Friday, September 20, 2013

Self Love vs. Self Esteem

From Brigid, a fellow blogger at mausersandmuffins:
For my parents still allowed us room to make our own mistakes, to achieve on our own merit. They weren't the kind of parent that has their child ...(get) praise and accolades for pretty much showing up, further fostering the self absorbed entitlement that is your personal burden and their future failure.
There is a school of thought that contends that much needless suffering results from the inability to discriminate between self love and self esteem.

It is cliché that Eskimo have scores of words for snow.  Snow is used for a multitude of structural and other life needs by the Eskimo.  Snow-ice comes in a spectrum of graduations, each with varying suitability for each of those end uses.  Hence the need to discriminate between fluffy new snow, granular older snow, stiff snow with the granules fused together, opaque ice with good impact properties and the clear ice that shatters easily.  Eskimo are intimately familiar with each type of snow, its properties, its limitations and its suitability for substitution.  They have a vocabulary that captures those distinctions because their lives depend upon that knowledge.

Unfortunately, we are not as careful with the terms self love and self esteem.  They are as similar yet as different as water and food.

Self love is unconditional.  It is the internalization of the unconditional love that we most often associate with our mothers.  Our mothers proudly taped our creations to the refrigerator door no matter how ineptly they were executed. Self love is needed because even the best of us get kicked in the teeth, even the best of us don't always come in first.  Self love tells us that we have innate worth independent from our accomplishments. 

Self esteem is earned.  It is the earned recognition that we internalize and is often associated with fathers.  It is a little more nuanced than self love.  It is also more politicized. 

Self esteem is why our reach will always exceed our grasp.  If self love allows us to believe we are OK even when we fail, self esteem allows us to hold our heads high because we know we tried our best.  Our need for self esteem guarantees that our reach will always exceed our grasp and that we strive to get better.

If self esteem is modeled on the earned recognition that is wrestled from a tired dad, then dad is no longer expendable after donating his DNA.  Dad cannot be replaced by a check or a village or a woman.  The contention that self esteem is rooted in earning Dad's recognition and approval makes this definition of self esteem a non-starter in many circles. 

Let us put political ideology aside and play with the idea.

If self love and self esteem are not interchangeable, then one will be left with a void, a hunger if one attempts to fill the one need with the other.  It is trying to satisfy hunger with ice water.  It may temporarily mask the pangs but they will come back in ever more insistent waves.

If the need for food is not met, then anything that is a close approximation will be pressed into service.  Pets, cadavers, sawdust, motor oil, leather, paper, clay, mice....

The prevalence of gangs in inner cities is evidence that young people, especially young men, have a burning need for self esteem.  They are denied the normal, healthy "Dad" source so they find other men who can knight them with a quest and earned recognition. Men who do not have the young man's best interests at heart.

Your dad may not have been an iron fisted man's man.  He may not have been a fire breathing, steel eating specimen of manhood who walked in a billowing cloud of testosterone fumes.  But he was a MAN.  He went out into the adult world like a knight in the days of yore.  He survived.  He brought home the bacon.

Most families had measures of manliness.  It may have been shooting hoops, or who could catch the most bluegills.  It may have been playing Scrabble, shooting clay birds or arm wrestling.  It could have been cracking hickory nuts with your fist, or how quick could you swap out a set of spark plugs.  It was a way you could measure yourself against "the old man" and judge your readiness to go forth in the world.  It was a great and notable day when you beat "the old man."

Our culture tried to substitute self love for self esteem and it failed.  It is time to man up.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Readers who are willing to comment make this a better blog. Civil dialog is a valuable thing.