According to Glen Schiraldi, author of 'The Self Esteem Workbook', the first prerequisite of self esteem is knowing that we have unconditional worth; that our worth does not depend on who we are or what we do, that we have innate worth which has nothing to do with any of that.
'Que?' I hear you say. Or at least some of you.
For some this is not an alien concept, it is something you may have taken for granted since childhood. If so, you are one of the lucky ones. But for many of us, who have long struggled to shore up our self worth in a myriad of ways, the concept of unconditional worth may be little more than a nice idea. Like God, it is difficult to believe in when you can't see it and, especially, if you don't feel it.
I have been exploring in the foothills of this concept in recent weeks and I offer here some of my thoughts.... if you can offer any more, please write!
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Last Sunday I was out with a friend in the local village. It was one of those lovely sunny September days we've been having recently and we'd had breakfast in one of the local cafes. As we walked down the street, people ambling along in a Sunday mood, families with pushchairs, couples with Sunday papers under their arms, others sitting at pavement cafes, drinking cappuccinos, a sudden movement caught our eye. Ahead of us was an elderly woman and just at that moment she had tripped and fallen. My friend rushed to help her, alert with concern, taking her hand and pulling her gently to her feet. The woman swayed a little. 'Are you alright?' my friend asked. The woman looked a bit dazed but, 'Yes, yes,' she said, I'm fine. It happened the other day as well, I don't know why.' She went on her way, shaking her head, slowly negotiating the slight incline of the pavement.
Old women are not very high up the list of people that society values, are they? - the expression 'old woman' is even used as a term of abuse. If this woman had had a career, it was probably long over. If she had brought up children, they would have long gone. If she'd been someone's spouse, that role too might be over. She obviously wasn't very well, perhaps what some might call 'a burden on society'. By society's usual measures of people's worth she was of little value. And yet, in that moment, there was no question of her worth. She mattered very much.
Later that evening I was watching the news. They were showing the devastation in Aleppo following the latest attacks - people crying over the loss of loved ones, the loss of homes, possessions, everything. Many were engaged in moving rubble, throwing stones from one pile to another, pulling on larger pieces, looking underneath. They knew that people were trapped underneath, whether alive or dead they did not know. When they thought they'd found someone, they called everyone over to help. They worked fast and tirelessly, moving small boulders, big boulders, tearing their hands as they worked. And if at last they found someone, uncovered them and saw they were alive, they cheered.
What they didn't do, I noticed, is check who the person was before they pulled them out. They didn't ask, do I know this person? Are they a woman or a man? Old or young? Muslim or Christian? Are they good-looking or plain? Thin or fat? What does this person do in life, are they useful? Do they earn a lot, or a little? They don't ask, in any form whatever, is this person worthy of our efforts?
Sometimes we only realise that someone matters when something happens to them. We've never noticed that little man with the limp who lives up the road, until one day we're bombed and that little man is trapped under the rubble. And suddenly he is extremely important and valuable. We will do anything to help him. But in fact that man was already important and valuable before we spotted him, and he is still important long after he's moved on. Why? Because, like every single person on the planet, he has unconditional worth, simply by virtue of existing. He matters. As do we.
Long before we were ever hurt, or excluded, or rejected, before we ever failed at anything, or were mocked about anything, or were told we were wrong, we knew this. Just like a baby knows it, or a puppy or a flower. It's just that, after the world had told us a few times what was wrong with us, and that we were only valuable when we were approved of, or were needed or were useful, we forgot. And by the same token we thought that other people were only valuable if they were approved of, or needed, or useful too. From that day on we devoted our lives to proving, to ourselves and others, that we had something we had forgotten we already had.
Enjoy valuing yourself this week, for no good reason other than you exist.
With much love