Self-Esteem Is No Good For You

by Daniel Fryer
24th Jul 2018

It really isn’t. Forget self-esteem, it’s no good for your confidence and it’s really bad for your sense of self. In its place, why not foster a sense of unconditional self-acceptance? Accept yourself as the unique, fallible (and flawed) human being that you are; revel in it even. It really will do wonders for your ego.

And talking of the ego . . .

If I told you that I had failed my driving test, would you call me a failure? I’m hoping that you wouldn’t.

But, what if I told you that I’ve actually failed my driving test a hundred times? Would you call me a failure then? The answer is, hopefully, still a resounding “no.”

However, if I fail my driving test a hundred times, something is clearly amiss.

Maybe I don’t get on with my instructor: But, if I change the instructor, I might change the outcome; or, maybe, I have a performance anxiety. Get my anxiety under control and I might pass the test. Or, maybe (sadly, regrettably), I just need to accept the fact that I am no good at driving. But, being no good at driving does not make me a failure as a person.

And yet many people, on a daily basis, are writing themselves off in such a way, concluding that they’re failures, our useless, or stupid, all because of the few things they can’t do, or aren’t doing well.

When people come to therapy for self-esteem issues, the problem lies in the term itself. Confidence built through self-esteem is no confidence at all. To esteem something is to rate it, to hold it in high regard. So, with self-esteem, you are literally rating yourself. And, if you have confidence issues, you are rating yourself in the overwhelmingly negative.

With self-esteem, when you get something right, your confidence goes up but, when you get something wrong, your confidence goes down. Trouble is, as human beings, we get things right and wrong on a daily basis.

Every single human being on this planet is a complicated amalgam of everything: every thought, every action, every word, every deed, every success, every failure and so on. You can’t call someone a complete success, because that label does not account for his or her failures. And you can’t call someone a complete failure, because that label does not account for his or her successes.

And it’s not over yet. Global labels, such as “success” or “failure” don’t take into account all the success and failures that are yet to come.

Some therapies, including Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) advocate unconditional self-acceptance.

With it, you can rate individual aspects of yourself (such as I am no good at driving or, I am really good at maths) but you can’t rate the whole. Each individual is a worthwhile, fallible human being: worthwhile because they are just like every other human being on this planet and, like every other human being on the planet, they make mistakes, they have character flaws and foibles, which makes them fallible.

In short, you are not a failure, or worthless or useless, you are, like every other human being on this planet, a worthwhile, fallible human being. You are made up of positive, negative and, even, neutral aspects. Everybody is.

When you accept yourself unconditionally your confidence is based on your innate worth as a human being. Getting things right does not add to that worth so, by the same token, getting things wrong does not detract from your worth.

You won’t like it when things go wrong (and you don’t have to) but they don’t define you as a person. Therefore, your faith in yourself remains far more stable as you face the ups and downs of daily life.

And who doesn’t want to be more confident as they do that?

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