The Other Side of Low Self-Esteem
Maurice Turmel PhD
Nature always seeks a balance. Whatever is going on with one side of an equation will be counter-balanced with something that is opposite.
Lets take “low self-esteem” for example. It is not uncommon to find low self-esteem sufferers harboring thoughts and images of grandiosity. However low they may feel in their presentation of self to the world, secretly they will harbor images of great achievement and worldwide recognition.
Some call it the Peter Pan syndrome as we saw evidenced with Michael Jackson during his short lifetime. With this example we see this hypothesis in reverse. To begin with, we all assume he was harboring great ideals about himself? True for the most part. But secretly, I believe, he was filled with self-loathing. How do I know this? Because in his exposure to the world, his woundedness and deep inner rage were amply evident. He hated his father who had sexually abused him and he rejected his real childhood in favor of the Peter Pan fantasy.
His rage surfaced on stage through his physical behavior which was aggressive and his signature move which was grabbing his crotch. Just look at the videos and see it for yourself. Look into his eyes while you watch his behavior.
He hid in the world of accomplishment as we discussed in a previous article “Boost Your Self-Esteem”. He was a severely damaged individual who couched his pain behind a world of luxury which even he could no longer afford. He was 500 million dollars in debt upon his death.
Michael did not have to look at himself as closely as you and I do, especially while engaged in his music and dancing which brought him adoring fans from all over the world. He could hide in broad daylight so to speak and dismiss any references to his sexual inadequacies and fairy-tale existence. He was after all, a superstar, and as such, did not have to answer to anyone, especially not his deeper nature and unconscious self-judgments.
To pierce through that image and see himself for what he truly was would have been destructive to that artificial life construct he had bought into. This is what I mean by opposites in balance. Certainly Michael had talent, but had no idea who he was outside the grandiose construct in which he lived. His gift for music was no doubt Heaven sent and he used it to some benefit. He never used it to discover his true nature, however, but to hide from the world of pain in which he grew up. His was a tragic life indeed.
When I speak of grandiosity, I am referring to something unrealized in the world of matter. The juxtaposition of opposites is so venerable that we can find examples of it everywhere. Michael Jackson’s example is one that was lived out loud. Just because his fans adored him doesn’t mean that he was happy and at peace with himself. He was more of an addict getting his next fix every time he performed. This is the tragedy of grandiosity. You are still not good enough, despite all your worldly accomplishments and millions of adoring fans. Michael Jackson was a human doing, not a human being.
In the world of the common man, where such levels of popularity are not so available we can still live in that state of unreality. We can compensate our low self-esteem with images of great achievement which typically say something like “I’ll show them”, them being all the negative voices you and I heard in childhood and chaffed against at the time.
When you try and elevate yourself through achievement you become a target for other’s derision. They know you as some mousy character they grew up with, where you harbor secret fantasies of being a star. You never get there because that image is totally dishonest, not fitting at all with who you are at your core.
Low self-esteem issues benefit somewhat from grandiosity because the latter represents a level of achievement that is desired. For example, if you want a PhD so you can finally prove to your family that you have merit and deserve love, as I did initially, then you have taken on a whole lot more than just getting an education. You are now pursuing a path called Redemption, at least in your own eyes. Upon close examination no one else seems to care what you are trying to achieve and are often less than impressed when you get there.
Nevertheless, that image, that grandiose scheme sets you on fire and away you go. Overtly you are seeking an education and pursuing a goal. Secretly however, you are going to prove them all wrong and they are finally going to love and adore you. That’s how low self-esteem plays out. If you feel you are not good enough, then you have to become greater than great, because nothing else will do.
How do you know so much about this Dr Moe? Because that was the driving force behind my pursuit of a PhD degree. And once I arrived there, I thought I could wear this accomplishment as a badge of honor without noticing that it was also a suit of armor. “How could anyone criticize me now, I am so well accomplished?”
Well, that fantasy only plays well in your mind. The world may admire your accomplishment and reward you for it. But this will never compensate for the low self-esteem you are carrying in that basement closet called woundedness. I know this experience intimately, frontwards and backwards, which is why I understand Michael Jackson’s dilemma. He was a star who was not allowed to be himself, a decision he had to participate in for it to become real. Despite all these layers of protection, deep down he was still a wounded and sad little boy, looking for love and acceptance, just like the rest of us.
I know this little boy. I grew up with one just like him and tried my best to make my boy feel good about himself. I pursued accomplishment to prove I had value. I self-aggrandized with the best of them. But that nagging little voice would never go away. My wounded self needed me to accept him as he was and help him heal. For the longest time, I did what Michael Jackson did; I accomplished, hoping that would buy me some redemption. No such luck. Fortunately I had entered a profession where to be really good at it you needed to be totally honest with yourself. So my pursuit of redemption in the form outlined above was doomed to failure, which turned out to be a success after all. Good for me.
When I finally began to reach for and love the little boy inside, he and I began to heal. This was the best result of all my pursuits in grandiose accomplishment – true humility born of outright self-acceptance. As I let go of those ‘human doing’ pursuits I also let go of my denial of what actually lived inside me. You have to engage powerful forms of denial to stay out of touch with your true nature. Fortunately most of us do not have the entourage that Michael Jackson had, their only function to tell him how great he was and keep the denial alive. If he had known they were trying to protect him from his true self, would he have let it go on like that? We can all see how empty that fantasy was.
Alright, you say, how do I get out of this cycle of low self-esteem balanced off by self-aggrandizement? By loving yourself my friend, and by not qualifying that love on the basis of accomplishment. If you cannot love yourself as you are, warts and all, you will never repair that rift through accomplishment. All our wounds press for attention. Welcome them! Love them! Accept them as your very own and watch the miracle of true inner healing take place. Now you have a decision to make.
Human Doing vs. Human Being? Your choice!