The essence of “self-esteem” is “self”

I remember talking with a friend many years ago and saying that the most important part about self esteem is the word “self”. If you have to rely on other people for your self esteem, then you aren’t doing it right.

I saw a Facebook meme that had a picture of a happy child with a tagline that said something about how important it is for parents to fill their child’s bucket of self esteem so high that it spilled over. This may sound strange to say in light of my recent post about verbal abuse, but I think there might be something wrong with that.

Sure, I think it is important to encourage your child and to support her. Sure, I think it is essential that a parent be a good model for the child. But I think a dose of reality is important too.

To cheer someone on as if they are doing A-level work when really it is D-level work is to set them up for failure. Encourage and show them how to succeed. Yes, cheer on every good thing they do – they can’t do it perfectly at the beginning. But don’t tell them they have reached the top of the mountain when they are still standing at the base. They will never keep growing to their full potential. They will think they are already there.

We’re just now seeing the results of this kind of thinking in the work force. There has been an entire generation of kids who have gotten trophies just for participating. They have gotten certificates just for showing up. So they get into “the real world” and they wonder why they aren’t getting the same amount of praise for the same lack of effort.

It also seems odd for someone to say that another person damaged their self-esteem. Eleanor Roosevelt tells us that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” There are plenty of self-help books (that I’ve listed as “Survival Books”) that will tell you the same thing. You can’t change the other person. You can only change yourself. That is the essence of self-help. You have to help yourself. Someone else didn’t affect your self-esteem – you chose to let them bother you. This sounds in part like blaming the victim, but it isn’t. It is actually empowering. It is encouraging the person to stop being a victim – to stop letting things happen to them, and to be an active participant in life.

Sometimes this means leaving the situation. Sometimes the other person just isn’t healthy to be around, and they aren’t going to get nicer. Sometimes it just requires you sticking up for yourself and telling the other person how their actions make you feel. Then they have a choice to act differently or not. Then you have a choice to take it or not. But it is on you to make the choice to act.

Other people can encourage you and support you, but when it gets hard, you have to be able to take care of yourself. Ultimately, other people are not responsible for your mental well-being, you are.