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Unraveling the Mystery of Self-Esteem

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The Awareness of Existence
It’s not just that many of us do not esteem ourselves (and harshly judge those who do), but that we don’t even know we exist—that we, in fact, stand out and stand open as a place within the cosmos where both a world and a person mutually unfold, manifest, and reveal. This may sound outrageous, but I have noticed a trick of the mind that conceals the truth of existence from us—and then we have to fight and pretend to create the illusion of existence.

Many of us don’t believe we have a right to exist and to be creators of our lives. This shows up, then, as low self-esteem. First, we have to acknowledge existence, then claim our right to it, and finally, esteem ourselves in the process.

Implied in this process is the acknowledgement of death. Not dealing with death consciously creates a crisis because unless we acknowledge the other side of existence, which is to say, nonexistence, then we cannot really appreciate either. And when that happens, we can get caught in the netherworld of the ego trip, or as has been so popular since 9/11, the hero trip. Here is a thought from The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker: “The first thing we have to do with heroism is to lay bare its underside, show what gives human heroics its specific nature and impetus. Here we introduce directly one of the great rediscoveries of modern thought: that of all things that move man, one of the principal ones is his terror of death. After Darwin the problem of death as an evolutionary one came to the fore, and many thinkers immediately saw that it was a major psychological problem for man. They also very quickly saw what real heroism was about, as Shaler wrote just at the turn of the [20th] century: heroism is first and foremost a reflex of the terror of death.”

Fear of Death
Heroism: that big ego trip that we use to feel better about ourselves, genuflecting to the fear of death. The Army of One.

How do we put this information to work? First, I think we need to raise awareness about the fact that existence as we know it is a transient thing. Everything is in motion; everything changes; existence is a process of change; we are part of that process. This is a powerful tool to size up self-esteem and its various issues. For example, many people fear they are not good enough, find the first person they can, and create a “permanent relationship,” which denies the fact that all relationships change. In the healthy ones, a conscious relationship to change, and hence a process of growth, is included.

This is the kind of very basic stuff it’s possible to work on in good therapy. Entities that are alive also develop and grow and become, and that includes something we don’t hear much about these days: building character consciously. And when you embrace change and build character, and look back and make an honest estimate of who you are, that would count for healthy self-esteem.

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