The Fit Student—The True Source of Self Esteem

I saw a near death experience (NDE) where a woman became selfish afterward.  Most people who come out of an NDE become more selfless.  Not this female.

When she spoke she emphasized the word “I.”  She wore her self-esteem like armour, like a deep pride.  Her husband had left her, so she made a shopping list of what she expected from her next partner.  Not one word about what she had to offer him.  I spent days trying to figure out how selfishness could lead to a higher purpose or a meaningful relationship.  Despite her imperfection, the woman struck me as wondrous, lively, full of purpose.  At the very least, she had high self-esteem.

I wondered, why would her NDE direct her toward selfish ambition?

And then I saw another NDE that said the more self-love we have, the more love we have to give others.  Perhaps that was the missing link.  The woman with selfish ambition emanated high self-esteem, possibly self-love.  Maybe her self-love meant she had more love to give others.

But I believe the reverse holds true.  The more love we give others, the more our self-love grows.  And then, the more our self-love grows, the more love we have to give others.  In other words, love for others comes first.  And then the cycle of love snowballs into an avalanche of love.

But, to me, to grow self-love, it’s important to avoid stepping into sin.  The Bible says the narrow, more disciplined path is better than the wider, more undisciplined one.  By making healthy choices for ourselves, we keep our self-love ballooning, awaiting its moment to be lavished on others.

But I still wondered why the one woman’s NDE led to high self-esteem and selfish ambition

So, I wondered what exactly defines self-esteem.  I looked at the origins of self-esteem: “In the 1950’s Carl Rogers, at the University of Chicago, introduced the idea of self-esteem.  His idea was that children should be raised in an environment of ‘unconditional positive regard,’ which would lead to them developing a positive image of themselves, which in turn would lead to all sorts of good outcomes in life.  If children developed high self-esteem, they would get the success they wanted, they would be happy, they would have positive relationships with other people, and be able to reach their full potential in all aspects of their life” (17%).  But it didn’t turn out this way.

As it turned out, psychology soon deemed high self-esteem to be less esteem-worthy: “Baumeister started to research the matter further, and found that aggressive and violent people, ranging from playground bullies to criminals and even dictators, did not have low self-esteem.  Instead, they had a quite positive image of themselves, and in fact, by the definition of the term at the time, a high self-esteem” (19%).

Furthermore, “there was now another word for people who thought very highly of themselves, namely: Narcissists” (27%).  Thus, “thinking a lot about our own value is something in itself to avoid” (49%).

I believe it’s the givers, not the recipients, of love and praise who develop true self-esteem, which I liken to self-love.  I believe the secret to nurturing true self-esteem in children is to teach them to give love and praise to others.  And there is always a potential recipient.   You could shower love on the neighborhood birds by feeding them bird seed.

But lavishing praise on others may not offer the impact we seek: “It can feel really good to hear that we are fantastic, amazing, beautiful, smart, or whatever it may be, especially when this feedback comes from others.  It certainly speaks to us on a superficial level.  The problem is, like with cocaine, the long-term effects can be… let’s just say ‘less than positive’”  (57%).  For instance, we may guard our identity of being smart by not taking risks, which stifles our intellectual growth.  But the praise we give others for their ‘efforts’ and for their ‘strategies’ leads to a positive growth mindset, according to Carol Dweck (as cited in Kaye, 2016).  .

Thus, love for others fosters self-love.  And praise for efforts fosters true self-esteem.  But what about selfish ambition? What good is that?

There is evidence that selfless—not selfish—ambitions make us happier: “What type of actions make us happier then? Lyubomirsky has conducted several studies and from these I will give you just a few examples: Expressing gratitude, carrying out acts of kindness, nurturing social relationships, learning to forgive, physical activity, committing to your goals” (70%).  Mostly selfless acts.

I’d give the woman’s NDE half marks.  Yes, it’s important to feel self-esteem and have ambitions.  But she missed out on the most meaningful part: love for other souls.

Kaye, Martin.  (2016).  Self-Esteem Mastery: What Healthy Self-Esteem Is and How to Get It.  E-book.
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