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Uncover Your Natural Self-Esteem

girl with magnifying glassWhat is self-esteem anyway, and how do you get it back once you’ve lost it?

Let me begin by saying that psychology’s definition of self-esteem has always bothered me.

It’s usually defined as a sort of self-evaluation of worth, often based on achievement.

I assume psychologists settled on that definition because it’s something they can measure.

They’re free to measure what they like of course, but I don’t believe they’re measuring actual self-esteem.

Authentic Self Esteem

In my mind, evaluation and achievement have little to do with authentic self esteem.

Eagle-eyed editor types will notice the lack of a hyphen in the term “self-esteem” above. That’s because I’m talking about two different things at the same time:

Authentic / self esteem

(which is like saying, “true self-esteem”)

and…

Authentic self / esteem

(which means “esteem for one’s authentic self”).

I’ve outlined what I think of as signs of authentic self esteem on my website. There’s a link to that page at the bottom of this post.

People-Pleasing is No Good for Self-Esteem

I think self-esteem is the natural state of the human psyche before we take on a load of baseless shame.

Here’s how I think it goes …

We’re born with healthy self-esteem. Not a lot of consideration for others, that’s true. But at least we start out knowing and caring how we feel and what we want. Which, in my opinion, is important.

Next, through the processes of socialization and maturation, we learn to consider others’ needs.

Great!

However, we learn much more than simple consideration for others.

We soon figure out as children that:

1. We’re only good when we do good, and

2. Other people define what’s good.

We unfortunately learn that pleasing others is the highest good.

We may not like it, but it gets into our brains that way and can do a number on us for the rest of our lives.

Reclaim Your Self-Esteem

The idea that others are smarter or more important than we are undermines our ability to think for ourselves, and to accept ourselves and our experiences as valid.

It doesn’t have to be that way for the rest of our lives, though. We can reclaim our authentic self esteem.

Self-esteem is not something that must be built from nothing; it’s already there, just waiting to surface.

It’s what’s left over when we peel away that weirdness of treating others as demigods and ourselves as wretches.

Self-esteem is human nature, intact.

Check out some concrete ideas about what real self-esteem looks like by clicking the link below. Then please come back and share what authentic self esteem means to you.

Link: What is self-esteem?

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado.
She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations.
The author of “Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them” and the “Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children,” Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships.
Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called “Constructive Wallowing.”

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0 Responses to "Uncover Your Natural Self-Esteem"

  • Eve Browne
    June 3, 2013 - 4:50 pm Reply

    This article has unexpectedly triggered some very deep pain for me. When I read the sentence, “We may not like it, but it gets into our brians that way and can do a number on us for the rest of our lives”…it hit me hard. I’m not sure exactly why yet, but I did think immediately of my (8 years) older sister and my mother. They definitely had such a huge impact as you described in #1 and #2 that I have been spending virtually my entire adulthood trying to figure out just what authentic is, much less, allowing it to surface. The thought of that petrifies me. Another sentence that has caught my attentionis, “Self-esteem is human nature, intact.” I was brought up with the religious idea that “human nature” was “fleshly,” or “carnal”, which was strongly embedded in us that human nature was something to be entirely avoided. And that we should allow God’s grace to intervene for our (sinful) nature. It seems to me, that it is kind of saying the same thing, in a way. I think that “carnal” nature” refers to our authentic (or, natural) self esteem, and that allowing God’s grace to intervene is much like what you said about allowing our self-esteem to surface. (Shhhh….don’t tell any of my Christian friends I said that, OK??) Just kidding.

    So my question is, what if my self-esteem is not intact? Especially to the point I can’t even tell what that concept means. When I think of allowing my self-esteem to surface, it terrifies me because I just feel all this anger that wants to blow up the world. Are there times when it’s better to leave well enough alone, and just let that be, for the sake of ourselves and others?

    (Did you notice that I even left out the word “esteem” when I mentioned trying to figure out what it was?) I was going to correct it when I re-read this response, but I chose not to. That seems a very big step for me, even though it’s alittle one. As I’m so used to going back and fixing mistakes so as not to be shameful to let others see how bad a typist I really am. Interestingly enough, my mother’s mother was a court clerk, and my mother a secretary at the jr. high school where I attended. So I think that particular concept of needing to correct mistakes, (make everything look perfect, or near so, or “normal”) has been one of the biggest hurldles I’ve had to overcome. After 25 yrs, plus or minus, I’m still working on it!! Good grief.

    Thank you for posting this !!

    • Tina Gilbertson
      June 3, 2013 - 5:08 pm Reply

      Thank you, Eve, for your profoundly personal remarks. There’s not enough room here for me to do justice to everything you wrote. So I’ll focus on one thing: the anger you mentioned.

      If you go inside and find only anger, it’s there for a reason. Feel it. Allow it to move through you. It’s just an emotion, it doesn’t define you.

      Jill Bolte Taylor, who wrote “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey,” said, “Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated.”

      The anger will heal when it’s been heard (by you) and validated (also by you).

      This is SO much easier said than done that I’ve written a whole book about how to validate your own feelings (“Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them,” Viva Editions, 2014).

      The book’s not out till next year, but in the meantime, it might help you to have a look at my post on how to deal with anger. It links to a 2nd article on my website that contains practical information.

      Thank you again for the time, emotion and energy you shared. I so appreciate your courage.

      • Eve Browne
        June 3, 2013 - 8:52 pm Reply

        Thank you, Tina. I can’t wait to read your new book!!!

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