Here’s your quick course on self-esteem . . . Ready? Okay . . . You are built to survive anything that doesn’t kill you. In fact, you have the innate capacity to turn all pain into power. If you believe that—and you should—then you should realize you are an amazing creation. How’s that for self-esteem?
But, wait? Isn’t self-esteem based on you appreciating your intelligence or taking stock of your achievements or realizing that others are attracted to you or even knowing you are loved? Well, no, not really.
See, in the end, your intelligence is relative to that of others. How many of us are Elon Musk, after all? And your specific kind of intelligence can be an asset in test-taking and get in the way of money-making, or vice-versa. Your physical attractiveness or magnetic energy will eventually fade. Relying on the love of others to feel worthwhile is risky business; people are rarely reliable in delivering unconditional love.
Building your self-esteem on your ability to survive—and even, potentially, to thrive—amidst adversity, however, is building your self-esteem on granite. If you resolve that nothing will lead you to stop looking to the future, that nothing will make you lose hope, that you are undefeatable even in death, because you will be remembered for your tenacity, then you are really channeling and feeling core self-esteem.
How do you develop this core self-esteem? It’s a leap of faith. The great philosopher and psychologist William James put it this way:
Much of what we call evil is due entirely to the way men take the phenomenon. It can so often be converted into a bracing and tonic good by a simple change of the sufferer’s inner attitude from one of fear to one of fight; its string can so often depart and turn into a relish when, after vainly seeking to shun it, we agree to face about and bear it.
Yes. If you can bear it, then you deserve to bear witness to the fact that you are being tested by fire and turning into steel. Is that enough to awaken self-esteem? You bet it is.
Every loss, every reversal, every challenge, every disappointment is yours to turn from pain to power by simply reminding yourself that you are indestructible—because then you are. And that’s granite, alright.
If you can, amidst a wildfire that destroys your home, focus on your power to rebuild, or your power to love your neighbor, or your power to reassure your kids, or simply—and here is the point—your power to endurethen you will know the power of true self-esteem.
Core self-esteem is only really built when you survive, not when you thrive. There’s no comparison between the depth of self-esteem created when you lose a business and decide to rebuild, or lose love and decide to still love others, or lose your youth and decide to still renew your willingness to explore a new interest or new passion or new level of fitness or new appreciation for the mortality that is part of the life of each and every one of us.
By the way, my opening salvo actually understated the power of Self-Esteem 101. Because the real truth is that you can survive not only anything that doesn’t kill you, but even the things that do. Because you are eternal, and every inspiring and loving thing you say or do in this world, in the face of adversity, makes you live on and on and on, in the lives of those you touch, and the lives of those they touch, and so on and so on and so on.
Happy New Year, My Friends. There is much to celebrate.
Dr. Keith Ablow
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