01/07/09 Self Esteem?

January 7, 2009

Over the last several days I’ve had no less than FOUR conversations with attractive women who question their self-esteem.  Why?   Because they have been so generous they have given far more than they received, til they suddenly realized they were just depleted.

 I know it’s normal psycho-babble to call this a symptom of “lack of self-esteem”, but there’s something very twisted, to me, in linking generosity to low self esteem.  It just doesn’t “smell” right.   Are we a society who must find ways to bad-mouth generosity???   Are we really that selfish?   (Looking at current economic crises, I think maybe we are, and we need to examine some of the causes of this selfish greed that has led to such a nasty crash.)   But besides the social/definition-related issues, this argument simply gives us one more thing to beat ourselves up with.  “Oh, I have low self-esteem.  I’m doing everything wrong.  I have to fix this terrible problem.”   I don’t think this kind of labeling helps anything.

 In these various conversations, I started to realize that sometimes this “lack of self-esteem” generosity is simply the result of training and habits.   For example, take me (why not!).   My Dad was always saying “What’s wrong with you.  You think the world revolves around you.  You’re utterly selfish.  You’re not the center of the Universe.   I’ve got to do everything around here.”   On one level, some of this is justified stuff to say to a child.   To some extent we all need to learn to pay attention to others in our environment.  On the otherhand, there’s nothing wrong with a child being self-absorbed.   This is as natural as it could possibly be.   ALL children think they are the center of the universe.  ALL children will do what they want before they do what someone tells them to do –until training, or fear, or insecurity changes this. But the result of this repetition was that I began to believe I was selfish, and tried as hard as I could to be more generous, etc.   Then one day, when I’d gone WAY out of my way for a friend who was “desparate” for help, only for her to say cavalierly “oh, never mind” and leaving me holding the bag….   I realized with a shock—Hey–I’m NOT selfish!   This effort for my friend was NOT the act of a selfish person.”

Getting back to the point though–training and habit.   My dad trained me to look out for others.   In retrospect, his constant physical health issues plus a (frankly) rather narcissistic personality can reframe some of his complaints as simple projections:  “*I* need to be the center of attention around here, and instead it’s always you kids.”   So I was trained.   And I developed habits of doing more and more for people who didn’t appreciate it, just as I was trained to do.   This isn’t a problem of lack of self-worth.   It’s a problem of habit and training.    Over years, I learned to watch myself, and realize when I was the one doing ALL the giving and the other person doing all the receiving.   I started noticing who always asked for help but never responded if I asked.   I learned to test situations by occasionally (heaven forbid!) ASKING for help.    And I learned that if you do too much giving, you’ll only get two results among your acquaintances:  Really good people will eventually become uncomfortable with their inability to keep up your pace of giving, and will back out of the relationship; and the ones who remain will be Users.   So it’s worth watching.

But talking to two of these friends, who are such wonderfully generous people, I just got more and more upset with the equation of great generosity = low self esteem.   Let’s stop beating ourselves up and simply learn better habits!


5 Responses to “01/07/09 Self Esteem?”

  1. paiyeo on February 6th, 2009 11:43 pm

    “don’t mistake kindness for weakness”

    this expression came to mind when i read this post. ehh, seemed fitting. also wondering if Venus was in detriment and/or difficult aspects when the ladies were having a hard time…

    i have to agree with the observations on training, programming, etc. it’s all kinda weird realizing one must grow up oneself, to learn ‘self-parenting.’ but I think it’s a very good thing to put that energy out there, refining and making it more constructive as we send it along. essentially, we can become new&improved versions of our parents–literally to a younger generation or for self-improvement, self-healing. [saw a cool article on UT homepage about study on ‘compassion’ versus self-esteem–verrry insightful)

  2. admin on February 7th, 2009 12:15 am

    That’s a good thought: “Don’t mistake kindness for weakness”. These kind and generous women were incredibly strong. Others used their kindness, though, to weaken them, and then blamed them for being weak. I’m ready for our society to stop being so dang predatory.

    I’ll have to look for that UT article. Sounds really interesting.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. admin on February 7th, 2009 11:40 am

    I found the UT Article that “paiyeo” referenced. It really is a good piece. Very thoughtful. Here’s the link: http://www.utexas.edu/features/2008/11/03/self_compassion/


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