Self acceptance trumps self esteem

Self acceptance trumps self esteem.

Self-Esteem is big business, look at the self-help section on the internet, in any bookshop and you will find a myriad of solutions to a mountain of problems. Books that promise to change us, to change our lives: "The Secret", "The Power of Positive Thinking", "The Relationship you want in minute", "Replacing anxiety with Peace". These books keep on coming and we keep on buying into their salvational powers.

There is an enduring myth that high self esteem correlates to happiness. This is not true. It is possible to be happy without high self esteem. Self Acceptance with and a large helping of self compassion are far more liberating and far more likely to lead to happiness.

Recent research shows that high self esteem is as problematic as low self esteem. High self esteem leads to egotism, narcissism, increased prejudices and discrimination. Research shows that high self esteem does not produce better leadership skills; neither does it produce better relationships.

Self esteem is performance based and as such is inherently fragile. Any slacking in this area provides fodder for self criticism and self punishment. Staying upbeat is equally problematic. It can become so prized that we avoid situations, people or places we believe will bring us down, like the sick, the old, funerals, hospitals or the dying. Meanwhile our self esteem oscillates between high and low, between I’m fabulous or I’m a fraud, I’m not a good friend or I have no friends.

Contradictions upset us, saying one thing or meaning and doing another, makes us reach for the fridge, the chocolate, the wine; or our drug of choice. But all too soon (usually the next morning) the release is short lived. These internal tussles have the capacity to suck the vitality right out of us.  

And so we become increasingly bewildered as the goals, hopes and dreams, which we and others set for us, yield only confusion and frustration.

In our quest for perceived success and happiness, and often as not the approval of others, we lose sight of our own uniqueness and creativity. We stop listening to ourselves as we learn to obscure or obliterate any awareness or discomfort we might be experiencing in our mind or in our bodies.

But the organism, that is to say the whole of us; body, mind and spirit is unfailing in its power and persistence. Given the attention, awareness, respect and mindfulness it deserves will search, seek and find a more harmonised existence.

Self acceptance and self compassion are the organism's greatest allies, they release the power, the energy that nurtures our unique possibilities... our autonomy, our creativity.

Self acceptance flushes in the here and now, the only place, according to Voltaire, we have any power.

What I am trying to say is this; self-esteem is neither a good nor bad. What really matters is self acceptance. Focusing our energy on living by our values (values tend to be summed up in one word: honesty, courage, reliability) not our goals, (goals tend to be sentences: I will get A’s in my exams: I will be thin by summer. I will be less anxious.) will help us to accept, identify and develop a deep sense of worth.

Realise that self acceptance trumping self esteem may call for a leap of imagination; after all it is going against current and fashionable media trends and going against that part of us which longs for answers, conclusions and destination. But, whilst the concept of suggesting a different set of skills and values may be new, the part of us which it is seeking to access, is older than time itself.

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Written by Yvonne Fitzpatrick-Grimes MBACP Psychotherapist

I'm Yvonne, an experienced Counsellor and Psychotherapist with a solid academic background in Psychotherapy. From a wealth of experience I will help you make informed choices about what you want to achieve, in a way that honours who you are, and what you have to offer.… Read more

Written by Yvonne Fitzpatrick-Grimes MBACP Psychotherapist

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