I’ve thought about this subject for years. I was raised by one abusive parent and another that offered insufficient social support during my formative years. This has cause me reflexive issues for me all my life, even to this day.
If I may, I’d like to offer a cut-to-the-bone way of examining the concept of self-esteem which I try to more properly term as sense of self or sense of social value.
The term self-esteem literally means “self-estimation“. The attempt to assess, to measure one’s self. But that is tangential. What we’re really speaking to is a matter of our response to this self-assessment. Self-assessment is a means goal, not an end one. What we are attempting to navigate are three items, a progressive sequence of means goals to an end goal: positive social inclusion.
This whole concept revolves around the instinct to be included in a given troupe’s activities and the positive interactions and results that these confer, as well as avoiding its negative interactions and negative results.
Humans are included or excluded based on social status–the perception of an individual’s positive or negative contributions to the group. It is a measure of where one fits in the hierarchy in a given troupe.
Our social status — where we fit in the hierarchy — is based upon our stature: what we have to give. It might be wealth, positive feelings, leadership, security or being funny, etc. Even a lack of threat or simple acceptance of another is valuable to others. To be included, we must be attractive, that is, to have something of value that draws others to us so that they may partake of said value.
So the sequence to creating a positive sense of self is this: have something valuable to offer, which confers stature, the level of your stature determines your status, your level of status determines the degree to which you are sought after to be included, then, with habituation, to belong.
The key to an accurate sense of social value, and it’s accompanying internal response, is an accurate measure of what you’ve got, how it is assessed by another and the “social market value” of another. One of the Dalai Lamas said something along the lines of “True humility is knowing your place, accepting that one is neither above, nor below another.”
Low self-esteem is usually inaccurately measuring what one has or can deliver, or being in an environment where one’s offerings are accurately insufficient to the demand or expectation. (“That person is in a whole different league”.) Self-doubt is a lack of accurate information of the degree to which another values our offering. Shame is the acceptance that our offering is inferior to the demand.
Whether we feel “good” or “bad” about ourselves is in fact little more than a physical response to the assessed threat of being harmed or outcast versus being safe and included.
I may be wrong, but this is my 30+ years or so of investigation of the mechanics of it, and what is to be done.
When one views things in such a light, it is easy to see the source of so many conflicts from the personal, to the international. We can understand why “victim politics” has such force. I find that this helps me be more compassionate and practical toward both myself and to others.