Growing Your Self-Esteem
Amy wonders: “What’s my worth?” She measures her income, material wealth, appearance, and weight. She adds it up, subtracts by her age, divides by the size of her family, and multiplies by the value of her house. Out comes the sum of her worth.
Fortunately, net worth has little to do with self-worth. Having it all---good job, beautiful high-performing children, nice home, and respect in the community don't necessarily bring high self- regard. Indeed being “skinny and rich” doesn’t mean that you feel good about yourself either! Instead, self-esteem is elusive. It’s hard to grasp in the maze of everyday life, yet everyone wants it.
My old friend, Beulah, now passed on, was born in the Mississippi Delta and made her living cleaning other people’s apartments. She had little money, no car, and few possessions. Beulah was radiant. With sparkling eyes, she once confided in me—“I’m rich! Can you believe it? I have seven pairs of shoes, one for each day of the week!” Beulah, living in the South Bronx, surrounded by vacant lots and burned-out buildings, felt wealthy.
Her affluence didn’t come from a big house or a big income. It came from an inner sense of contentment that wasn’t dependent on the ups and downs of the stock market. It came from a stable, positive view of herself. She was a deeply rooted tree that bent with the wind. Her branches were rich with foliage. Active in her church and community, and busy with grandchildren, Beulah’s yardstick for self-esteem came from her many acts of loving kindness. She was much loved for the person she was, not for what she had in the bank.
Self-esteem is a fundamental psychological requirement for well-being. While personality and temperament are primarily constitutional, our self-regard comes from internalizing the positive or negative views that others have towards us when we were children. While we can’t change our basic character or disposition, we can nurture a positive view of ourselves.
Lack of self-respect can come from feeling unsuccessful. But accomplishment is often culturally defined. Adults who aren’t married or in a committed relationship by 30, don’t have children by 35, or who haven’t achieved success in the workplace by 40, may feel bad themselves. Economic downturns also leave unemployed or laid off adults feeling bad about themselves.
In adulthood, men and women can develop their own yardsticks for measuring success. We must look within to discover our worth. Life brings change. Economic times get better and worse. Friendships may come and go. Children grow up and pursue their own dreams. When self-esteem is dependent on the actions of others or world events, our sense of self can change like the weather in Washington.
Self-esteem comes from becoming and actualizing the person that you want to be, rather than who others think you should be. Reflection and self-examination enable adults to separate their values and goals from family and social expectations. But actions, which speed men and women down their own freely chosen path, build a healthy sense of self.
Most of us want to feel better about ourselves. Looking within does help clarify our goals and values. But this alone is not enough. Action is required. Deeds that are consistent with our personal values nurture our self-regard. Courageous endeavors, acts of loving-kindness, and helping oneself and others enhances our sense of self.