Not long ago, I read something about self-esteem that seems important to share. It’s a distinction between contingent and true self-esteem. Or rather, a distinction between self-esteem, and something that looks like self-esteem, but isn’t.
Gabor Mate puts it like this: “Self-esteem based on achievement has been called contingent self-esteem or acquired self-esteem. Unlike contingent self-esteem, true self-esteem has nothing to do with a self-evaluation on the basis of achievement or the lack of it.” (Scattered, 238)
Conditional self-esteem isn’t really self-esteem at all. It esteems an accomplishment, or perhaps some other non-essential feature of oneself. It does not esteem — it does not value, does not positively regard — oneself. It thus is not true self-esteem. True self-esteem would be intrinsic or un-conditional. True self-esteem cannot be dependent on this or that accomplishment.
If I feel that I am worthy, as a person, a human being, only on the condition that I achieve certain grades in school, produce a certain income, learn a certain number of languages, impress enough other people, and not otherwise, then I lack a genuine sense of self-esteem.
How often, I wonder, do we relate to ourselves on the basis of merely conditional self-esteem, and not on the basis of true self-esteem?
What is your experience of this? Do you see it in yourself or in others?
Besides writing, SeekerFive creates visual art and designs under his Leaf Town brand. Some of these can be seen on Instagram @leaftowndesigns, https://www.instagram.com/leaftowndesigns. Currently he is emphasizing face mask designs.
Images by (and property of) SeekerFive unless otherwise indicated.