Self-Esteem Meets Identity

Now we have covered some ground and formed some conclusions on Self-Esteem that take away from the value it is given in society as a theory that explains good and evil human behaviour.  And here comes a spanner that changes the course of our discussion – Identity.  What is it?  And what does it have to do with Self-Esteem?

You have gone to pay with a credit card and been asked for your ID.  You have travelled and had to present the picture page of your passport.  Before you can vote in many countries a card with your picture on it must identify to the authorities WHO YOU ARE.  But that picture only provides so much information – a snap shot of your facial features.  The concept of identity is about the whole of you – what is seen, what cannot be seen, what you see and what you cannot see.

Once upon about two years ago I came across a new perspective on the concept of identity in a most unlikely place.  I was helping a friend in the writing of his dissertation for a master’s degree in International Relations.  The central concept was national identity – the identity of one nation in particular.  By the end of the exercise I felt myself worthy of a master’s degree myself – one in Identity, so long did I analyze and so deeply did the concept of identity resonate within my mind.  I had come across Identity before in a different and seemingly unrelated place – my spiritual search – and had been chewing on the word and savouring the flavour for some time.  But for the purposes of a discussion in International Relations the concept was split into two main parts:

  1. How a nation sees itself; and
  2. How a nation is seen by other nations.

I have determined that both these elements are authentic pieces of identity – they are both real and true, even if one or both of them are outside of the control of the identified nation or person.

How You See Yourself

The internal element of identity is determined by the cultural mores, the rituals, the relationships that a nation has and values.  Think of the holidays you have where you live and how your own nation identifies with them.  Transferring that to our own human experience, internal identity is the thoughts and actions and – yup, Self-Esteem – of a person, their sense of self, their boundaries and their own image as it displays itself in their head.  It is determined by their own actions and their own judgment of those actions based on their belief system – always measuring up to the ruler they create for themselves.  This ruler set will be determined by their religion, their jealousies, their comparing themselves to people they admire or despise, and informed by their culture.  But in the end this is also part of their internal identity.  So they see their intelligence and measure it – 8 inches of intelligence makes me above average and I feel good about that.  Or they see their beauty – 3 inches of beauty doesn’t compare to Kim Kardashian and therefore I’m not good enough.  You can see the path here from Identity to Self-Esteem.  You can also see here that the internal identity is also informed in some ways by the opinions of others.

How You are Seen by Others

The external identity is the way that the rest of the world sees a nation, not with the vested interest of ownership or the fears of facing ones self but with objectivity – or at least a different subjectivity – of an outsider looking on.  And so, in our own lives, it is what our friends and enemies see, who they see us to be.  How they become sorted into friends and enemies will depend on their set of rulers, their values, their belief systems, and how closely they match up with yours.

CASE STUDY

Let’s take the USA as a case study.  Their internal identity has traditionally been informed by the values of their founding fathers – several freedoms enshrined in a constitution.  It is also informed in the outcome of the conflicts they have entered into like Vietnam and the Gulf War and World War II.  Their achievements in sports, their economic successes, all of these things inform their identity.  One would simply need to drive out of the airport in any US city to see bumper stickers screaming national pride and national identity and the love with which this nation sees itself.  Not to mention national holidays where the things that they value are celebrated like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July and even Martin Luther King’s holiday.

On the flip side there are other parts of their identity held deeper and less proudly that they choose not to make a part of national identity internally but inform they way they are seen by other nations.  The racism of their history, the brutal corruption of their politics, the stain of assassinations, espionage, and the hypocrisy of their international policies all inform their international identity.  The USA is not revered in France as it is in Wyoming, it isn’t seen as a nation that stands for freedom in Iran or in Cuba in the way it is seen in Virginia.

LESSONS

Two things can be learned from the identity of the United States.  Firstly, the vision one has of ones self can be completely at odds with, or at least very different from, ones external identity.  Secondly, identity is a fluid thing evolving as time changes and people grow.

Of course, how you esteem yourself will be heavily affected by who you see yourself to be.  You will measure that vision up against your value rulers and determine how much value you give to yourself and, voila, out comes your Self-Esteem!

But is how you see yourself the problem?  Or is it how you are BEING that makes you value yourself more or less?  And perhaps, most importantly of all, is who you are being something within your control?

Stay tuned for the answers in the next installment of the common-sense study of Self-Esteem.

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Self-Esteem: What is it?

This is a common sense study.  Not one based on Maslow, nor on Branden or Rosenberg.  But to rubbish the theory as we have committed to doing one must be able to define it.  What is Self-Esteem?  The common sense encyclopedia of our age has this to say:

“Self-esteem is a term in psychology to reflect a person’s overall evaluation or appraisal of her or his own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, “I am competent”, “I am worthy”) and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame; some would distinguish how ‘the self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, the positive or negative evaluation of the self, is how we feel about it’. ” ~Wikipedia on Self-Esteem

For me to summarize, Self-Esteem as I see it is the amount of value one places on ones’ self or the amount of love one has for ones’ self.

