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The Pursuit of Self-Esteem Through Struggle

Happy Birthday Spiritual Lens! It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I launched this blog. I never would have believed that I would have been able to post 2 blogs a week for a full year. I had to find out that I could do it. To trust that I’d show up to the page. And from that trust, I gained self-esteem and confidence to know I could.

Self-esteem is built over time, by taking esteemable actions.

Self-Esteem and worthiness are some of the topics I’ve written about this past year, as there are times I suffer from lack of both. However, by looking through the lens of spirituality, it’s possible to see self-esteem and self-worth in a whole new light.

Root Causes of Low Self-Esteem

I’ve often heard that low self-esteem begins in childhood. That as children, we didn’t get something we wanted, needed or desired and thus, we languished. Many professionals claim it is because parents:

  • Fought amongst themselves and as a result, made the child feel “less than”
  • Didn’t adequately support the child through trauma or conflict
  • Did not protect the child from the ills of social media and marketing
  • Were not emotionally available and were neglectful or were too emotionally available and therefore too smothering

This may be the case as to why adults now suffer from low self-esteem and self-worth. However, most people just blame the parents and stay angry and hurt. They never resolve their own demand for the parent to be anything other than what they were capable of. Usually that is where people stay and they don’t grow as a result. Now that I am a parent, I see that parenting is a no win situation. No matter what a parent does, it will always fall short in some area.

And to that I say, “Halleluyah! Isn’t Failure Great?!”

The Spiritual Antidote to Low Self-Esteem

Today, I see failure as a good and positive thing. If we are willing to do so, we can see ours and others’ failings as great opportunities to grow spiritually. Failure is terrific because it challenges us to:

  • Strive for something better
  • Stop blaming others and take responsibility for our own lives
  • Grow from pain
  • Help others along their spiritual journey from our own experience

Pain Is A Necessity for Growth

Thus, having had pain and trauma in childhood has adequately set me up to be amazingly helpful and successful in my adulthood. Thank you parents for your shortcomings! But also, thank you for giving me something to struggle against. If my parents were perfect, I’d have nothing to work through in my adulthood. Thanksgiving dinners would be boring! I would not be so successful in my job if I had not learned from a young age, how to navigate my parents shortcomings. Plus, I would have had no reason to seek out mentors and teachers to guide me into becoming the person I am today. And still seek to become.

In 6th grade, I had a math teacher. She was not only a great teacher (I hated math and didn’t enjoy the subject at all!) she also taught me to show up for people. For her, it wasn’t only about teaching quadratic equations. Ms. M was the kind of person who would come early and stay late to connect with the students. To listen to them and let them – well, be kids! For me, however, she was a lifeline to sanity and an example of how to be a sane adult.

Out of Chaos – Order is Created

In the Torah (Hebrew Bible or Old Testament) in the Genesis story God created the world out of chaos and nothingness. From the chaos, came something wonderful – creativity! In my world, my home life was chaos. My parents did their best to provide a loving, stable home, but they were wrestling with their own demons. As a child, I could not understand this so I took it on that there was something wrong with me. I felt deficient and unworthy. And from those feelings, I found humor to be my coping skill.

Ms. M. became the steward of my stand up comedy talent. I would tell her the most inappropriate off-color jokes (overheard at my house) and she would laugh and let me know that I was telling it well. Sometimes she’d even have to explain the nature of the joke. (And she’d instruct me to never tell a few of those jokes in public again.) More than being my audience, she helped foster a sense of my positive esteem and worthiness.

We recently reconnected on Facebook – 37 years later. She is overjoyed at knowing I have put my humor to good use – she celebrates that I became a rabbi! Little does she know that her guidance and kindness were the seeds that planted the vision of the kind of adult I wanted to become.

As a child, I found Ms. M. because I had such chaos and strife in my life. She didn’t mitigate the pain, but rather showed me that another possibility or paradigm existed. She gave me support and hope. Had my life been easy and pain-free, I would never have sought to find other models of healthy adults to emulate. Thus, low self-esteem was able to be transformed into success, only through pain and struggle.

The trick is – to find the balance between helping someone and enabling someone. (And that will be covered in subsequent blog posts.) But first, a story which bears to be retold.

The Metamorphosis of the Butterfly

It is a lesser known fact that caterpillars have to undergo a very painful metamorphic process to become butterflies. When a caterpillar finishes its metamorphosis, its job is to struggle its way to get out of the cocoon. However, it is difficult to observe this struggle. It is normal to want to help the poor butterfly get loose. But if one steps in and breaks open the cocoon before the butterfly has had enough time to struggle, it will not undergo the metamorphosis. It is the struggle which causes the friction that allows the powder to fall onto the butterfly’s wings.

That powder is what makes the butterfly able to fly. If this process doesn’t happen, then the butterfly won’t be able to fly, and it will die. Thus, if one steps in and circumvents the process, it has not helped, but rather hindered its process.

Thus, if you are suffering from low self-esteem, perhaps the suffering need only be reframed. To see suffering as the touchstone of change – gives meaning to the suffering and also encourages us to take positive, esteemable actions to move forward. Here’s to your future growth! Until we meet again – may you be blessed along your spiritual journey!

Other blog posts about Self-Esteem

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