One of the recurring themes that comes up when talking to people suffering from unhealthy habits is “low self-esteem”, both as a cause, an excuse and/or as a symptom for their behavior or thinking. The word self-esteem implies a judgment we have about ourselves. The word low expresses the result of that judging process. When our self-esteem is low, we judge ourselves to be not good enough. However, isn’t judgment up to an impartial judge and jury. So, who is judging who? Awareness about the true nature of this thing called low self-esteem can be very helpful in recovery and you will find out that it is all about the ego’s insanity.
In a court of law, most of us would agree that it would be insane to have suspects judging themselves, let alone pronounce their own verdicts, and for obvious reasons: we believe that individuals are incapable of making an honest judgment about themselves. Yet this is exactly what we do where low self-esteem is involved.
When we judge ourselves a strange phenomenon comes into play. Somehow, our self seems to be split into two parts. The part that judges and the part that is being judged. The part that feels guilty and the part that blames. The prosecutor and the victim, so to speak. Yet there is only one “me” or “I”, is there not?
So why does this curious mechanism occur and who is judging who? The answer may come as a surprise, and a relief.
The truth is that our mental self does consist of two parts. Our deepest and true self on the one hand, and our ego or egotistic mind on the other hand. The self-image is the “I” , the “I – dentity” that the ego creates for us in this life, in this world. It is like a shell that surrounds our true self, our deepest “I”, our soul.
This self-image or appearance is identifiable through the masks we wear, the roles we play, the jobs we have, the cars we drive, the schools we attend, the clothes we wear, the money we have, the house we own, our partners, our parents, our children, our name. It is also at the root of what we believe and how we perceive reality (see my previous post on perception).
At birth and in the earliest years of our lives, we do not have self-image. We simply are, and we experience the world around us through our senses. As we grow up, our self-image is created in function of what others teach and expect from us (our parents, teachers, preachers, family members, etc.). Later in life – and as a result of this – we impose expectations on ourselves to meet and satisfy those of others. We are even taught to expect fear, pain, punishment and lack of love and affection if we don’t “succeed”.
If it is our expectation to be debt-free, be perfectly healthy, live faithfully married, have exemplary children, have a perfectly organized house and garden, drive a luxury car, and have a six figure income job, it is more than likely that at least some of these will clash with reality, with truth.
The same applies when boys are being taught not to cry or being punished for playing with dolls. The moment they do – and they will from time to time – this goes against what is being expected.
For its own survival, our ego has to manage this constant battle with reality, but it has to do so without exposing the falseness of the self-image and the beliefs that took so long to build up. Accepting reality, the now, for what it is, would mean the end of the ego, the collapse of the false self-image, the end of false beliefs. Therefore, the ego has no other choice than to pursue and persist in maintaining all of the illusions it created. When our self-image is obviously in flagrant opposition with reality (e.g. the boy who is crying or is playing with a doll), who or what else is left to be falsely blamed or attacked by the ego, but ourselves. Since obviously there is no way to change the truth, reality. If all else fails, and the ego senses that we are beginning to wonder whether we have been lied to, its last resort is to attack us with illusions of loss, fear, pain, guilt, blame, damnation or death, as an explanation as to why we are “not good enough” and to maintain the self-image.
With this in mind, we become aware of the undeniable truth: the ego is judging itself. It is this insane process that leads to the phenomenon of low self-esteem. First the ego creates a self-image to meet all of the expectations imposed upon us, and when these illusory expectations cannot be met, it adds guilt, blame, fear, etc. to this equation as a means of justifying our “faillures”.
You may rest assured, contrary to what you may have thought, your deepest, true self is not involved in this game of appearances or of self-image game. The true self simply was, is and always will be. The true self does not need any self-image or appearance to exist, to be. It simply is there. (see also my post on self-image vs. reality)
Letting go of the ego, putting down the masks, giving up the roles you play, accepting the truth of reality, accepting the now, is the way to peace and serenity where there is no need for judgment of any kind. We are all perfect. And don’t forget: any fear of “letting go” or of the “unknown” is an illusion created by the ego to prevent us from discovering the lies it has told us. The ego wants to maintain our separation from reality, from the truth. It is the only way for the ego to survive.
Fearing reality is insanity, because reality is. You are perfect the way you are.