Read the entire Wiki entry for what a low Self-Esteem looks like and what a high one looks like and we can easily see the theory:  Perfect balance and harmony are found in a high Self-Esteem and the root of all harmful human behaviours lies in a low one.

Enter the NARCISSIST:

Narcissus

Narcissus, who loved the look of his own image so much he drowned in the pool of his own reflection, has so much to teach us on Self-Esteem.  Our same common sense encyclopedia points to narcissism as being an unhealthy self-love, self-absorption, vanity and conceit.

Have you ever been around a conceited person?  Was it much fun?

I went to university with a greek (coincidence, I promise) named Nic.  I am in no danger of him reading this blog and seeing himself in it because 1. it would take away from the quality time spent in his mirror, 2. he could never see himself as a narcissist – that means something negative right? Nah.  Not me – and 3. there are so many Greeks named Nic you could recreate the Great Wall of China if you stood them on each other.  Nic was a narcissist.  Classic.  His body was more perfect than a greek god’s (even if it was a little short), his mind was more brilliant than any human being alive (about as bright as midnight), and anyone who disagreed was simply unenlightened.  He had a healthy self-esteem alright – was the life of the party, didn’t suffer from any doubts, and did not in any way appear to feel the need to over-compensate.

Now, the psychologists will say “Deep down he has an aching need to belong, has many layers hiding his true feelings, and doubts his own value.  He has something to prove.”

Hitler - Perhaps one of the most famous Narcissists in our recent history

Nah.  The guy was obnoxious, but going through Wiki’s list of symptoms of a low Self-Esteem he didn’t match up.  He had no care about what others thought, was no people pleaser, was not hyper-sensitive or hyper-critical of himself, had no guilt or perfectionism (how could you improve on perfect?), and even though he was entirely obnoxious, he had no floating hostility.  He was a complete and perfect descendent of Narcissus.  Along with Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Jim Jones, Stalin, Casanova and Marquis de Sade.

Yet he was capable, like many narcissists, of countless ills.  His conceit was nauseating and entertaining for its shock value all at once.  He was invited to parties and events just to see what he would have the balls to say next.  He was convinced that any woman who wasn’t swept off her feet by his hello was in denial, blind, stupid, and certainly not worth the rest of the conversation.  Yet his Self-Esteem – fed by ingratiating, enabling and wholly entertained friends – was not only intact but thriving.

Looking at the other end of the spectrum…

Someone with a low Self-Esteem isn’t hard to find.  Every tortured artist and troubled celebrity wears their low self-esteem on their shoulder.  There are many who have rocked the world with their goodness despite having something close to hatred for themselves.  Princess Diana is a classic example – not one biography of her life fails to capture her self-doubt, her self harm, depression, bulimia and low Self-Esteem.

Princess Diana, a life testimony to low Self-Esteem not preventing one from doing good

Whitney Houston, the idol of many and valiant champion of love and music also harmed herself, doubted herself, made a masochist of herself.  Did she have the Self-Esteem the match the level of esteem the world had for her?  She certainly did not.  But she is mourned with broken hearts all over the earth today, a few weeks from her death.

There is also the far more balanced sense of self in the vision of Mother Theresa’s humility.  Someone who made herself low, determined she was but a tool for the work of God, cannot necessarily be seen to have had heaping amounts of Self-Esteem.  By her own admission she was always plagued with doubt, feared not being good enough for the ministry she was called to.

And so… in the journey of making rubbish of the theory that high Self-Esteem leads one to perfection and low Self-Esteem is the root of all evil, we have made the first decisive step toward our destination on the Leer Jet of narcissism and the hard Hike of self harm.  But there is something in the smoke of the theory that leads us to another fire altogether.  Keep an eye out for the next leg of our journey – the Train to Identity.

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THE POWER

There is a power that is often forgotten and underestimated.  A source of energy that has been fought over, written about, struggled against for centuries.  The fear of it has driven some of the most brutal social systems of the human story into being.  The desire to own it has sparked some of the most memorable battles since time began.  The power has been used to conquer, to tear down walls, and to burst through carefully constructed ceilings.  But the battles rage on as long as it remains undiminished.  No man can stand against it.

It is the power inside every woman – the power of a woman’s love.

It is not a wishy-washy romantic notion, this Love of a Woman.  It goes beyond the object and into the character and purpose of woman in the scheme of all existence.  In the posts to come this power will be explored.  It will take several days to cover it fully.  But be sure to stay tuned to the stream as we dive deeper into just how powerful this energy is, where we as people lose sight of it and take it for granted, and what we can do to nurture and grow it even more, closer and closer to its fullest capacity.

To my lady readers, I invite you to examine yourselves as this series begins and feel free to jump in with your insights.

To my reading gents, please follow along.  Perhaps it will guide you not only to the power inside you but help you find it for yourself and embrace it without fear in the woman you seek or the woman you now love.

To all… swim awhile with me in the Singlestream on the current of power…