Why Self-Esteem is Bullshit

July 17, 2018 by Wendy van Hardeveld IMG_5575.jpg

Self-esteem: an individual's overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth; encompasses beliefs about oneself, as well as emotional states, such as triumphdespairpride, and shame; the positive or negative evaluations of the self, as in how we feel about it. - Thanks Wikipedia for the help on that one!

Self-esteem, for so long, has been toted as the end-all-be-all of confidence.

It's been talked about as the thing that we should all shoot for in our lives. To have high self-esteem means be have high confidence. It means that we'll be more successful because we believe in ourselves enough to do it. But I don't think that's the case. Because as the multiple definitions above imply, self-esteem encompasses and includes the negative aspects too. It's not all sunshine and rainbows.

It's a "subjective emotional evaluation" and as we well know, subjective means that it can vary based on our own impulses, emotions, and the situations of the moment. It is dependent on emotional states, which yes can include positive emotions like triumph, resilience, etc. but can also include depression and shame. Self-esteem is dynamic. It's positive AND negative. Intangible. And for so many, because our emotional states and our beliefs about ourselves are based on external influences, our self-esteem is thus based on those external factors as well.

From this perspective, we can only achieve high self-esteem when we're perfect or when things are going well. When there's nothing for the external world to judge us about. And yet there always will be because perfection is a fallacy. We can never be perfect to all people at all times. I've always loved that quote that says, "If you want to avoid criticism in life, do nothing, say nothing and go nowhere." We basically can't exist and contribute anything to the world or to the people in our lives without subjecting ourselves to criticism and the potential for harsh evaluations.

And that's where the problem is.

We have no control over external factors. We have no control over whether the people in our lives show up for us the way they should. We have no control over whether a jerk, a naysayer or a troll bad mouths us or disrespects us. We have no say in whether shit hit's the fan in our lives. We just don't. And all of those experiences, emotions, etc. influence our emotions. Thus, the influence our self-esteem and our self-worth. 

Few of us have enough emotional mastery to separate our impulsive and dynamic emotional experiences from our self-esteem. We internalize much of what we experience in the world and so we should. There's nothing wrong with doing that, but if we invest too much in our self-esteem and bank to hard on it for those feelings of self-worth and our own sense of value, we're asking for trouble, emotional pain and turmoil and so much more.

Screw self-esteem. it's bullshit.

And it shouldn't' be what we aim for in life. Instead, I think we should replace chasing after self-esteem with pursuing self-acceptance. While positive self-esteem is often contingent upon positive evaluations, both by ourselves and by the world, self-acceptance isn't. Self-acceptance basically says: "I see myself as I am, the great, the good, the imperfect and the utterly flawed, and I choose to love myself anyway. I choose to accept myself anyway." It is unbiased. Self-acceptance isn't contingent upon us being perfect all the time or even 25% of time. It is contingent upon nothing. And that's the beauty of it.

I don't think self-acceptance gives you a free pass to be an asshole or not try, though. But, what I do think it does is that it no longer defines your value by any terms other than your own. Maybe your job isn't the most "successful". Maybe your house is a mess. Maybe you don't have the "perfect" body. Maybe you are flakey and forgetful. Who cares?! Because ultimately, as long as you show up, you try and you do your best on your terms and no one else's, that's all that matters. That is all self-acceptance asks of you - to do good by you and whatever standards you want to hold yourself to. And, whether you meet those standards or not, to meet yourself with compassion. To never expect perfection and to approach yourself with grace and love.

That's why, in my humble opinion, I don't think confidence comes from self-esteem. That's why I think self-esteem is bullshit. 

Because you should never have to be perfect, even if that expectation of perfection is coming from yourself and no one else. Because if you're challenging yourself or life is challenging you as it can and as it should over the course of your life, you're gonna mess up. You're going to fail and fall flat on your face. That's life. That's normal. And accepting your limitations, your weaknesses and the things that you're still working on is part of the process.