The # 1 Thing People Don’t Get About “Self-Esteem”

People talk about “self-esteem” as if it’s something you purchase at the store, or are lucky enough to win in the lottery. Some people become depressed that they never “get it.”  Others look to external agents — healthy things, such as jobs, material enjoyments, relationships, (good) psychotherapy — or unhealthy things — compulsive shopping, overuse of alcohol, drugs or gambling — to give them self-esteem.

Self-esteem isn’t something “given” to you and it’s not something you “get,” either.

Self-esteem is the logical byproduct of a habitual respect for your mind, specifically your mind’s relationship to external reality.

If you depend on others to tell you what to think, this leads to a pervasive sense of low self-esteem. Each time you do this, you’re in effect denigrating yourself. You’re operating on the premise, “Who am I to decide, judge or know? I have to look to somebody else.”

If you had self-esteem, it wouldn’t occur to you to ask others what to think, not as a replacement for your own determination.

Consider the question, “What kind of car should I buy?”

A person with self-esteem looks at the facts. One fact is how much you can afford. Because you have self-esteem, you won’t consider a car you can’t afford. You will work within the budget available to you. Also, you won’t consider status. The purpose of a car is to drive yourself to and from places in as much comfort and style as you desire, and can afford. If you can afford a high-end car, and you enjoy having a high-end car for your OWN sake, and not because anyone notices, then you’ll buy a high-end car. If you can afford a high-end car but honestly don’t care about all the creature comforts offered by one, you’ll buy a moderately priced car that’s still reliable and gets you where you want to go. You’ll save the money for other things more important to you than a high-end car.

The point is: You base your decisions on the facts of reality, including the objective facts of your own rational wants, needs, opportunities and preferences.  You’ll seek to do what makes sense, in your circumstances, not what others say is right (or what you imagine “they” say is right).

The habit of thinking this way, not just about cars but all life decisions — material and non-material ones — leads to a sustained state of serenity and comfort in one’s “own skin.” The deeper cause of this serenity is the habitual use of one’s reasoning, objective intelligence in all matters of life. When this sense of serenity exists within a person, and its cause is the habitual use of independent and objective reason, it’s appropriate to label this psychological condition “self-esteem.”

By this definition, self-esteem is open to anyone and everyone. People who were treated well by their parents are capable of self-esteem, and people who were treated poorly (even abused or abandoned by their parents) are likewise capable of self-esteem. Reason and thought are the human’s method of survival and satisfaction in life. Reason is a capacity open to all humans of minimal maturity and intelligence. The consistent and regular use of reason and objectivity are the essence of self-responsibility, and only the consistent use of self-responsibility — in everyday life — can generate a psychological state of self-esteem.

Parents and teachers, including the probable majority who mean no real harm, do all kinds of things to make the development of self-esteem more difficult in a young person. For example, they tell young people things like, “Why do that? Others will think you’re stupid.” Well, the opinions of others are no reason not to do something. Rational consequences of actions are the key determining factor in making choices. Children need love and logic, not out-of-context commands which teach them nothing. (None of this is to deny that adults are in charge; it’s only to uphold that children need reason.)

The constant quest in life is to figure out what makes sense, using facts and if-then propositions. That’s what I mean by “reason.” “Will doing such-and-such lead to a good outcome, or an outcome that makes myself and/or relevant others worse off?” Others are to be left alone, not to be objects of one’s concern — unless they’re friends, in which case they’ll presumably want you to be happy and to have good, logical outcomes to your actions.

The deeper issue with self-esteem is: How do you use your mind, not just in momentous decisions but in all of life’s everyday decisions? Do you habitually use logic, facts and reason? If so, you’re using your mind the only way it can be used.

Reason and logic, while no guarantee of a correct result, are the only means of hoping to obtain a correct result. When errors of knowledge or mistakes in reasoning lead to incorrect or undesirable results, then ONLY reason and logic (grounded in facts) can prove the nature and fact of your error. Reason, habitually used, is a way to both achieve and function in life, and also a way to self-correct as necessary.

Self-esteem is the emotional state that takes over a person as he or she becomes accustomed to utilizing rationality in daily life. Ideally, this starts in childhood when a child and later a young adult is consistently exposed to adults who do the same. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. While that’s regrettable for the person’s childhood, it doesn’t mean a young adult cannot break with the ways of his or her elders and develop the habitual use of reason — and the resulting self-esteem — throughout the rest of his life.

There’s no such thing as a “damaged” person. Not if a person is still capable of rational consciousness and choice, as anyone who’s conscious and not brain-damaged certainly is. Children’s childhoods are damaged or even ruined by the actions of unsavory or irrational adults, to be sure. But this has nothing to do with what will happen later in life, so long as the child (now an adult) chooses a different course. If a person thinks of him- or herself as “damaged goods,” then the psychological course for failure is set from the get-go. But it need never have been so.

Self-esteem is not something you “get” or are entitled to, or that can be “given” or “taken away” from you. Self-esteem is something that nobody can give you, but nobody can prevent you from developing, either. In order to grasp this fact, you first have to understand what self-esteem actually is.

Think for yourself, and always put rational thought above blind faith, unreasoned emotions, or pressure from others. Your own mind (including your own judgment of whom to trust for reliable truth, such as scientists or other experts) should be your supreme tool. The act of treating your mind with this rational reverence is, in itself, the act of building your self-esteem.

Self-esteem is open to everyone. Once you grasp the truth of this statement, life is truly yours to master and enjoy.


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