What is Self Esteem?

What is self esteem? Instead of a complicated explanation of self esteem, let me use an image, worth a thousand words: the body of a very good-looking naked man, the famous David by Michelangelo! This explanation opposes “Self esteem” to the “Ego.”

For reading ease, the masculine “he” is used, but refers to both genders.

Let’s imagine each one of us as a being full of shining light. This light is entirely good. It is the strongest part of us, the one that knows deep down what is right for us. It is the real self. This light is our “self esteem”. On this illustration, the golden light is shining through the whole body. The self esteem is therefore quite high.

Now, around it, picture a layer of mud that covers entirely the being of light. This layer is the “Ego.” It is made of external elements. From the moment a baby is born, he is flooded with a combination of thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs, habits, reactions and behaviors that come from his family, culture, religion, country and general environment. Each one of those elements is adding to and shaping the outer layer or ego, regardless of the real self. The baby absorbs these influences and gets so accustomed to them that he considers them an integral part of himself. They are not necessarily bad, but they are not the real self.

When the ego is very thick, the person is very removed from his real self. The light inside – or what is self esteem – gets squeezed in and tends to become small and shapeless. All the ideas, habits and behaviors that have been shaping the personality are keeping him from seeing what he really is. He becomes disconnected from his self esteem.

The thickness of the ego depends on what the person is doing with his life. On enlightened human beings, such as saints, yogis and genuine humanitarians, the layer is so thin that it is transparent. The light is visible and shines through. This is why enlightened beings are so charismatic. But on most of us, the layer is much thicker. It is sometimes so thick that we believe there is only mud.

Our ego or made-up personality constantly changes. Because it is so mutable, brittle and fragile – remember, it is made of mud! – we will do just about anything to protect it, often unaware that it is hiding who we really are. We are worth a lot more than this ego.

Each ego believes he is right and wants other egos to be like him. If the other egos do not share his views, then they become his enemies and he will fight for his own beliefs. The desire to protect our ego causes many disagreements, quarrels, fights and when larger egos like countries are at stake, wars happen.

What is self esteem in relation to the ego? Who is in charge?

Within us, the ego and the self esteem must share the same space. Therefore when one increases, the other one decreases, and vice versa. When the ego is in control, the self-esteem gets constricted inside and disappears from our awareness. But on the contrary, when the self esteem is in power, the ego fades away.

From the illustration, you can easily see how a person with a “big ego” has actually very low self esteem, even if the person appears fearless. Similarly, a so-called weak person with very low self esteem has in fact a big ego that keeps him from seeing the light.

How does this illustration translate in our everyday life? What is self esteem in relation to our happiness. In order to be happy and balanced, we need to feel good about ourselves and to sense we are in control of our life. This brings us a sense of power and independence. When we are feeling good, our self esteem is the one in command.

However, when our self esteem is low – and therefore our ego is taking over – we experience a loss of control. The bigger the ego, the more protection we need: we feel vulnerable because we are losing sight of our self esteem.

When our ego is in control, we look for strength from outside.

When our self esteem is in charge, we get our strength from inside.

When the ego is in charge, he wants respect from others and depends a lot more on outside circumstances. If we feel we are being respected, we are temporarily happy. Conversely, when we believe others are showing us a definite lack of respect, we feel our independence, freedom, power and control are taken away, and we are definitely unhappy.

Since the ego is controlling our personality, we are not aware of our internal strength and our basic freedom – which are hidden by the mud – and we are holding on as tight as we can to those little bits of independence and control. If someone takes this away from us, we react negatively. We immediately feel fear and anger. And, of course, this opens the door to conflicts.

It is therefore very important to know what is self esteem and its opposite, the ego, if we want to improve our relationship with others or with ourselves.

Now that we have answered the question “What is self esteem?” let’s see how we can build self esteem.

You will find more information by clicking on Building Self Esteem: How is it done? What is self esteem?






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