So many of us struggle with what we call our self-esteem. We don’t feel good about ourselves. We don’t like who we are. We don’t think we’re smart enough, attractive enough, thin enough, strong or competent or successful enough. We have a general feeling of being ‘less than’ and just not good enough.

Either you have it or you don’t?

Some of us believe that we never had self-esteem to begin with. It’s as if some people were fortunate enough to have been endowed with it at the start and others were not. “I just don’t have any self-esteem.” “She has tons of self-esteem, but I have none.”

And some of us believe that we used to have good self-esteem but somehow it got lost or damaged along the way. This is especially true when self-esteem was unidimensional, based on one aspect of oneself, such as being the pretty one or the successful one. If, over time, we perceive ourselves to be less pretty or successful, we may feel that we’ve lost our golden ticket to acceptance in the world and now suffer from so-called low self-esteem. “I just don’t feel good about myself like I used to.” “I don’t feel like I have anything to offer anymore.”

We wish that we could be more, or better, so that we could feel good about ourselves. Then, if we finally felt good about ourselves, oh then, we could go out in the world and live the life we want to live and do the things we want to do. “If I were thinner, then I would feel good about myself and then I could go find a date or a job or a friend or a hobby without the shame and dread of people judging me.”

First things first

This may seem to makes sense as a logical sequence. Make the change, love who you are, live freely, right? This is precisely the fantasy that the majority of commercials on TV are trying to sell us every day. Buy this product or service and change something about yourself so that you can love the new you so that you can jog on the beach with your lover in slow motion.

But maybe self-esteem isn’t a feeling that we were given or not given at birth, or a feeling that used to be present before it got lost or damaged. Maybe it’s not a feeling that we deserve to have only if we meet certain criteria. Maybe it’s not contingent upon our appearance, accomplishments or bank account.

Maybe self-esteem is positive feeling about yourself that you deserve to have regardless of shape, size, IQ or social status. Maybe the sequence is the reverse of what the TV commercials would have us believe. Maybe we start with the courageous decision to live life freely, then work on loving ourselves along the way, then work on losing the weight or getting the promotion, if it still matters.

What are you waiting for?

So how would you live your life differently if you had better self-esteem? Maybe you don’t need to wait until you feel better about yourself before you go and do it. Maybe you deserve to live your life freely right now even if you’re not feeling it. Maybe you’ll feel better about yourself if you take the fear, guilt and shame with you and work them through, rather than letting them prevent you from claiming yourself and stepping into your life.

Art Frenz, Ph.D.


Psychological Fitness

“Psychological Fitness” is my monthly column featured in the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun Bulletin since 2004. This page highlights articles, or adaptations thereof, from that column.