Putting the ‘self’ in self-esteem (a workshop summary)
In a world of prevailing social media influence, it can be all too easy to be taken in by the glamorous stream of carefully managed images and to forget that the picture-perfect shots of your friends on nights out or on their tropical holidays may be a masquerade to compensate for the less pretty parts of their lives. Combine this with living in a capitalist society which almost equates our worth to our productivity and no wonder rates of anxiety and depression are rising across the spectrum.
Interested in how to reconnect with my own inner worth, I attended a workshop on the subject of self-esteem a few months ago. We started off by thinking about what forms our identity and the facilitator drew a diagram which started off with ‘I’ in the centre, surrounded by another circle to describe the senses or how we interact with the world around us (i.e. see, hear, touch etc.). This in turn was enclosed within an outer circle of deeper things such as relationships, culture, body and health, with the outermost layer consisting of the anchors with which we typically define ourselves by e.g. job, house, car, money and clothes. There is a big problem with grounding our sense of who we are in several or even all of these external aspects……which is that the only constant in life is change! For example, we may suddenly be made redundant, lose our home or suffer a breakdown in our relationships. Therefore, it takes a lot of energy to root our sense of self in any of these things. It is far more stable to base our self-esteem on internal values or what could be thought of as virtues e.g. kindness, sensitivity, strength, compassion, humility.
We then did an exercise which was related to this point where we had to think of a person, animal and flower that we admire or like the most, giving 3 reasons for each one. For the animal one, I chose the cat because of its independence, calmness and strong sense of self. The facilitator asked for an example from each of us, building up a mind map of adjectives, before revealing that we already have what we spot in others. We couldn’t recognise a rose unless we knew what it looked like. In the same vein, we wouldn’t be able to recognise sensitivity in others if we have not experienced it through ourselves. So it is about cultivating what is already present inside us because what we feed will grow.
Materialism persuades us that what we need in order to feel good about ourselves is external to us; spirituality shows us that everything we need can already be found within. In an increasingly uncertain and divided society, our self-esteem should be a source of stability, allowing us to value and appreciate our uniqueness and the inner good of what we bring to the world at large.