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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

If You Don't Have This, You'll Never Feel Successful

What is it?
Healthy self-esteem, my tens of readers.  

That's right. Odious subject.

I'm not talking about giving ribbons and trophies to everyone on the soccer team and not keeping score to build self-esteem. I'm talking about--

Well, what the hell AM I talking about?  

Merriam-Webster online defines it as "a confidence and satisfaction in oneself."

Huh? These words are nonsensical and also make no sense to me.

Thank God, my sister the psychoanalyst emailed me. She had this to say: 

As for self-esteem, I guess it's basically how you feel about yourself.  There could be global self-esteem - your overall feelings/ evaluation of yourself, or more domain specific self-esteem (I'm a good musician).  Healthy self-esteem would be positive feelings about oneself that aren't fully dependent upon external feedback or events ....

You see, one day when I was talking to her about success, she had this insidious point: that some people will never feel successful, no matter how much they accomplish, because of their early nurturing.

Because of their early nurturing. SOME people. Faulty nurturing. Well, she IS a psychoanalyst.

Do you think she meant me? (Motherless child. Cinderella identifier.)

But instead of me, let's consider some perfectionists I know who admit to never feeling satisfied with anything they do, except perhaps for a fleeting moment.

Of course, all moments are fleeting. So why complain? At least they have flashes of success-feel. Maybe that's all we get.

No, no, no, of course not. As my sister the psychoanalyst points out, there's global self-esteem and domain-specific. 

So global would be just generally feeling pretty good about your self-worth. 
And domain-specific is, well, specific to a domain. Like, I'm good at math. (Actually, I'm not; not terrible, but not great.) 

Seems like domain specific self-esteem is linked to self-confidence. Self-confidence being something you can build by baby steps--small wins--measurable, point-to-able achievements. Like learning long division. These things build confidence and confidence beefs up your self--esteem. 

But you can be confident of your mathematical abilities and still have low self esteem. 

So the global part, just feeling overall (or underneath it all) that you're a decent person deserving of as much good as is possible in this vale of tears, is the more amorphous self-esteem. Self-esteem that isn't dependent on finding an agent and publishing a book and getting on some kind of list somewhere for something. Self-esteem that doesn't need a mirror to tell you you're beautiful.  

Without that, it can be impossible to enjoy the fruits of your labors, your achievements, your successes. Thus, you can be extremely successful in others' opinions, but not FEEL successful yourself. 

And thus concludes my diversion into self-esteem. 


  1. So domain-specific self-esteem stems from being able to Do.
    And global self-esteem stems from being happy to Be.

    Self-esteem means satisfaction in oneself, and is good, but self-satisfaction is vanity, and not so good.

    Your dog is even more of a perfectionist than you are. But you are both adorable.

    1. Well, self-satisfaction in a smug sort of way is vanity; but just feeling you're basically a decent person and have a right to take up your amount of space on the planet and a right to pursue your vision of happiness is not vanity: that's self-esteem.

      And thanks for the compliment! The dog is definitely adorable. And I, too, have lots of hair.

  2. Great discussion of self esteem!

    Too bad our market-driven culture encourages us to feel it's something we can run out and buy if we just find the right combination of products. Buy this car and drink this beverage and wear this brand of jeans, and feel better about yourself!

    1. I agree. And the market taketh away at the same time it giveth, too. Right? Buy this car and drink this beverage because you'll feel better about yourself, because if you don't realize that's what you need to do, you're a big loser boob.

  3. >> And the market taketh away at the same time it giveth, too. Right? <<

    This is what Aristotle basically said in his Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle correctly identified how honor conveyed upon by others can just as easily be taken away. If one knows both cognitively and somatically that one is doing one’s best to be a good person, no one else’s opinion can matter very much. If I had children, I would teach them to never ever look at the scoreboard – both in a game and in life. Instead, focus on what does it mean to thrive and flourish and direct ALL of your energies toward that. BTW, this is precisely why I am pursuing a PhD in philosophy… :)

    I have self-esteem challenges as well and I find that dedicating myself to becoming a better person helps a lot. Another thing that helps is focusing on process feedback rather than trait, person, or outcome feedback. (BTW, there is some great research on this that I can share with you if you like – and this is a super beneficial tactic you can use as a mom.) The third thing I find helpful is to take the time to *feel* *in* *my* *body* the sensations that accompany feeling good about myself. We often talk about feeing something and that experience is often more cognitive than somatic sensation oriented. When we do this, we are robbing ourselves of our birthright: to *feel* good about ourselves.

    Okay, I will get off my soapbox now… :)

    1. Ah, philosophy! I think I should've majored in it. Unfortunately, I only took a couple of classes, and the rest I've browsed through. I was just looking at the spine of my Aristotle the other day and thinking I should refresh my memory.

      You know, I personally avoid the scoreboard; but my kids are very aware of it. And it motivates them, to some extent. So I understand the impulse to try to instill appreciation of the process or of the thing itself, but for them, part of the thing itself is the competitive part. I am not sure that is such a bad thing. But when you start comparing your scores to other peoples, then the trouble starts. Especially if your self esteem is damaged.

      I've found my blogging helps my self esteem--as you say, getting involved in becoming a better person. Or in my case, in figuring out what is making me tick.

      I'd love links or research references, if you have time.