Where Does One Find Their Self-Esteem?

art by Riki Blanco

In this part of the world, when a person is described as having high self-esteem, it is easy for the listener to imagine them walking with their nose in the air, their shoulders raised high while they demand to be treated with respect by their fellow humans verbally or non-verbally. They do not tolerate bullshit, are very principled, surrounded by the finest things in life and must have achieved some form of success in their professional or personal lives.

Although some of these traits are visible in a person with a high self-esteem, it has little to do with it and more to do with ‘pride’.

Self-esteem comes simply from liking yourself. It is the justification of one’s self-worth from a place filled with love and respect for who you are as a human being. It is understanding your likes, dislikes, actions and reactions, flaws, beauty, mistakes and triumph for what they truly are, and loving yourself with all these qualities. True self-esteem does not fight or seek protection. It is neither ashamed nor does it seek validation. It does not belittle or deny its failings but spreads its love because it understands that as I am so are others, and I shall treat them with kindness and patience as I do myself. Unlike pride, self-esteem does not look at worldly success or possession for admiration or respect, it comes from within. The Self.

As we grow, many events that take place in our lives either add to or take from our self-esteem. From our relationship with family, our peers to our relationship with ourselves and all of these experiences help us form our identity and shape who we see ourselves as and the place we occupy on earth. Sadly, some of them take far much more than they give. We often times do not realize it how deeply they affect us until the day we look in the mirror and can no longer recognize our own reflection.

How then does one find their misplaced self-esteem?

A lot of us grew up with the understanding that love is conditional. We learnt from our parents, guardians and care-givers that only when we achieve, succeed and are well-behaved do we deserve love. Over time, we have carried this concept of love into every facet of our lives, seeking approval or validation from those that we value and care about by turning ourselves into their ideal so we can in turn love ourselves. We become ashamed of ourselves that we feel that if we show other who we really are, tell them of what we really like or are capable of, we will be rejected because our true selves come with failures, mistakes and there has never been a place for that in our experience of love.

To heal and build our self-esteem, we must reject this concept of love. Love, in its purest form, does not operate on conditions. It just is. The achievements do earn you the respect of your peers and a bigger paycheck but love is present in spite of our accomplishments which means that even if you fail, make mistakes or mess up, love is forgiving, patient and understanding enough to exist in these situations. We must understand that failure, disappointment and mistakes are core parts of human existence that we must all experience to mature emotionally. We should surround ourselves with kind, loving humans to help us through these difficult times without conditions and little expectations as we would when we celebrate good news. We must be bold enough to shine our light in our dark places so we can conquer, understand and accept our demons before we can change them. When we are able to see our strength and weakness, only then have we begun the journey towards loving ourselves and developing a stronger sense of self-worth.

‘To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are’ — Eric Hoffer



musings of a 29 year old woman living and working in Lagos, Nigeria.

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