By the time you finish reading this article you will have the only tool you need to permanently free yourself from low self-esteem. You'll learn the real cause of low self-esteem and how to rid yourself of it. The technique that you will learn is simple and easy to use but, like riding a bicycle, it does require practice until you get the knack of it. Let's start by taking a look at the cause of low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem comes about when you compare yourself to others and believe that you are not as good as them. On the other hand, when you believe that you are a better person than others, your self-esteem rises.
Sometimes you compare yourself, not with other people, but with an imaginary standard of how good you think you should be. If you are not as good as the standard that you have set, then your self-esteem plummets; if you believe that you are a better person than the standard that you set, your self-esteem will rise.
When you make these comparisons, you accept as fact that some people are better than others. You give each person, yourself especially, a rating and then compare your rating with either someone else's rating, or the rating of the ideal-self that you have imagined.
All self-esteem, either high or low, is based on the belief that some people are better than others. Without this belief, you would not be able to rate yourself, and self-esteem would not be an issue for you. If you want to rid yourself of low self-esteem, you must first rid yourself of the belief that some people are better than others.
What's Wrong With People-Rating
Before I show you how to rid yourself of this belief, let's take a closer look at the harm done by the belief that people can be rated.
People-rating leads to excessive self-absorption. When you worry about how well you rate, you find yourself giving less concentration to what you are doing because you are so focussed on how well you are doing it. Consequently, your performance on important tasks suffers, because you don't give it your full concentration. And the worse your performance is, the lower you rate yourself. You set up a vicious circle where low performance leads to low self-rating, leads to low performance, etc.
Very few people get to be outstandingly talented. The bulk of us are - by definition - average or below average in any given area. Those that do have a talent in one area are usually no better than the rest of us in other areas. If we rate ourselves according to our talents, then the majority of us will always fare badly. Because most of us lack any outstanding talent, we all make ourselves susceptible to low self-esteem when we rate ourselves based on our lack of talent.
People-rating requires you to constantly compare yourself with others. When you compare favourably with them you develop a superiority complex; when you compare poorly with them you develop an inferiority complex. By comparing yourself to others, your self-rating goes up and down like a yo-yo depending on whom you compare yourself with. This yo-yo effect leads to an emotional roller coaster ride, with far too many dips, and not enough rises.
The idea that there are 'good people' and 'bad people' often leads to the conclusion that the 'bad people' should be punished and the 'good people' rewarded. However this seems unjust as simply being a 'good person' would appear to be a reward in itself, while being a 'bad person' would appear to be sufficient punishment.
When you say that Person A is better than Person B because of a particular quality you are guilty of bigotry. It makes no difference if the quality in question is race, religion, sexual-orientation, intelligence, wealth, physical attractiveness, business acumen or any other quality. All people-rating is a form of bigotry.
When you praise someone because of something that they have done, you are, in effect, manipulating them by encouraging them to repeat the action. When you condemn them, you manipulate them by discouraging them from repeating the action that led to the condemnation. Very often this subtle form of controlling is not in the best interests of the person you are praising or condemning, and it often leads to a loss of self-direction for the person concerned.
The standards by which we evaluate ourselves are often in line with what society expects from us. By measuring your worth as a person by how well you live up to society's standards, you surrender your individuality and become 'one of the crowd'. In this way, the established order remains in place and authority remains unchallenged, leading to greater wealth and power for those who already have too much.
Labelling yourself, or others, as good or bad can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe that you are a failure because you failed at some tasks, you may set yourself up to habitually fail.
People-rating interferes with inter-personal communication. It leads to judging others instead of listening to them and getting to understand their point of view.
When you worry about how well you rate as a person, you often waste needless time and energy on activities designed to boost your rating instead of on activities that give you pleasure. Consequently people-rating reduces your happiness.
We can see from the above points that the belief that some people are better than others leads to some unfortunate psychological and social problems. But of course, the fact that a belief leads to problems is not a good enough reason for abandoning the belief.
Additionally, there seems ample evidence to support the belief. You only have to watch the nightly news on TV to see 'good people' risking their lives by saving others from burning buildings, and 'bad people' killing and robbing. How can you be expected to give up the belief in the face of so much evidence?
The answer lies in recognising the illusory nature of the belief. The appearance that some people are better than others is an optical illusion that traps you into accepting it. However, if you are prepared to look at it from a different angle you can see that the belief has no basis whatsoever, and you can escape from its clutches. Let's look at the belief from a new angle.
