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Recently, the topic of “self-esteem,” and “self-worth” has come up frequently…not only in conversation with several of my friends, but also within me…noticing thought and behavioral patterns of others towards me as well as from me to me…and to others. As I’ve observed and discussed this topic, a theme slowly developed.

For most of my life the term “self-esteem” has been popularized and bandied about with frequent abandon. Parents are admonished to not be too harsh when disciplining their children because it might damage a child’s self-esteem; teachers are cautioned not to rank the students or single any one person out for high achievements for fear of damaging a non-awarded student’s self-esteem; managers are instructed to encourage employees to improve through extrinsic motivational strategies in order to avoid hurting someone’s self-esteem. And yet…no one really seems to understand what “self-esteem” is. There are as many definitions of it as there are experts on the topic. So…I figure I might as well throw my two cents into the pot and stir things up as well. 😉

The irony for me in all of this “self-esteem” talk is that it’s not really true…if someone really had true self-esteem, none of the above situations would damage it. Similarly, if any of the above situations did damage it, then that person doesn’t actually have self-esteem…and none of the above protections is going to actually develop it in someone who doesn’t already have it.

Additionally, many people who are identified as having high “self-esteem” are actually quite arrogant, selfish, and inconsiderate people. Some fall quite clearly into the Narcissistic category. Again, this seems puzzling to me because if these people are really so confident in themselves, why do others have to experience pain in order for confidence to be maintained? 

So…what is “self-esteem” or “self-worth?” Honestly…it’s complicated…which explains the uncertainty of the popular definition and its application. From my observation, it’s a six-step process that is repeatable as a practice…similar to meditation:

Step 1: Belief

Step 2: Remembering 

Step 3: Identifying personal expression

Step 4: Personal responsibility

Step 5: Limitations and balance

Step 6: Repeat

The reason this process is repeatable is because valuing self (a term I much prefer over “self-esteem” or “self-worth”) is a dynamic process…it changes from moment to moment, from year to year, from decade to decade. The reason it changes so much is because we change…our perceptions change, our experiences challenge us, our bodies change, our values change, our beliefs change. As those variables shift, our perception of self, our reasons for existing, and our place and purpose in the world must also change…requiring us to adjust, evaluate, refine, and practice again. And…like the seasons…there is a cycle to this process: a falling away, a void, a planting of seeds, a nurturing of new growth, flourishing, harvest, and a falling away again. For some people and some situations this process can happen in a blink of an eye…for others, it can take ten years…or a life time.

The most important piece in this process is that of compassion towards self, because what we are ultimately addressing is the difference between the ego and the soul. For example. I, the ego, am a creature of habit. I like routine. I like structure. I like order. I like predictability. I, the soul, also like beauty…and art…and connection…and expression…and expansion. Yet, part of this process is the exact opposite of all of the things I like. Therefore I’m learning to accept the fact that I, the ego, tend to resist those things I don’t like…which slows the process down tremendously. And that’s OK. I, the soul, am no less valuable because I, the ego, don’t flow as easily as my brother…I, soul and ego, actually know this to be true now…I, as ego, didn’t always believe this.

And that’s where the process begins…what do you believe to be true about yourself?

To be continued…