The problem with the pursuit of higher self-esteem

Higher self-esteem can only come when we judge our self-worth.

So when we decide to pursue higher self-esteem, we actually decide to follow a worldview that says, “Our self-worth can be changed and influenced by something external to us. Things like achievements and successes can determine our worthiness”.

The problem with this worldview is that it’s easy to live a life where we:

  1. Feel we are not good enough (low self-esteem), or
  2. Carry fear, anxiety or worry, because a future rejection or failure may mean we are no longer good enough (high self-esteem).

The alternative to self-esteem is unconditional self-acceptance.

With unconditional self-acceptance, we understand self-worth does not come with any terms and conditions. Instead, we see that we are already enough, and accept ourselves for all of who we are.

Finding unconditional self-acceptance

We move away from the pursuit of higher self-esteem and towards unconditional self-acceptance when we truly believe:

  • My self-worth can never be rated using external criteria. Doing so is illogical: I am already enough.
  • There is no rational reason for me to feel bad about or change the core of who I am. Any “imperfections” I have actually help to make me more unique, special and truly beautiful.
  • My actions, achievements and failures can be rated and improved when they help me to live a more fulfilling life. They can not be used to define me or my worthiness.
  • Mistakes are normal. Indeed, they are essential for my journey, growth and development.
  • I am so much more than the thoughts, opinions and judgements of others. Opinions and judgements can not define me, as they are only a reflection of the person who is doing the judging.

Change your beliefs, change your world

Make no mistake. The journey towards unconditional self-acceptance is a difficult one.

For most of us, it requires a change to the core beliefs that we hold about ourselves. Beliefs that are very different to what much of society tells us is true. And indeed, I still struggle with it, almost every day.

But it is so important.

The benefits of self-acceptance

Unconditional self-acceptance is often the pathway for:

  • Letting go of comparison, and being mindful and grateful for what you have right now.
  • Overcoming the anxiety that comes from hiding who you truly are, and finding the courage to be your authentic self.
  • Rising above the fear of failure, and finding confidence and belief within yourself to pursue what you really want in this life.
  • Seeing that rejection does not ever mean you are unworthy, inadequate or unlovable, and helping you to find hope and resilience during difficult times.
  • Being vulnerable and open with others, and inviting the opportunity for you to cultivate a deeper sense of connection.
  • Letting go of judgement, and allowing the creativity, skills and talents that lie within you to be seen and blossom.

Self-acceptance: the gift that keeps on giving

The last (but for me, most important) outcome of unconditional self-acceptance is that it helps us to become more accepting of others, too:

  • When we see ourselves as enough, we get better at seeing others as enough.
  • When we do not judge ourselves, we get better at not judging others.
  • When we no longer feel bad or insecure about who we are, we lose the need to make others feel bad or insecure about who they are.

When we become accepting of those around us, we give them the most amazing gift: we help them to see that they are enough, and should be so proud and accepting for all of who they are, too. And with greater self-acceptance, they can also help to spread this gift.

The very first step to making the world a more accepting place is to be the change that you want to see in the world: become more accepting of you.

After all, you are enough. Exactly the way that you are.

5 responses

  1. Tim, interesting take on the self-esteem issue.

    Self-acceptance in my opinion is the deepest understanding of yourself and respect for your limitations, and strengths. This understanding is a thought process that is unbreakable, making you mentally and emotionally strong, and allergic to bullshit.

    Self-esteem is an imitation of the the true peace and strength, that someone who has truly accepted themselves embodies. It is weak, and subject to battery from all sorts of ups and downs.

    Self-worth is the totality of someone’s perception of themselves acquired through the self-esteem. Again, very weak and subject to ass-kicking from stronger, more integrated personalities.

    Now, one bone to pick.

    Self-acceptance should never be taken too literally and as all-encompassing.

    My point being is if you are a weakling, poor, and hate your life, do not just sit there and try to meditate on accepting yourself and circumstances whether you were born into it or not. Do not just try to be grateful for what little you have by comparing yourself to others in worse situations. To me, that is breeding grounds for apathy and laziness. If you want a better life for you, and for your family, realize there is nothing stopping you from having what you want, if you work for it. Always strive to live better and greater.


    Erick “The Whip” Adamantine

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment Erick! Fantastic builds, and yes, empirical research shows high self-esteem and unconditional self-acceptance are interrelated, and can contribute to each other.

      And I agree too that we should desire to strive and grow. Indeed, this is an innate human trait and essential to our well-being.

      I believe it is certainly possible to have unconditional self-acceptance without losing the motivation or commitment to change and grow. Indeed, motivation can actually come from self-acceptance. First, it can give us confidence in who we are and what we can contribute. Second, it can help us to understand that we are not defined by our actions, so previous failures do not mean that we are a failure and should just give up.

      Self-acceptance does not mean our whole life must be accepted as is, and that our actions should not be rated and improved. Instead, it simply means that we change our actions in order to help us to live a more fulfilling life, and not out of a need to have greater self-regard for who we are.


  2. You’ve packed so much into this I will have to return to it I think! You are right though about the way self-esteem tends to be seen. I think that Anne Dickson writes very interestingly about ways of viewing self-esteem in her book “Difficult Conversations: What to say in tricky situations without ruining the relationship” and highly recommend. Even though it is a relatively short section of the book, it is some of the most thought-provoking information I have read on self-esteem. Best wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: 6 myths we are told every time we watch The Biggest Loser « Tim Cassettari

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