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Self-esteem is not a constant—it is not experienced with a consistent intensity at all times. Self-esteem fluctuates, and is a matter of degree—it is not an either/or proposition. There is high self-esteem and there is low self-esteem, and many gradations in-between. We can increase self-esteem; we cannot get self-esteem. Getting self-esteem implies that there was a total absence of it and the void can be infused with some kind of self-esteem substance. The only kind of person that has absolutely no self-esteem is a cadaver.

Healthy Self-Esteem

Having self-esteem means honoring our potentials, embracing the discovery and exploration of all that is uniquely us. People with high self-regard seek out stimulation through challenge. Though high self-esteem does not guarantee success and happiness, it does guarantee that these will be pursued with enthusiasm.

Self-esteem is not based on external success and failures; it is internal. Though appreciated, people with high self-esteem do not require approval, understanding, or positive reinforcement from others.

Having high self-esteem does not make us immune to uncertainty, despair, or anxiety—it simply makes it easier to tolerate and handle them.

People with high self-esteem seek out high self-esteem in others. They do not fear competency or uniqueness in others, and are excited with the challenges of another complex and self-actualized personality.

Truth and honesty build self-esteem. We must not be prevented from recognizing facts as facts; facts cannot cease to be facts if we choose not to acknowledge them. Convictions and values are developed from facts as we collect them throughout our lives. The integration of our convictions, values, and beliefs is known as integrity. When our philosophies and our actions coincide, we maintain integrity. Integrity is an absolute prerequisite for self-esteem.

We all judge and are judged by some standard based on facts; we cannot be exempt from a value system. Failure to meet standards creates great anxiety in us, and makes us suffer through loss of integrity. High self-esteem allows—even insists on—satisfying standards and maintaining integrity, but only if we are in total harmony with those standards. When we are not in agreement with the standards, but feel pressured to accept and live by them, we are at risk of betraying ourselves and displeasing those who impose the standards.

Betrayal of our values, standards, and convictions leads to evasion and denial of the self, a surrender of one’s values to the values of another. At the same time, pressure to comply to another’s standards may intensify, producing anger and resentment towards others for the imposition. This creates a split that is felt as guilt. Self-esteem means refusing to accept unwarranted guilt, and striving to correct earned guilt—if this is not accomplished with all speed, a degradation in self-esteem results.

Low Self-Esteem

Poor self-esteem is a feeling of being inappropriate to life—of being all wrong.

Self-alienation—absence of self—is at the root of all human misery. Feelings of detachment, of not belonging are a manifestation of decreased consciousness, a consciousness deliberately shattered by attacks aimed directly at our sense of self-worth. Denunciation of the self comes from others as well as from within ourselves.

The lower the self-esteem, the more likely disappointments will be regarded as sure evidence of worthlessness. Low self-esteem generates more low self-esteem—it feeds on itself. People so afflicted find existence frightening and overwhelming, and are unable to meet the challenges and trials of daily life, becoming defeated and paralyzed by them rather than energized to solve the problems.

People with low self-esteem seek safety in the familiar and undemanding. They are sleepwalking through their existences; they are extras in their own lives, instead of the stars.

People with low self-esteem show a disparity between what they profess to feel and their overt actions. “No, I’m not nervous,” he says as he jerks his arm to the side, smashing a lamp to the floor.

Nervousness and discomfort in the company of others is indicative of low self-esteem, as if there were something loathsome inside that must be caged, hidden, controlled. Unwarranted tension conveys an internal split, a self-denial or disowning of the self.

People with low self-esteem operate in a diffused consciousness; they are unfocused, their minds leaping from one incomplete phrase to another, idea to unfinished idea, leaving a wasteland of unconnected thoughts and abstractions for those around them to wade through and somehow correlate.

People with low self-esteem are ruled by fear—of themselves as well as others. This is because of conflicts between a value imperative and a belief in their own inadequacy. Must/should thinking collides with fantasies, wishes, and desires that contradict the imperative.

People with low self-esteem are especially attracted to others with low self-esteem. They frequently avoid those with high regard for themselves, labeling them arrogant and conceited.

For people with low self-worth, thinking is often used as an excuse for inaction—it is evasive rather than constructive. Isolation, though often necessary in the healing process, is sought as a refuge from the self, an evasion and denial of possibilities.

False Self-Esteem:
What Self-Esteem is Not

Self-esteem is not our image; it is not a function of how others perceive us.

False Self-Esteem: “I am confident I can do this.” When our self-worth is wrapped up in how we perform, we are seeking approval from others, rather than regard from ourselves.

True Self-Esteem: “I trust myself to make life-affirming choices.” This applies to all areas of our existence, not just a job or task that must be done properly using particular skills.

Self-esteem does not mean feeling superior to others. Those with high self-esteem are not pretentious; pretentiousness is a disguise for deficiency. High self-esteem is not comparative or competitive, and is certainly not self-glorification at the expense of others. Self-esteem does not mean diminishing others to elevate the self. Overestimating abilities, arrogance, boastfulness, and conceit are disguises for low self-esteem and are meant to conceal self-doubt.

Self-esteem is not the same as pride. High self-esteem says, “I am worthy of life.” Pride says, “I have” or “I am.”

False self-esteem is a façade adopted by those who see themselves as failures. Self-worth is generated through duty, altruism, stoic endurance, wealth, and sexual prowess. It serves to diminish anxiety, but inspires rationalization and denial of feelings, ideas, and memories that could unfavorably affect self-appraisal. People with false self-esteem are habitually brilliant in one part of their lives, and abysmally stupid in other parts—the parts they feel most defensive about. False self-esteem obliges one to achieve to avoid pain. Such people need to be held in awe and worshipped by others, seeking to escape and denigrate moral values and standards. These people demand forgiveness and acceptance, and are obsessed with making others love them. They are highly manipulative and seek to overpower others. The person embracing false self-esteem survives in a void, stripped of any semblance of humanity, constantly holding the dread of exposure at bay.

American society not only sanctions false self-esteem, it encourages it. Pretended self-esteem relieves the burden of responsibility and denies individualism, making people good citizens—obedient and dependent.

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Writing to Cop with Disability, page 2