When Low Self-Esteem Is Not What It Seems
Self-esteem issues are a common complaint for my generation and used as an excuse for all sorts of relational and occupational problems. It’s one of those subjects we all encounter and, to be frank, one that I understand less and less well as the years pass. Part of the problem, for me, is that some […]
Self-esteem issues are a common complaint for my generation and used as an excuse for all sorts of relational and occupational problems. It’s one of those subjects we all encounter and, to be frank, one that I understand less and less well as the years pass.
Part of the problem, for me, is that some of the people who claim to have low self-esteem actually appear (to my semi-trained eye) to have the opposite; a huge and bloated ego.
It seems that the feeling of low self-esteem frequently flows from a feeling that life, in particular one’s own life is not as good as it could be, that ones “performance” (socially, romantically, vocationally, academically) is not as successful as it out to be. That there’s a great “lifestyle” out there waiting for me, but I can’t get to it.
But, could it sometimes be that the feeling of low worth stems from a comparison with the high worth a person feels they are “entitled” to? Hence, you either become a perpetual disappointment to yourself, or those around you will always be to blame. It’s ego displacing reality.
It’s also a life lived in fear, because every situation, every person, every moment has to be evaluated to see if it delivers what you “deserve.” It’s a life without love or trust, since both of those require the suspension of judgement in the short term.
You don’t love someone if you are always waiting on the next thing they say or do is judge if it is acceptable or not, pleasurable or offensive. You love someone if the greater direction of your feelings and commitment to them is not contingent on the next thing they say or do.
That’s why golf handicaps can be so emotionally stabilising. If you play off a handicap of 12, that means you are a golfer who shoots in the 80s. If you go and have a bad day and post a 92 that doesn’t change the fact that you are a golfer who shoots in the 80s. Your handicap is the reality of who you are and your score is just a reflection of what you were able to do on one day.
But, if you think your score is the reality, then you are in for one hell of an emotional roller coaster – one day you are ready to turn pro, the next you are talking yourself into giving up (believe me, I’ve been there). There is no constant to the reality, there is just fear and delusion.
This false low self-esteem is like a prejudice against reality. Lately, I’ve become fond of the Hindu idea of Maya, which is a kind of false consciousness. The root of Maya is fear – fear of not being able to control reality (and by extension people). If we can’t control people, then we can’t control their role on giving us the reality we feel entitled to receive. If we can’t control reality, then we can’t be sure we will get what we are entitled to, every single time we have an experience.
So the ego and the fear drive someone to try harder and too judge worth on the most recent experiences – which is the trap. The most recent experience may, or may not be a reflection of the quality of a life. People who love their jobs still have bad days, people who love their spouses still fight, people who love performing still have bad nights people who love playing golf still have lousy days.
I’m not a Star Wars geek, but I think Yoda had it right when he said “Do, or do not, there is no try.” I would go further and say – do what you can and love what you can do.
The tragedy is that constantly evaluating life on the last experience, fearing reality, overreaching for control only leads people to force themselves (and those around them) harder and feeds the gnawing sense that they are not getting that they deserve – which turns to self-loathing.
Is an oversized ego always the root cause of self-esteem? No, probably not; certainly not always – but, sometimes, yes. Either way, the steps away from it must surely be to embrace reality, to recognise the role fear plays in your existence, to do and work and to be kind to yourself.