"Self-esteem, as defined by our culture, is a myth." ~Terry Diebold, Marriage and Family Therapist, Presbyterian Minister, speaker, and author of The Myth of Self Esteem - 50 Ways to Stop Sabotaging Yourself
That's a pretty bold statement in this self-esteem obsessed world of ours, isn't it?
I must say, I have always wondered what all the hoopla was over it, though. I mean, really, is there a person out there who feels positive about everything about themselves every minute of every single day?
Labeling someone as having self-esteem or not seems like it might do more harm than good. So, when I met Terry at a conference a while ago and she passed along her book, I was very interested in what she had to say. As an avid reader, this was one subject I really hadn't focused on at all.
Terry starts off her book by explaining how our distorted interpretation of self-esteem actually makes us feel worse about ourselves. It leads us to compare ourselves to and compete with those around us (as we perceive them), instead of valuing and sharing the most unique parts of ourselves.
The Myth shines a spotlight upon our own self-doubt, and magnifies the confidence we think we see in others. We start to measure our self-esteem by an invisible yardstick, which can keep us from becoming the best people we can possibly be.
According to Terry,
"Instead of promoting thoughtful self-examination, our culture has created a myth about how we are supposed to feel about ourselves."
"Its very concept is grounded in the notion that things dark, unhappy, and disturbing are bad. Failure is bad, mistakes are bad, doubting yourself is bad."
It's like we're all living in a sort of Pleasantville, and need to realize that no matter how squeaky clean we try to make our world, there will always be germs, bacteria, and dirt. And we actually need those things in order to survive. thrive.
Whether we win or lose, succeed or fail, fit in or feel different, work or play, smile or cry, self-esteem, as we (mis)understand it, affects so many aspects of our lives. Terry applies it to many different areas in her book. Here is a brief overview of the Myth, by topic:
- Failure: An essential ingredient in any life journey, and yet the myth tells us to be ashamed of it.
- Soul: The center of our being, our strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams. The Myth prevents us from accepting the flaws we hold inside, so they end up eating away at us and making us feel even more "insecure and defective."
- Independence: Self-reliance is highly prized by the Myth, and yet our strongest selves will not be afraid to ask for help when we truly need it.
- Feeling "different:" The myth tricks us into thinking we are the only ones to feel this way, but really our heart is telling us we need to reexamine our place in our physical and emotional worlds.
- Passion and Creativity: We all need to find our own unique way to express them. The Myth says that we have to be recognized for our effort to be worthwhile, and even profit from it. Really, though, the creative process itself is what our hearts need most, no matter what shape it might take, or whether it leads anywhere or not. (Side note: since these are two things that seem to be missing from most school activities (Terry provides an example), might they hold the key to making education more meaningful for students?)
- The Family Factor: Expectations, Control, and Jealousy caused by the Myth can create power struggles and conflict, causing family members not to realize their potential.
- Work: The Myth prevents people from pursuing careers they're passionate about, and/or from bringing the best of themselves to a not-so-perfect work situation. Some choose to chase after recognition and wealth without ever finding true purpose in their work.
- The Value of Rest: As Terry states, "The Myth of Self-Esteem has convinced us that doing is more important than being." Many of us have forgotten how to rest, and in doing so, we emotionally exhaust ourselves. Even 5 minutes of meditation, creative thought, and reflection, or even extra sleep could be the first step in recovering what we've lost.
- Excessive Praise: The Myth leads parents into complimenting their children for any and all accomplishments, no matter how little effort may have gone into them. Children pick up on undeserved praise and it makes them feel worse. Praise means more when it's earned, and specific praise means more than a general "Good Job!"
- Integrity: The Myth does not leave much room for it because of its emphasis on "doing and succeeding." From placing blame to flat out lying, there are varying degrees of dishonesty, all of which "separate us from our authentic selves," and prevent us from accepting and moving past our flaws.
- Moving Past "Phantom Thinking:" Terry has a questionnaire ready to help you narrow down areas that are preventing you from living an authentic and meaningful life. Are you ready to put the Myth to rest once and for all?
I never realized how much this self-esteem "thing" really affects almost every part of our lives. Did you? It gets even more complicated when you start thinking about how attitudes and beliefs are passed down through the generations.
Well, I really enjoyed Terry's book. She gets you thinking, but seems to hold your hand along the way. Her sincerity shines through her words, which are sprinkled with metaphors and doses of humor that lighten up a somewhat serious subject. Terry's extensive work and life experience is clearly evident in the many anecdotes she shares, which certainly add to the power of her message.
Please note that there are a few scattered religious references in the book, but none of which do I think would offend anyone. It's only natural for a Presbyterian minister to do so! I must also add that there are a few typos as well. Hopefully, they'll be fixed in the next printing.
The actual definition of self-esteem is "a confidence and satisfaction in oneself." It's kind of vague, huh? Kind of leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation...
It makes sense to me that no two people would be confident about everything, and that their level of satisfaction would vary from time to time. Why do we let the Myth lead us to believe otherwise?
Take Michael Jordan, for example. He's certainly one of the most famous and successful basketball players of all time, and yet like just about every other highly successful person, he's faced his struggles. Did you know that he didn't make his high school basketball team? Instead of letting that get him down, every time he thought about it, it made him work even harder. Even after he became a professional, he continued to have failures, but never let them stop him in his tracks. I've shared quotes of his before, but here are two more:
"If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome."
I'd like to thank Terry Diebold for sharing her thought-provoking book, providing me with a review copy, and for opening our eyes to the possibility of transforming our lives from the inside out. She's changing the world, one client and one reader at a time.
Listen. Trust. Believe.
May 2012 be your year to shine.