The Myth of Self-Esteem

It has become a recent fad of psychologists to promote the value of high self-esteem.So what is self-esteem? The Oxford Dictionary says “Confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect”. As an example of usage it gives ‘assertiveness training for those with low self-esteem’.

Assertiveness training; another favourite with psychologists. You have to wonder what gives psychologists the confidence and authority to shape people’s thoughts, to change their minds for their own good. You would also hope that these psychologists are on the right track, otherwise they could do a lot of damage.

There is a contradiction in the idea of self-esteem, or at least a conflict of interest because it concerns one’s opinion of oneself. Further, it is one’s mind’s opinion of itself. It starts getting tricky.

Isn’t this purely intellectual, a mental construct with no meaning? The penny dropped for me when a friend who suffers from depression did an online self-esteem test. She proudly displayed her results which indicated a healthy attitude, according to the psychologists.

But I knew it was wrong, otherwise why would she be depressed? It was just a defence which I have seen many times in depressed people. A denial of their real inner space, which they would never display publicly. A way of asserting themselves, when perhaps they could be more understanding and deferential while they treat their illness.

Lao Tse says:

“Empty yourself of everything.
Let the mind become still.
The myriad things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.”

The healthy mind is capable of emptiness, that is the thing. No self-esteem or any other junk to gather dust in dark corners.

“With an open mind, you will be openhearted.
Being openhearted, you will act royally.
Being royal, you will attain the divine.”

And yes, openness is important. This is a different quality to self-esteem or assertivness, and it is something which comes naturally from meditation, from stilling the mind.

Stillness, I would suggest, is a far superior quality to self-esteem.

It can be achieved through meditation, and if you have tried meditation and it hasn’t worked for you, be patient. It can take years. There are many meditations you can try, from Siva’s 112 suggestions to Buddha’s Vipassana to Osho’s modern, cathartic ones. Just half an hour a day, at the start, and you will begin to feel the difference.

Play around with them, have fun, attend group events if you like, but keep trying because meditation is the way, the Royal Path.

And remember the words of Dogen:

“There are thousands upon thousands of students
who have practised meditation and obtained its fruits.
Do not doubt its possibilities because of the simplicity of the method.
If you can not find the truth right where you are,
where else do you expect to find it?”