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EMOTIONAL INGREDIENT IN AN INDIVIDUAL
TO HAVE OR NOT TO HAVE . . . SELF-ESTEEM

By Sushama Kirtikar - sushamak@tampabay.rr.com

“Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied,” says 19th-century philosopher John Stuart Mill. He was referring to the notion that educated and successful people may or may not have high self-esteem, and that it is all right. In other words, education and intelligence are desired over ignorance, even at the cost of self-satisfaction. Self-esteem means “an estimation of oneself, the way we view ourselves, or self-regard.” Taking it a step further, it refers to “recognizing one’s worth and importance.” I also have heard it described as a “social vaccine … that empowers people and inoculates them against self-defeating behaviors.” Somewhere along the way, the literal meaning of self-esteem became embellished to mean self-pride, which took on a new connotation.



Sushama Kirtikar
Mainstream America touts self-esteem as the most important emotional ingredient in an individual, though not many can define it precisely. In the ’60s and ’70s, the humanistic movement of psychology took on a life of its own. The push for building self-esteem is now the credo of elementary and middle schools, egged on by well-meaning psychologists. There are entire curriculums based on self-image. However, today, criticism leveled at mental health professionals have dubbed us to be in a ‘sensitivity coma’ referring to our loss of commonsense in being overly concerned to help boost an individual’s self-esteem. In short, critics say that we have gone over the edge.

How critical is it? Can people live happy lives without a high dose of positive self-esteem? In my last two columns, I cautioned our readership about pushing children too hard towards academic excellence. It could heighten their anxiety and generate a general malaise as they end up not feeling good about themselves.

On the other hand, there are school-yard bullies and behind-bars sociopaths who exhibit a high regard for themselves and report feeling happy. Such self-aggrandizing, narcissistic individuals feel no remorse for their negative actions. It is then self-evident that high self-esteem may or may not be linked to a good, moral human being. Discipline, rules and emphasis on education are the hallmark ingredients of Indian culture. If perchance self-esteem is fostered along the way, great. If not, it is not mourned overtly. By contrast, freedom of the individual, indulgence of the child and non-judgmental attitude make up a large part of the fabric of American culture. Surely, neither approach is all bad or all good.

It appears corporate America rewards those who display an immense amount of confidence and self-pride. Businesses flourish under the awning of self-advertisement. Yet, I see highly successful individuals who are plagued by self-doubt and negative self- image. These people are unhappy in their personal lives. Either they have high self- esteem and they do not know how to compromise in their relationships, or they have low self-esteem and no amount of external approval will convince them of their worth. Obviously, education and success do not guarantee happiness.

There is something that lies between high self-esteem (self-pride) and low self-esteem (discounting the self), and that is self-acceptance. Having a sense of knowing who you are, recognizing your weaknesses and strengths, and being comfortable with yourself may be the desired middle path. Know your realistic self-worth, do not flaunt it, or let it balloon into grandiosity. Enhance your positive qualities and keep polishing these gifts. Know your faults and do not be disheartened by them or be ashamed of them, cowering to hide them from the world. Face them head-on and make an impetus to change them. Ultimately, the middle path means tempering a ‘feel good’ mentality with humility. A healthy dose of humility keeps the axis well oiled and makes the world spin more smoothly.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or (727) 586-0626, or e-mail at sushamak@tampabay.rr.com



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