The Prison of Self-Esteem

“You must love yourself before you can love anyone else.”

“By thinking positive thoughts, your life will produce a positive outcome.”

“Only you are in charge of your destiny. You control your world.”

Do any of these sound familiar? These are things we hear over and over from our teachers, mentors, our favorite celebrities, and “experts.” We are told that we must love ourselves and truly know who we are before we are ready to conquer life’s obstacles. We hear of people spending their time, energy, and money in order to “find themselves.”

We tell children in school that they are “special.” The thinking is that children must feel like they each are the best in order to succeed. Everybody always wins and each child is special in his or her own special way. This begs the question: If six billion people are each special, why the emphasis? Does not “special” become “ordinary”?

If the world is telling us that we should be happy by loving ourselves, why are we all miserable? Why does the pursuit of material things, success, or fame leave us wanting more? I think the answer lies outside of ourselves.

Jesus told us the right way to live, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these,” (Mark 12:30-31). We are commanded to love our neighbor as we love our self, not to learn to love our self first and then turn to our neighbor. I think Jesus knew that we would have no trouble loving our self first. We may not always like who we are, but most of us have no trouble providing for our own needs above others. Do we really need more self-love?

I am definitely not against feeling good about yourself. But when I waste my time trying to build up my self-esteem by loving only myself I am not happy. I will never be happy if I only try to make peace with who I am or if I am always trying to “find myself.” True happiness comes from serving others. When I look beyond myself to see the hurting people around me and allow compassion for others to rule my actions, only then will I find happiness and purpose. We need to stop focusing on who we are trying to become and instead focus on who we can encourage. Who can we comfort with an encouraging word? Where can we lend a hand?

Instead of creating a generation of self-focused kids we should be encouraging children to find fulfillment in helping others. Instead of an endless search for good self-esteem and love, we should encourage acts of selflessness. Therein lies true happiness.

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