Some psychologists think low self-esteem can blight a life and advocate boosting the esteem of young people to help them achieve. But what do do-gooders know?
Hard-headed realists subscribe to the “spare the rod, spoil the child” school of thought. They favor tough love and want you to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps even if all you’ve got as footwear is flip-flops. If you are crushed by such treatment, fine. There’s way too much self-esteem going around already.
Their case is often undercut somewhat by their spokespersons, paragons of humility and nurturing like Bill O’Reilly, Marine drill instructors, Wall Street Journal editorial writers. Do we really want our kids to grow up to be Dick Cheney? Or for that matter Kanye West? It’s a puzzlement.
Let’s face it, we all hate unearned, preening self-esteem in others. But few of us think we’ve got too much. And is it really the young who are short on self-regard or those with a few miles on them? After a few years, most of us learn the hard way how little we have to be cocky about? In fact, anyone who wasn’t the Prom Queen or Star Quarterback at an early age has probably been a quart low on self-esteem ever since.
I realize that last remark may seem like a quaint echo of the Archie and Veronica era, but here’s a secret. No matter how times change, there is always someone who is the equivalent of the Prom Queen or Quarterback. They just may be famous for Quidditch or Hacking now.
With all that as preface and as a lifelong sufferer, I humbly offer these secrets to self-esteem. Having low self-esteem is like psoriasis of the ego. It won’t kill you, but it’s not much fun and never seems to go away. Here are some ways to make life more endurable.
1) Obviously, you must do all you can to blot out any memory of High School. Remember what Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living, except High School. The sooner you forget it, the better.” Corollaries to this are that amnesia is a good thing if it concerns your first date, first kiss, first sex with a person other than yourself, first job.
2) In every family there is one parent whose function is correcting your errors, expecting more of you and being deeply, operatically disappointed when you don’t live up to those expectations. This may be understandable when it comes to first steps or feeding yourself or potty training. It becomes less tolerable as time goes on and is insupportable when you are well into middle-age.
My mother in her sixties used to mutter that her mother, then in her eighties, still treated her like she was five. Stephen Chu, Ph.D., Nobel Prize winner in physics and Secretary of Energy, says his mother still thinks he has come up short compared to his brother the medical doctor and his brother the lawyer.
Your job is to identify which parent is like this. Is it your mother or father? Got it? Good. Now, avoid them. If possible, move to another state. Change your locks, phone number and possibly your name. Feeling better yet?
3) Avoid mirrors. Surprisingly this does not apply only to vampires and ought to be self-explanatory. If you were an ab-flexing hunk or Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, mirrors would be your friend. But you aren’t, are you? Of course not. Therefore, mirrors are your enemy.
4) How do egomaniac celebrities like Donald Trump and Puff Daddy go through life with indestructible, bulletproof self-esteem? Easy. Take a page from their playbook. Surround yourself with fawning acolytes, an entourage of yes men.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to do that if you can afford to buy yourself a bubble of bowing lackeys like most CEOs and media stars. As the poet sings: “Better to go down dignified/With boughten friendship by your side/Than none at all.”
Failing such a buffer zone, the next best thing is to hang with only like-minded people who are not going to disagree with anything you say and will make an unspoken reciprocal pact to pretend to think you’re cool as long as you pretend to think they’re cool. This is true friendship.
5) Finally, console yourself when hurt by others that you can’t judge a book by its cover no matter how tattered, discolored, fading, and outdated. Nor by its cracked spine, fraying leaves, missing pages and banal ideas. Somewhere deep inside the poor thing there has to be some of that inner beauty you keep hearing about.
Unfortunately most people are willing to settle for superficial outer beauty, so maybe the best policy is to embrace the wisdom of “judge not, lest ye be judged.” However, since you are going to be pretty much alone in this camp, don’t leave home unless absolutely necessary. Young people, sales clerks, cops, bosses, other drivers, pretty much anyone you meet is likely to have more self-esteem than you want to deal with and to be tooting their own horns loudly. Remember this useful formula: The more self-esteem X has, the less he esteems all the crummy Ys who are cluttering up his universe.
So there you have it. To recap, forget anything embarrassing that ever happened when you were young and vulnerable, which ought to pretty much flush the years from 13 to 25 or 30 down the memory hole. Avoid your judgmental parent or, God help you, parents. Grandmothers tend to be safe. Avoid mirrors. Acquire an ass-kissing entourage. And remain in isolation as much as possible until your inner beauty decides to show up and all those vain people wise up.
When will that be? Don’t hold your breath.