What is Self-Esteem?

By Isabel Galiardo
Our self-esteem depends on external approval and on standards that serve as a reference to give value to who we are. If a society or human group positively values certain aspects, they will be perceived as desirable. At the same time, the evaluation criteria are presented in binary terms, in polarities. Handsome or ugly, hardworking or lazy, selfish or generous, strong or weak. This is a rigid and limited understanding of life.
In the last decades, we have observed the undesirable effects of low self-esteem and we have tried to compensate it with a new way of educating our children using positive messages to reinforce their confidence. We have surpassed a model based on negative feedback and strong judgements. Now we try to cultivate our strengths instead of focusing on our weaknesses. We know that improving our self-esteem has a positive impact in our lives, however, this model is still based on external approval.
We still need to be perceived in a positive way by certain authorities. Those authorities who once were my parents and teachers, my classmates, neighbours and the society that surrounded me, now live inside me in the form of an internal critic who is in charge of judging my behaviour, my feelings and my thoughts.
The root problem has not been solved. Our self-esteem is always precarious because it is conditioned by capricious and random circumstances over which I have no control. I can lose my money, my status, my beauty and youth, … and if that happens Who am I? What is my value? The ego depends on that self-image. The ego compares itself, competes and fears its neighbour because it perceives it as a rival. It lives in a permanent state of anxiety fearing not to become someone or losing what has been conquered.
When I accept myself as I am, I understand that I do not need to prove anything and I begin to enjoy the present moment and release the fear. I stop identifying with a series of attributes and rejecting others, I stop being divided internally.
When I perceive myself as in process rather than as a finished work, I can allow myself to go through all sorts of emotional states. They are learning experiences. I do not need to label what I feel or what I’m going through. I am simply in the now and I attend to the unfolding of my existence with curiosity and openness.
I also stop perceiving the other as a rival. The other becomes a travelling companion because he is also going through various experiences, learning and growing in this magical journey that is life.
Enjoy the ride!

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