Self Esteem and Health – part 2

June 3rd, 2013

Many years ago a cousin of mine was playing the particularly violent sport of rugby league when, in a brutal tackle, his eyeball was jolted out its socket. This was bad enough but he made matters worse by trying to put it back in himself, with dirt-stained fingers.


Eye gouge*


“Why on earth would you do that?” I asked him later.


“I was the first person there.” was his reply.


“…and you give, and you give, and you give yourself away” [1]


We are always the first person there in our life – until we abandon ourselves. In part one (link here) of this short series on self-esteem and health we used the image of a leaky bucket to illustrate how we lose our sense of self and become lost to the pull of others will, expectations and even manipulation.


The self-esteem loading questions of childhood (“What am I thinking/feeling/want to experience?”) are replaced by “What does she/he/they think, feel or want of me?”


Is this always a bad thing?


Well, it is an ill wind that blows no good at all. It may develop a refined ability to read and be sensitive to the needs of others. It only becomes a problem when it comes at the expense of abandoning ourselves. That is when we give ourselves away and unconsciously (there is that word again) twist ourselves out of all recognizable shape to accommodate the desires of others.


Does this mean that other people are manipulative and egoistic? Not necessarily. Most of this dynamic is usually unconscious on their side as well. They are merely following the ‘law of least resistance’. If others can convince us to do what they want, well, that is one less thing they have to worry about.


Do be dooby doing


When we begin to value ourselves not through being but by doing we become, not surprisingly, very skilled at doing. Doing can raise our self-confidence. We can then (temporarily at least) try and fill our leaking bucket of self-esteem via the outer confirmation of our achievements.


Empty bucket


So far so good, but what if we stop achieving? What if we ‘fail’ in our constant striving to ward off the underlying sense that we are in some way lacking? The bucket continues to leak but we have run out of ways to keep filling it.


 “Top of the world, ma!”


We see this quite often in the entertainment industry. When someone’s efforts are confirmed by highly visible and quantifiable ‘success’ they appear confident and filled with self-esteem. It is when that outward support crashes that a truer test emerges.


The ageless existential question arises: “Who am I?” (if I am not my CD sales/movie box office; if complete strangers do not ‘love’ me anymore?)


Recovering celebrity


“I am my own worst critic”


Low self-esteem is often well disguised in outwardly confident, driven personalities. They pride themselves on their ‘high standards’. There seems to be an almost sado-masochistic glee in their ability to push themselves to exhaustion, berating every small mistake while never being content with their triumphs.


Strangely though, they are often hyper-sensitive to outward criticism. This is because, like our rugby league player, they were the first one there. They have already performed such self-mutilation that it is inconceivable that anyone else could have spotted a ‘fault’ they have not.


It is also because, if the fault line in their self-confidence based upon achievement begins to crack, the emptiness of their self-esteem will be exposed for all to see. They will experience the negation of a Self defined by doing. In short, (or so their ego defenses tell them) they will die.


Egoism versus Self-Esteem


Egoistic, selfish behavior that demands we and the achievements and possessions we desire to be identified with are the dominant center of attention is not a sign of high self-esteem. On the contrary, it is born of low self-esteem and the fear that if we are not constantly confirmed, we will cease to exist.


How do I (not) love thee? Let me count the ways.


There are many other ways low self-esteem can manifest. As discussed in a previous blog on relationships (click here) the relationship with our Self is the one that instructs others how to act in relationship to us. This can occur at both the individual and collective level. Here is a by no means complete list but it may give us an idea of how destructive low self-esteem can be at all levels of society.


Personal Self-Esteem and Health Issues


  • Anorexia – the self-punishment and obsessive control of never feeling worthy enough.
  • Over eating: Not so much ‘death by chocolate’ as an endless quest to fill the hole and numb the pain of low self-esteem.
  • Addiction: Self-negation. The irony of trying to ease the wound of low self-esteem by attempting to escape from one’s Self at every opportunity.
  • Burnout/exhaustion/depression: Abandoning our sense of self and trying to find it again through the endless ‘nearly but not quite’ dead-ends of doing.
  • Anxiety and panic attacks: The existential crisis of not feeling centered and safe in the Self – anywhere.
  • Destructive relationships: “I would like more than this but I’m not really worth it.”
  • Sabotaged desire: “Who do I think I am to expect I could achieve anything?”


Collective Self Esteem Issues


  • The slow breakdown of collective bargaining in the work place.
    • When we maintain the ‘silence of the lambs’ while jobs are eliminated and not replaced, we one day find ourselves doing a job that used to require and employ three people. Because we have abandoned our collective self we feel small, vulnerable and ‘grateful’ to just have a job in these ‘harsh economic times’[2]. We enter into a competitive survivalist mentality that divorces us from our humanity. In so doing we have rendered ourselves powerless and controllable.
  • Too much respect for authority and too little respect for ourselves. This can all too easily lead to our liberty being taken away. It is worth remembering that it is our civic duty to disobey unjust laws that are thrust upon us.
  • Oppressive regimes: The leadership we have is the one we tolerate. What we tolerate is based upon our expectations. What we expect is based upon what we feel we are worth.


Adopt hope all ye who enter here


If all this paints a dark and dystopian picture, don’t worry, be happy. That is because, in the third and final installment on self-esteem and health, we will be looking at some of the ways to reclaim our Self. Unlike the misery and endless self-imposed conditions of low self-esteem, the Self is, by its very nature, love – unconditional.


Till we find ourselves, the first one there, greeting a new Monday,



* This photo taken by the author of an artwork by the truly special Reg Mombassa appearing in the book “Mambo. Still life with Franchise”. Luv yer work Reg.

[1] U2, ’With or Without You’ All rights reserved.

[2] When are they not? And why do you think that perception is constantly promoted?



© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:

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