense of worth, or in this case, a lack of it, limits our ability to be happy, to be fulfilled, and to feel satisfaction. We can’t give more than we have – either physically or emotionally. If we are a person who suffers from low self-esteem, then we are in a constant struggle against ourselves. We deny ourselves of the fruits of our labors because we don’t feel worth of the reward. This creates one of the true aches of low self-worth: satisfaction and fulfillment are emotional states that we experience when we believe that we have earned them.
But, as I wrote earlier, part of the beauty of of self-esteem is that we can have as much of it as we want. We are limited only by the constraints that we have put on ourselves. We cast off our shackles when we recognize that we are worthy and we accept it within our hearts.