Rating an entire person because of one or two traits or behaviours is a form of overgeneralisation. In effect it equates part of a person with the entire person. The idea of people-rating leads to the illogical conclusion that - for example - good golfers are better people than poor golfers, purely on the basis of their golfing ability. You can substitute any quality (race, religion, sexual-orientation, intelligence, wealth, physical attractiveness, business acumen, etc) for golfing ability and the conclusion remains equally false.
All of our characteristics are different. Just as you cannot add apples to oranges and subtract bicycles, you cannot add beauty to generosity and subtract dishonesty to get an overall rating.
The traits and behaviours by which we rate ourselves are inclined to fluctuate. For example, if you rate yourself according to how generous you are, you'll find that some days you are more generous than others. How can you rate yourself based on something that is forever changing without having your self-rating also go up and down?
There is no agreement on the value of certain characteristics. For example, I might rate someone highly because of their acting ability, while you may not rate acting ability as highly as I do. As long as we disagree over the value of each characteristic, we will disagree on the rating of the person who possesses the trait. Consequently, all people-rating is purely a matter of opinion, not of fact.
Even if you and I agreed that risking your life by running into a burning building to rescue someone is a greater achievement than winning an Academy Award, we might not agree on how much better it is. Is it twice as good, twenty times as good, or two-hundred times as good? Until we can agree on how good an achievement is, we cannot agree on how to rate the achiever. Once again, our rating is exposed as being based on opinion, not on fact.
Suppose that I spend a lifetime doing good deeds but one day I murder someone. Does the murder undo all the good deeds that I have done? Would I be a 'good person' for all the good that I had done, or a 'bad person' for the crime that I committed? What sort of mathematics would you use to weigh up the value of my good deeds against my crime? All of us do some good things and some bad things in life. How do we measure the good deeds against the bad? There is no standard formula for making this kind of calculation so once again we are back to a matter of opinion, not fact.
In order to come up with an accurate rating, we would need to know everything there was to know about a person. Without all the information, our rating would be, at best, only approximate. But we do not and cannot know everything there is to know about someone. No one can remember all their deeds and thoughts, so any rating that they give themselves would be based on only some information. It's quite common for people to block their misdeeds from their memory, so it's possible that a vitally important piece of the jigsaw could be missing, which would make the rating highly inaccurate.
While we may not know everything that there is to know about ourselves, or agree on the value of each of our characteristics and behaviours, we can probably agree that it is better to be alive than to be dead. Based on that valuation, we could possibly agree to rate ourselves based on our existence: "I exist, therefore I am good." While this has a practical value, in that it makes us all equal and allows all of us to rate ourselves highly and to rid ourselves of low self-esteem, it is probably meaningless and once again a matter of opinion, not fact.
Giving ourselves, or others, a rating is both harmful and impossible to do accurately. Therefore it is in your best interest to abandon the belief that some people are better than others. As noted above, surrendering this belief requires practice; it will also put you at odds with the beliefs of nearly everyone you know, but it is worth the effort.
Expose Your But
The first step to abandoning the belief that some people are better than other is to recognise that human beings are complex characters. We all have a mixture of good, bad and neutral qualities. At various times and with various tasks, our performance ranges from outstandingly good to outstandingly inept. At times we find the behaviour of others to our liking, and at other times not to our liking.
When you recognise a quality or behaviour in yourself that you find undesirable, admit to yourself that you don't like it. Say to yourself, "I don't like …(whatever it might be)."
The next step is to add a reminder to yourself that the quality that you dislike does not make you a less worthy human being. Say to yourself, "I don't like … (whatever it might be) BUT that does not make me an inferior person." Make sure that you give the rebuttal strong emphasis. Some examples of this technique in action include the following:
"I don't like my appearance BUT my appearance does not make me inferior to others."
"I didn't do that very well BUT that doesn't make me an unworthy individual".
"Some people are better at X than I am BUT that does not make them better people."
Get into the habit of separating your behaviour from your identity. As well as separating your lesser performances from your identity, make it a practice to separate your better qualities from your identify also. Additionally, separate the behaviour of others from their identity too. Here are some examples to consider:
"I did that well BUT that doesn't make me a superior human being."
"I'm good at X BUT that doesn't make me a better person than others."
"I don't like the way he treated me BUT that doesn't make him an unworthy individual."
"She's good at X BUT that doesn't make her a better person than anyone else."
Whenever you use this method, which I call 'exposing your but', take time to think about what you are saying. Don't merely parrot the words, but give some thought to why behaviour and characteristics - good or bad - do not affect the worth of the person.
Once you make the commitment to separate your behaviour from your identity, you can say goodbye to low self-esteem forever.