A friend in my men’s group said something this morning that kind of blew my mind. He said, “self-esteem is not a judgment, it’s an action.” Usually when we think of self-esteem we think of feeling better – a subjective evaluation of how I think I’m doing. My friend is suggesting that self-esteem is me treating myself well, that the focus needs to be on the action – the feeling will come on its own.
It’s worth looking at the definition of esteem, which is “to have respect and admiration…” for the object of our esteem. It’s not about how the object of our esteem feels! The definition is about the one doing the esteeming, not about the person being esteemed!
Hang in here a moment – this means esteem is a gift or honoring that comes from outside of the person being esteemed… Which makes self-esteem seem a little tricky. This question will help pull it together:
“Do I respect and admire myself?”
What is it to respect and admire? The first thing I notice is that respect and admire are both verbs, which reinforces my friend’s original observation. Now, what are some of the qualities of respect and admiration?
When I respect someone I let them be who they are, I don’t try to tell them what to do, I support them without judgment, I let them have their own experience, I try to withhold my unsolicited advice. When I admire someone I see in them an example of what I’d like to be, and sometimes through that vision, I become aware of my own gifts and shortcomings and am inspired to be better.
Now I can ask:
Do I let myself be who I am?
Do I support myself without judgment?
Do I allow myself to experience my life as it is?
Am I an example of who I’d like to be?
Am I aware of my shortcomings?
Do I inspire myself to be better?
These questions take me beyond merely feeling better about myself, and point down a wider path that I can begin to walk: I can take action. I can choose to do the better, the right, the healthier thing. I can catch myself when I judge myself harshly. I can give myself a break. I can give myself encouragement instead listening to my inner critic. I can open myself to challenges and opportunities rather than shutting down or trying to control. I can be grateful for where I am and from where I’ve come. I can notice my growing edge and step up to it. And I can look at myself in the mirror and be OK with who I see.
It’s helpful for me to remember that this is a journey and an exploration, not a checklist. This is learning skillful means – an action to practice, not something to convince myself about.
I hope you find this helpful…