21 Oct Getting Off the Roller Coaster of Conditional Self-Esteem
If your sense of worth fluctuates with your performance at work, other people’s opinion of you, or external circumstances, then you’re on an unpredictable roller coaster ride.
If you’d like to disembark, this article explores how to expand your ability to value yourself unconditionally.
What is Self-Esteem?
According to Wikipedia self-esteem is an individual’s subjective evaluation of their own worth and encompasses beliefs about oneself (e.g. “I am unloved”, “I am worthy”) as well as emotional states, such as triumph, despair, pride, and shame.
Self-esteem then is a personal evaluation of our own value (more on that in a moment).
Let’s take a look at a number of factors that can influence your capacity to value yourself.
What’s in a Name?
The name given to our species points to something important. We are human-beings not human-doings; and our value is intrinsic to our being, not a function of what we do. However enculturation often has us think otherwise.
From an early age we receive the message that we’re a good girl or boy when we do the ‘right’ thing (according to the standards of our caregivers, teachers and society at large) and are repeatedly rewarded or reprimanded for those behaviours.
Our small minds quickly make the connection between our behaviour and our value, and before long that link becomes set in stone. Once that connection is made, whenever we evaluate that we haven’t lived up to an internalised standard we experience a drop in self-esteem. But here’s the thing… notice who’s doing the evaluating. It’s you! And the standard by which you’re judging yourself isn’t even yours, it was gifted to you.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
As an adult, you have the ability to quality-check beliefs, standards and values you were gifted growing up, to see if they still serve you. At on one point they were an essential part of you growing a personality and becoming an individual, so you could eventually separate from your parents. If you don’t stop to reassess, you may experience a ‘greenhouse effect’. A greenhouse initially provides shelter, warmth and protection from harsh elements so a seedling can establish itself. However if a sapling is kept in a greenhouse too long it will eventually thwart its growth and even kill the tree.
Freeing yourself from outdated conditioning is part of the process of becoming a mature adult and is your ticket for getting off the roller coaster of conditional self-esteem. By letting go of standards that no longer serve you, a deep understand and embodiment of your unconditional and unquestionable value can emerge, along with a relaxed experience of being in the world just as you are, and just as you are not.
What You Resist Persists
If you review your life, are there things you wish you’d done or experienced differently?
Another part of maturing into an adult is an ability to accept yourself and your experiences just as they are. Have you ever noticed that the more you resist something, the more it endures? By resisting something we push against it, and paradoxically the more energy we use to push away, the more energy we give it.
For example, let’s say you miss out on a promotion you were expecting to get. As long as you resist what has happened, and bring meaning to the circumstance (e.g. I’m a failure, I’m not competent…), and imagine how it should have turned out but didn’t, you’ll experience turbulent emotions and the highs and lows of the self-esteem roller-coaster ride.
To accept things the way they are means you acknowledge what has happened just the way it happened. It does not mean it was your preference, or that you condone it, simply that it is the way it is. In doing so, we free up energy and gain freedom to respond and adapt, rather than react and resist.
An Important Distinction
Many people get self-esteem and self-confidence confused. Not understanding the difference can mean you can invest time an energy trying to obtain something that’s already yours.
Confidence is conditional, and correlated to skill. When we learned to ride a bike we had no skill or confidence to begin with, but over time, and with a few bumps and scrapes we build our skill base and self-confidence. To build confidence, we build competence.
On the other hand, your value as a human being is a given and not based on what you do. Rather than needing to build self-esteem, most people need to remove the obstacles to experiencing their innate value as discussed above.
And while we’re on the subject of competence…
Do You Verbally Undervalue Your Competence to Others?
When you describe yourself, or what you do for a living, or share an achievement, do you diminish yourself in the process? For example I’m just a graphic designer, I run a little business, I did X but anyone could have done that, it’s no big deal.
Listen to yourself speak and notice if you are enrolling others to undervalue your competence. Some of the key words to watch out for are ‘just’, ‘kind of’, ‘a little’.
It’s in Your Hands
As we develop and self-actualise as mature adults, we start to see that discounting our intrinsic value is a signal of disintegration into lower levels of health and awareness, and that in doing so we limit ourselves and impact others.
With awareness comes choice. A choice to do things differently.
“It is a painful thing to look at your own trouble and know that you yourself and no one else has made it.”
This article has shared some ideas that point the way, but ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you will embody these ideas and are serious about getting off the roller coaster of conditional self-esteem.
What is your choice?
Written by Soo Balbi
Soo is a behavioural expert and one of Australia’s leading Developmental Coaches who helps women thrive. Soo assists her clients to cut to the heart of any challenge, enabling choices and possibilities previously unavailable.