About Self Esteem
Reprinted with permission from:
Let Us Make Man – Self-Esteem Through Jewishness
by Rabbi Dr. Avraham J. Twerski zt”l
“Self-esteem is based on the realization of one’s capacities, of what one can do. Vanity is the feeling that admiration and exaltation should be expressed for what one has done. Thus, the Chafetz Chaim wrote his great works because he knew he could do it, and that is a healthy and virtuous self-esteem. After the works were completed, he did not expect honor or glory for his achievements. Quite the contrary, he was already concentrating on what remained for him to do with his G-d-given talents. That is consistent with humility.
Indeed, there is reason to believe that vanity is never the consequence of of recognition of one’s true skills and talents. A person with a healthy self-esteem has no need for the praise and approbation of others. Vanity is invariably a desperate attempt of a person who feels negatively about himself to escape from his feelings of worthlessness. He craves honor and and seeks praise to assure himself that he is indeed a worthwhile person, in contrast to his feelings. Since the feelings of worthlessness are delusional, however, no amount of praise and admiration is ever enough. This person can never be sufficiently reassured , and repeatedly persists in trying to impress others with his achievements.
Torah teaches us the how extremely cautious we must be to not overstep the very fine dividing line between humility and self-deprecation….
A trait often present in people with negative self-images is that they try to please everyone. While this might at first glance appear to be admirable…anything which originates from false perceptions cannot be meritorious. Doing acts of kindness for others is one of the highest virtues in the Torah. Yet, like all other commandments, benevolent deeds should be done because G-d instructed us so, rather than to alleviate our personal concerns. People who fear that they are unlikeable are apt to try to buy friendship, as it were, by ingratiating themselves to others…These people-pleasers are unquestionably unhappy peoplewhose acts of benevolence are performed out of personal emotional coercion rather than out of love for their fellow man. This is definitely not the ideal of benevolent deeds which the Torah praises so highly.
People who feel comfortable about themselves know that they can be loved. They understand that people whom they love will usually love them in return. They also know that there are countless reasons why some people do not like some other people, and that there are those who may have unrealistic demands. They are able to take the attitude , “If you don’t happen to like me, pass me by.” They have many genuine friends, and may feel, “If some people do not like me, that is their loss, not mine.” They do not have to ingratiate themselves to others. When they perform a benevolent act, it is out of genuine caring and a sincere desire to be of help, which constitutes true acts of kindness. They do not have to resort to tyranny to bolster a sagging self-esteem. Their lives are relatively uncomplicated , and their relationships with their friends and family are calm and predictable.
The validity of this thesis is proven by the Torah axiom underlying benevolent deeds, “Love your neighbor as you do yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Without appropriate self-esteem and self-appreciation, one is truly not capable of loving another person.”