Judgement comes easy these days and one of the ways people judge themselves is by measuring their own self-esteem. They will say, I have high or low self-esteem but what does that really mean? The basic definition of self-esteem is that it is a self measurement of a person’s feelings of being worthwhile.
Even as I type these words it makes me cringe. How can one measure if they are worthy? According to Dr. David Burns, people often measure their own worth through these thoughts:
I am a worthwhile person if I have close, loving relationships with others.
I am a worthwhile person if I am attractive and in good physical condition.
I am a worthwhile person if I treat other people in a fair generous, and ethical way.
I am a worthwhile person if I am happy and like myself.
I am a worthwhile person if I work hard and do the best I can to fulfill my potential.
I am a worthwhile person if I contribute to society.
I am a worthwhile person if I am popular, and people like me.
I am a worthwhile person if I am talented or outstanding in at least one area.
While looking at those formulations you might see that they are not very helpful but might believe they are realistic and true. Therefore, convincing yourself that successful and popular people really are superior human beings. If you say some people are more worthwhile because of their generosity and contributions to the world you are in the awkward position of claiming that a few people are superior and most of the people you know are inferior. Its not that popularity is undesirable or scientific discoveries and philanthropic contributions are unimportant. Compassion, generosity, rewarding personal relationships are tremendously important. But popularity, success, generosity can never make you are more worthwhile human or any better than everyone else. The only thing that will happen if you measure yourself by these standards is you will find yourself trapped in a cycle of negativity where you dwell on your shortcomings.
Conditional Versus Unconditional Self-Esteem
There are only two ways to refute the self-criticisms: self-defense or acceptance. With self-defense you end up getting trapped in a battle with yourself. For instance, if you believe that someone is worthless because they do bad things, what happens when you make a mistake or inadvertently hurt someone? You then slide into the category of worthless. The scale that you measure yourself by can also move based on your own thoughts and can become harder to achieve as the goal moves. Which can cause a cycle of not knowing if you are really good enough or if you have lived up to the image of who you think you should be. But in the end if you try to measure or earn your self-esteem, it is conditional. No matter how you try to measure it, there will be times when you do not measure up to the criterion you have chosen, and you will be vulnerable to anxiety and depression because you will think “I am a failure.”
The other option is to accept yourself because you are a human being or simply because you have chosen to do so. This is unconditional self-esteem. You can love yourself because you need the compassion and support not because you have earned it. Although it is difficult to comprehend unconditional self-esteem it is more liberating. This comes from realizing that self-esteem is a gift that you and all humans receive at birth. Your worthiness is already there because you were created worthwhile. You did not have to earn it.
Self-Esteem versus Self-Confidence
Self-esteem is not the same as self-confidence. Self-confidence is based on the knowledge that you will probably be successful at an activity because you have been successful at similar activities in the past. In contrast, self-esteem is the capacity to like and respect yourself when you lose just as much as when you win.
What you are worth is not based on subjective measurements. You are valuable. You are loveable.