What Is Self-Esteem: The Search For Self-Worth
Perhaps my greatest challenge as a teacher over the years was not to instill knowledge into my students, but rather to help them with their self-esteem.
When I first began my teaching journey, I was amazed by the number of students who had very little self-esteem. Really, why was I surprised? I had struggled with it during my years in school, and in truth I have, at times, struggled with it as an adult. Why did it surprise me that other children struggled as well?
The fact is that a very large proportion of human beings struggle with this issue. We are always, seemingly, in search of our identity. We are always, seemingly, struggling with the elusive questions of who we are, and what is our place in this world.
And so the search continues!
When I was released from my teaching job in 2002 because of my alcoholism and conduct unbecoming a teacher, I was devastated. For twenty years I had defined myself by my occupation. I had always wanted to be a teacher, and when people would meet me I always said, “hi, my name is Bill, and I’m a teacher.” My identity was built upon the foundation of my career choice. Thus, when I lost my career, it was as though I had lost who I was.
How many of you have done the same? How many of you have defined yourselves by saying you are a mother, or a dentist, or the son of your parents, or whatever? It is as though we see no identity other than the one tied to our work or role in a family.
And what utter nonsense it is!
Self-esteem is defined as “aperson's overall emotional evaluation of his or her own worth.”
With that as our guiding light, one must ask where low self-esteem comes from? Why do some people have a healthy self-worth and others very little?
Low self-esteem seems to be grounded in one or more of the following:
· Neglect….children who have grown up with very little love or affection tend to have low self-esteem.
· Criticism….those who are constantly criticized, either during childhood or adulthood, in the home or at a job, will show signs of low self-esteem.
· Lack of achievement….many people base their self-worth on their achievements in life.
· Physical appearance….in our “pretty” society where so many are judged by their looks, people who are less attractive, or cannot afford proper clothing, may feel less than worthy.
· Child abuse….needs no explanation.
· Unemployment….many people gauge their self-worth on their ability to do a job well; when there is no job, a feeling of unworthiness settles in.
· Family influence….children who grow up in a nurturing and supportive family have a strong tendency to have good self-esteem; the opposite, of course, is also true.
· Series of negative experiences….beaten down by too many negative experiences, a person will internalize it and come away with feelings of unworthiness.
THE FACE OF LOW SELF-ESTEEM
What does low self-esteem look like? If we were to picture such a person, they would most likely exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:
· Depressed, disturbed, or unhappy appearance
· They are walking, talking pictures of negativity
· They tend to be loners and avoid social settings
· Troubling symptoms can manifest i.e. anorexia, excessive drinking or drug use, obesity, etc.
· They have a hard time taking compliments
· They hesitate to form an opinion, and rarely state an opinion.
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SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAD US?
In a perfect world, a person’s self-esteem would not be dependent on outside influences. No matter how we were raised, or what we looked like, our self-esteem would blossom and we would be happy and well-adjusted.
Obviously, this is not a perfect world. Let me further relate to you my own experience.
As I said, my self-esteem took a serious pounding when I lost my teaching job, because somehow, over the years, I had defined myself as a teacher. Without the teaching gig, it was as though I had lost an integral part of who I was.
Mind you, I had an ideal childhood. I had very supportive parents who nurtured me and gave me all the encouragement one could ask for, so I can’t blame my problems on a poor childhood experience. No, the fact is that despite an excellent childhood, my self-esteem took a detour somewhere during adulthood.
We are all such complicated creatures, are we not?
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
Again, we are talking about my experiences, but if it helps any of you in any way then fantastic!
Was it the alcoholism that destroyed my self-esteem, or was the inclination towards heavier drinking related to earlier years? Despite a good childhood, I remember feeling inferior for much of my childhood. Was that related to abandonment issues because I was adopted, or was it related to feeling that I was an ugly child?
Oh my goodness, we are complicated creatures!
Toss in two failed marriages and we have quite a stew of emotional upheaval, don’t we?
The truth is I may never know. The truth also is that I no longer care.
I had what can only be described as a re-birth six years ago, and since that moment my self-esteem issues have disappeared. There is something about almost dying, especially when it is because of your emotional turmoil, that brings about a certain clarity about life.
Six years ago I realized that what I had been doing was not working. Any idiot could see that, but it took me facing death to come to that clarity. If what I was doing was not working, and if I wanted to live happily, then I needed to change everything that I had been doing.
Light bulb goes off above cartoon character!
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THE NEW VOYAGE BEGINS
And so I did exactly that! I surrounded myself with positive people. I grabbed hold of the things about myself that I liked and I held on for dear life, and I eliminated those things I did not like.
I re-invented myself in the image that I had always wanted.
No, it was not easy, and yes, I struggled!
Bottom line: today I am happy with who I am. I do not define myself by my occupation nor by my position in a family. I am simply Bill Holland, a human being who is trying to be a better human being.
And that has made all the difference in the world!
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WHAT IS THE ANSWER FOR YOU?
There is no easy answer for that, but I do know, without a moment of doubt, that we can choose to –reinvent ourselves. Naturally there are those with medical conditions like clinical depression who may not be able to do this, but for the most part, the majority of us have that ability.
Recognize what it is that is holding you back and then change it.
Recognize the ghosts from the past that shaped you, and vanquish them.
Toss out with the garbage the old stinkin’ thinkin’ and see yourself as the miracle that you are, a living, breathing unique gem.
Embrace positive thoughts and you will live positive actions.
Seek professional help if you believe it is warranted.
Reach out to trusted others so you can share your feelings.
It is never too late! Get up right now and go look in the mirror and repeat after me: I am the equal of all others. I am no better than anyone else, but I certainly am no worse than anyone else. I deserve respect! I am a human being and as such I deserve to be loved! I am the only one of me out of seven billion inhabitants of this planet and that makes me the rarest of rare.
No, don’t turn away from the mirror; we aren’t done yet. Look at your reflection one more time and say these words…..I……LOVE……ME!
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)