You probably heard that self-esteem is one of the most important things for leading a productive, successful, pleasurable life. But the term is a little confusing – does it mean self-worth? Self-respect? How do you know your self-esteem is too low and how much of it is too much? What is the optimal level of self-esteem?
Cambridge English Dictionary defines self-esteem as “belief and confidence in your own ability and value”. Self-esteem is also often defined as “One’s own sense of self-worth or personal value”. What is problematic in this concept is that it refers to “worthiness” and “value” of the human being.
The Illusion of Self-Esteem
Let’s stop for a second and see what value means: “The regard that something is held to deserve”. Indirectly, the term “self-esteem”, therefore, suggests that holding ourselves in high regard is something to be deserved. It suggests that we need to have certain traits or do certain things to earn to be “worth” of respect and love. It inevitably includes self-evaluation. But here is the thing…
You are “worthy”, “valuable” and “deserving”, if you want to use these poor terms, simply because you exist, because you are alive. There is no such thing as “more valuable” or “less valuable” person. Achievements, skills, talents, or some qualities or lack of those can’t determine our human value, because our worthiness is already set simply by our existence.
It is important to note that self-esteem is a concept different from self-efficacy, which refers to how well you believe you’ll handle future actions, it represents your belief in your own abilities. Someone can be appreciated by many people, accomplish great things, be successful in several areas, and those are all amazing things that are certainly pleasant. You may achieve greater happiness or more efficiency by achieving your goals or by believing in your abilities, but that doesn’t increase your intrinsic worth, nor do your failures can lower your human value.
Chasing Self-Esteem Won’t Make You Happier – Maybe Even the Opposite
Another problem with the concept of self-esteem, other than the fact that it is based on non-existent, or at least unhealthy, premises of “worthiness” and “value”, is that it also obliquely requires comparison with other people. Evaluation can’t exist without comparison to some “standard” or some external object. Therefore, determining our own worth means we first have to compare ourselves with others. As Albert Ellis, the father of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) claims: “Self-esteem theoretically rests upon an often inaccurate and unstable global rating of the self in comparison to others”. This necessarily means that, to have high self-esteem, we need to feel above-average. You can easily see it in the simple fact that today, in our culture, being seen as average is considered an insult. But for every human being to be special and above average is logically impossible.
Trying to see yourself as better than others all the time is exhausting and can easily lead to self-criticism. To retain superiority, we have to meet very high standards. As soon as our feelings of superiority slip – which is inevitable because there are so many different people in this world and there is always someone better, smarter, prettier etc. – our self-esteem easily goes down.
For a long time, mental health professionals believed that high self-esteem is a predictor of greater happiness and life satisfaction. However, as much as this notion seems like common sense, research shows that there is no scientific evidence of a correlation between higher self-esteem and pleasurable living.
Another study states: “Self-esteem in the West is not based upon an unconditional appreciation of the intrinsic worth of all persons. (…) Research, in fact, demonstrates that high self-esteem displays associations with a broad range of psychosocial dysfunctions, including, for example, narcissism, poor empathy, depreciation of others, prejudice, aggression, and distorted self-knowledge”.
Okay, if not self-esteem, then what? Well, there is actually a healthier alternative to self-esteem that really predicts better mental health, greater life satisfaction, and overall happiness – self-compassion.
What Is Self-Compassion?
“Self-compassion means that the individual fully and unconditionally accepts herself whether or not she behaves intelligently, correctly, or competently and whether or not other people approve, respect or love her” (Ellis 2005, p. 38).
Self-compassion is the way of treating yourself – in a supportive and non-judgmental way, with kindness, understanding, and love. Being self-compassionate mean that you recognize previously mentioned notion about all humans having value simply by the fact they exist in this world, not by the set of traits and abilities they possess. Self-compassion encourages you to acknowledge your flaws and limitations, without forcing yourself to meet some high standards to feel that you are okay as a person. It allows you to look at yourself from a more objective and realistic point of view without evaluating or comparing yourself with others.
Why Nurturing Self-Compassion Over Building Self-Esteem?
Opposite to high self-esteem, studies haven’t found any negative effects of self-compassion yet. In fact, self-compassion predicts better psychosocial adjustment and resilience while avoiding the liabilities associated with high self-esteem.
Self-compassion gives us a more stable sense of self-love because it comes from within. On the other hand, as it’s based on comparison with others, self-esteem is unstable because it depends on external circumstances. This often results in having a more negative emotional reaction or protecting behaviours when people evaluate us negatively or even neutrally because we are trying to protect our self-esteem from collapsing. With self-compassion, in contrast, we don’t need to defend or protect ourselves from negative feedback, because we know that it won’t affect how we see ourselves as a person.
Self-compassion provides emotional safety to see ourselves as we really are. Instead of labelling ourselves as good or bad, as of high-value or worthless, we should accept our flaws with an open heart, take responsibility for our behaviour and choices, and still be kind to ourselves. It’s okay that we are imperfect humans leading imperfect lives, and we don’t need to strive to be “better” than others to love ourselves or hold ourselves in high regard.
Yesterday marked my first day exploring downtown Vancouver. I decided that with the sun shining, I would take the opportunity and sit by the beach. So I found myself a rock and curled up with the view of the ocean and the mountains in the distance.
There was a man next to me, probably in his mid-20’s, relaxing and sunbathing. As I fell into a blissful feeling, enjoying the warmth on my face as I read my book, I noticed the guy beside me was swimming! As a note, although I’m in Vancouver now, it is still only the 7th of April.
Before I decided to leave, I decided I would initiate a few words with him. So, I asked:
Me: “How cold was the water?”
Him: “It was really cold. But, if you tell yourself it’s really cold you’ll never get in. I come down to the beach every day in the summer. I live close to here. I’ve been wanting to come swimming all week, but today was finally warm enough. Cold is relative.”
