The actor-humorist Groucho Marx once joked that he would never belong to any club that would accept him as a member. For people, though, the inability to appreciate themselves is no laughing matter. People who suffer from low self‑esteem often resign themselves to a life of painful alienation.
The belief that you are less worthy, less attractive, less intelligent, or less good than another in any way sets you apart from those who would love you and would accept your love in return. Feelings of inadequacy, shame, and self-pity can consume your energies in an emotional tornado that drives destructively through all of your relationships. The devastation that often occurs as you live out your self-doubts serves only to reinforce the beliefs that you hold. A vicious cycle is then perpetuated—a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a law of life that says, “what you send forth, you get back.” Some people grow up believing so many limitations about themselves that, after a while, their lives actually begin to manifest those limitations. We may hear ourselves saying things that we accept as truth when, in fact, they are misbeliefs that have turned into our truths. How many times have you heard someone, a friend perhaps, say, “I can’t help the way I am; I’ve always been this way”; or “It’s my nature and in my genes and can’t be changed”; or “My family background is responsible for my personality”; or “Well, I’m the result of my culture and times”? All of these statements are untruths about the person speaking them.
If you believe you must always be the way you have always been, you are arguing against growth. If you are convinced that your family is responsible for the kind of person you are today, you are trapped in that cycle. The belief that society is shaping your life is a part of the illusion that you are formed by a “bigger and better” social force. If you so choose, you have the power to reject behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs coming at you that you find objectionable. Although you can’t eliminate the negative influences that were a part of your childhood, you can decide whether or not you will allow them to persist.
The human mind often breaks reality down into simple forms. Black or white, good or bad, me or you. This either/ or way of thinking may confuse some into believing that it’s not possible to treat another with care, while at the same time giving care to ourselves. With cultural traditions that value love and thoughtfulness to other people, many are convinced it is selfish to be considerate of their own feelings and needs. While you may have been taught that you should “love thy neighbor as thyself,” in truth, to love others, it is helpful to love yourself also.
It is important for the scales of loving human relations to be balanced. This can happen when each individual is honored as being of value. If you’re in the habit of putting yourself down, you may make it difficult for others to accept you. Holding yourself in healthy self-respect is different from being narcissistic. Narcissus, the figure in Greek mythology who spent his days pining after his own reflection in a pool, neglected everyone else in his life because he was so preoccupied with himself. He was like those who spend hours trying to get their hair perfect or their makeup flawless so that others will think them beautiful. The underlying assumption is that they’re not good enough as they are, that they must alter and improve themselves in order to be acceptable in other’s eyes.
True self-esteem belongs to the one who looks in the mirror, not to criticize or admire, but to see past physical appearance into the essential child of God reflected there. The one who moves past fear and discomfort to look deeply and lovingly into his or her own eyes should be able to share that look of love fully with another. Accept the person you are, risk sharing yourself with others, and then watch how you grow.