Yes, Self-Esteem IS Earned and Here’s Why

A slogan reads:

‘Most people with low self-esteem have earned it.’

It’s a provocative statement. But it’s true. Who can identify why it’s true?

First, let’s define self-esteem. Self-esteem means a pervasive sense that one is worthy of existence, and fit to exist.

How does one come to feel this way? As I wrote in a recent column, the only way to achieve self-esteem is to be in the consistent habit of using rational thought, and practicing rational action, in daily life.

To feel good about yourself, you have to know how to use your consciousness.

If you abuse your consciousness, or mind, then you’re not going to feel good about yourself. Think about it. If you treat somebody else poorly—if you take them for granted, or repeatedly act as if they’re invisible or unimportant—they’re not going to hold you in very high esteem. They might pretend to do so, but there’s no way they will actually feel ‘esteem’ towards you if you treat them that way.

The exact same principle applies to yourself. If you’re in the habit of treating yourself poorly, then by definition you’re not going to feel good about yourself.

Our means of self-preservation, including coping with daily life, is rational thought and behavior. ‘Rational thought and behavior’ does not automatically and always mean correct thought and behavior, but thought and behavior done in a thoughtful, reasoned out and objective way. Keep in mind that reason is self-correcting. If you utilize reason when choosing a career, or selecting a car to buy, or choosing a mate, it’s possible to make an error. But reason and identification of facts are what will help you correct that error.

Reason is not infallible, but it’s all we have and it’s awfully useful. When making an important decision, using reason means carefully taking into account all the known and knowable facts about the situation, and logically concluding from there. More often than not, you will make a good decision when you utilize reason. And, if you make an error, you’ll at least be able to tell yourself (with authenticity) that, ‘I truly did the best I could. Now move on.’

People who are in the habit of utilizing their thinking minds day in and day out will experience self-esteem as a result. It’s payment for an ongoing mental job well done. In other words, they will tend to feel that they are fit for existence, which is really the whole core emotion of self-esteem.

If you experience self-esteem, this implies that you have been using your faculty of self-preservation and coping—i.e., rational thought—in a consistent, regular and daily way, with issues great and small. The reward for using your mind in that fashion is self-esteem. In other words, you earned it.

By the same token, if you’re not in the habit of using your built-in means of self-preservation and coping, you’re going to tend to experience an emotional state dominated by fear, depression, malevolent gloominess or other troubling emotions. These emotional states are the result of your failure to sufficiently apply rational thinking and action to daily life, and they’re the consequence of this failure on your part.

Yes, it’s your own fault—whether you intended it or not—and you alone have the means to change it. Some will reply, ‘This is self-blaming!’ I call it self-empowerment.

Virtually everyone uses at least SOME reason and logic in daily life. Nearly everyone uses reason before crossing a busy highway, for example, or before knowingly eating something that will make them sick. Most won’t watch television shows or listen to music they know they don’t like. Everyone uses reason—to a point.

The problem arises in not using reason consistently. Many people, to one degree or another, partially replace reason/logic/facts with ‘alternative’ tools of survival. That’s where they start to get in trouble, and that’s where they start to experience erosion (worst case, destruction of) self-esteem.

Examples of things people attempt to use as replacements for reason and rational thought? I’ll give you three major categories.

(1) Substances—i.e., abuse of drugs or alcohol. ‘If I don’t think about this, it’s not true. It will go away.’ Substances can’t work, not when used in this way. Why? Because reality continues to exist, independent of consciousness. If you’re not paying your bills, and you’re living beyond your means, this fact will remain true while you’re drunk. And when you’re sober again, the hard facts will still be sitting there, awaiting resolution, regardless of your having been intoxicated the night before.

(2) Other people—i.e., ‘If others like to be around me, I’m OK. So long as others approve of me, I’m all right.’ It can’t work. Why? Because it’s artificial and superficial. In order to value the approval of other people, you have to know WHY you value these particular individuals in the first place—i.e., what’s good about them, according to you—and you also need to know WHY they’re right to value you in return. These things can only be determined by facts and objectivity—in this case, objectivity about yourself. Having others appear to like you isn’t enough. You have to like yourself first, knowing full well why, and your choice of friends or associates must be a consequence of this.

(3) Magical thinking—i.e. ‘A force greater than myself is watching over me.’ This provides a sense of calm and peace, to some, until something bad happens. ‘Why did this Force let me down? What is it I did wrong?’ There’s no logical answer to this question, because the idea of a ‘force’ being there to take care of you was never established (by fact) in the first place. Yes, this includes religion, but it’s not limited to religion. People look to secular entities as well, such as ‘the government’ or ‘society’ or perhaps family to ‘take care of me.’ Government and society (i.e., other people) are actual, provable entities, but it’s still magical thinking to assume that as a collective everyone else is actually able or willing to take care of you. Communism and socialism always falter and ultimately collapse, as we’re even now seeing in our own society with the implosive bankruptcy of the welfare state. (Regardless of political persuasion, you cannot deny that our government is fiscally unsustainable with unlimited entitlements to be paid for by an economy that has mostly stopped growing.) The lesson? It’s an illusion to think that ‘others in general’ can somehow take care of you, and illusions are no substitute for self-esteem!

So if you subscribe to faulty theories or viewpoints, and if you attempt to substitute anything at all for reason and logic as your ONLY tools of coping and survival—well, whether you think so or not, you asked for it. You asked for a low or nonexistent state of self-esteem. No, that wasn’t your intention. But it was the inevitable result of having had faulty ideas in the first place.

The errors were your own. But the solutions are in your power, provided you’re willing to start thinking’consistently! The good news is that bad ideas can always be changed, provided you’re willing to change them and act accordingly.


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