What impressed me the most was his choice of words. It was obvious to me that:
- if you want something bad enough you’ll do it
- if you keep a positive perspective you’ll face adversity
- your words affect your actions
- what is okay for me, may not be okay for you. But if it aligns with your values, goals, and desires, you’re being authentic.
Although there was a bit more to our conversation, this was the gist of it.
So here is your tip:
I think we can all take a piece of his perspective and try to use it more in our daily lives.
Have you caught yourself reframing your self-talk or your words? How has it helped you? What helped you change your perspective? Share it down below in the comments!
“Personal leadership is the self-confident ability to crystalize your thinking so that you are able to establish an exact direction for your own life, to commit yourself to moving in that direction and then to take determined action to acquire, accomplish, or become whatever that goal demands.”
-Paul J. Meyer
Personal leadership is not something we’re born with. It’s something you develop through experience, effort, and practice. It’s something you work on every day. But why would I do that, you ask?
Benefits of Strong Personal Leadership
First of all, personal leadership is crucial to achieving your long-term goals and to your career success. As you develop it, you’ll learn more about your strengths and weaknesses. From there, you can work on developing different skills and using your strengths more efficiently, which will lead to learning how to work smart and effective to get to the future you want for yourself.
Having strong personal leadership means you’re getting to know yourself. Thus, you’ll be more aware of the things you truly want and the things you maybe thought you want, but actually, that wish wasn’t authentic. It was rather driven by outer factors, such as expectations or other people’s wishes. With getting to know yourself and acquiring knowledge about the world, which are both parts of developing personal leadership, comes wisdom.
Here is a nice article about essential skills you should be working on in order to become a strong personal leader: https://kaylenemathews.com/9-essential-personal-leadership-skills/
So, what have you done to improve your personal leadership today?
We are inundated with information on a daily basis. Our five senses: sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch are frequently stimulated. The process of sensation and perception work hard. Grossberg, S. (2010) explains that we experience the world as a whole. Although we do have much to interpret in terms of incoming information, we somehow integrate this into unified moments of conscious experience that cohere together. Because of the apparent unity and coherence of our awareness, we can develop a sense of self. As a result, over time, it gradually matures with our experiences of the world. This capacity lies at the heart of our ability to function as intelligent beings.
Alright, but how does sensation and perception tie into personal development? Moreover, what is personal development? I know an individual who consistently seeks out new courses and training in their field. I think this degree of development is great, especially in an industry where it is crucial to be on top of current research, different teaching styles, and product knowledge. However, is it possible to become overwhelmed with information and lose sight of what you’re really trying to achieve? In other words, can our senses get lost in the 6-foot waves the sea of life can create? I suggest sailing with personal/professional development locked in your GPS.
But back to the question – how do you define personal development?
Understanding Personal Development
Shortland, S. (2010) provides a brief distinction between training and development.
“For example, training typically involves short-term methods for skills acquisition, while competency development involves understanding and promulgating appropriate behaviours in particular settings (Roberts, 2005)… ‘Development’ provides a broader context implying a longer-term and ongoing (Paechter, 1996) approach. It may refer to professional (work environment) and/or personal development in a lifelong learning context (Nicholls, 2000). Further, it is typically carried out in a structured manner via continuous review, evaluation, planning and implementation (D’Andrea & Gosling, 2001). Thus, individuals form their own personal judgements and take responsibility for them over the long term” (Shortland, S., 2010).
But what does all of this mean? Let me ask you: what does it mean to you? How often do you take the time to filter information coming in, allowing yourself to selectively choose what can influence you? Moreover, have you ever had the courage to look within and link your life to your attitudes and behaviors? Are you able to identify at least 1 area you could tweak? The American Society for Training and Development released that $126 Billion was spent on Employee Learning and Development in 2009; are and should YOU be part of the success story?
Challenge your emotions. Raise your success. Accept only the best for your life. Start today, and stop giving yourself excuses.
Stay tuned for Part 2 on The Process of Development.
Grossberg, S.(2010). Causality, Meaningful Complexity and Embodied Cognition. (1st ed.). New York (NY): Springer.
Shortland, S.(2010). Feedback within peer observation: continuing professional development and unexpected consequences. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 47(3), 295-304.
 Conveniently enough, LMI Canada Inc. has their own GPS; Goal Planning Sheets in their suite of tools.
How much space should we have in our relationships? How close is too close? And how much space is too much?
Murray Bowen, the creator of “Family Systems Theory”, highlights that, in relationships, there is a desire for closeness and intimacy, but also the need for space in order to save our individuality. These two forces are in constant conflict, creating tension. On one hand, the warmth of closeness brings us safety and comfort. On the other hand, too much of it can be drowning, feeling like you’re losing your sense of self. In order to cultivate a healthy relationship with your partner, it’s necessary that you both learn to balance these two forces.
Balancing Closeness and Space in Relationship
It’s important to grow together but you need to also tend to yourself. Think of it as your relationship garden that both of you need to take care of. In your garden, there is a space of togetherness, where you invest your time and emotions, you work on it to make it nice, clean, and beautiful. But there are also two other parts – your and your partner’s individuality. Those are parts of the garden that each of you has for themselves. In order to make your part of the garden bloom, you have to focus on growing different aspects of your life – mental, physical, spiritual, cultural, financial, career. If you forget to water any part of your garden, whether it be togetherness or individuality, the other part dries and slowly dies. In a healthy relationship, these two parts are equally important and can’t live one without other.
So, keep balancing. Don’t do everything possible with your partner and don’t forget your own needs and dreams. You need some time for yourself; you need to grow and develop. But also, don’t get too preoccupied with your own life that you forget about your partner. Grow your garden together. If you balance it right, it will bloom.