Abolish Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is about whether or not we’re “good enough,” or “okay,” or “adequate.” It comes down to black or white, either we’re normal, or something’s wrong with us. We grow up with this distorted thinking from childhood. As kids we’re taught it’s black or white, you’re good or bad, a success or failure.  Well-meaning family, friends, and even therapists often feed into this black and white thinking, telling you “you’re not a failure you’re a success”, or “you’re not bad, you’re good,” still leaving you in doubt. Positive, or healthy self-esteem, generally means you consider yourself a “good person” and “fairly normal” however you define that.  Self-esteem is also tied in with self-worth, which can also be very black or white, you’re worthy or unworthy, and also can take extremes where some might believe that they are more worthy than others, or that they are totally worthless. Either way is toxic.

As adults we can understand that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures- that we are all alike in certain ways and unique in others.  There’s no black or white definition or cut-off for what makes a person “good enough” or “okay.” If we all have flaws and imperfections, then we are all “okay” and we all have room for improvement. So then what is the value of asking ourselves whether we are “good enough or not?” That is a very defensive, judgmental, and anxiety-provoking question to even ask, and just asking this question causes unbelievable emotional suffering.

So the concept of self-esteem only causes insecurities and anxiety. We all have positive and negative traits, we make mistakes, and I believe that asking this question, about whether we’re normal or not, prevents people from growing, because it assumes that only abnormal people need to change or to pursue self-growth. That’s just B.S.

My brother, a therapist, asked me what would replace the concept of self-esteem? Why does it need to be replaced? What role does that concept fulfill, if we decide that we can all improve ourselves and grow throughout our lives?

But if we must replace the concept of self-esteem here is how we can do it:

1) Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, no one is more worthy than anyone else, we don’t judge others and no one has a right to judge us. This includes acceptance of ourselves the way we are, and others the way they are, and compassion for ourselves and for others.  This is non-judgementalness.

2) Work on self growth and improving ourselves for our entire life. Embrace it, enjoy it, and encourage others. Get rid of the defensiveness, the judging, the blame, and the guilt!

3) Determine your values, and your priorities in life, and live them.

4) Learn and practice mindfulness, being present, focused, and not judging.

5) Don’t expect or wait for your thinking from childhood to change.  It’s there, embedded in you. That self-doubt, that black and white question about whether or not you’re good enough will be there, practicing these steps will help you work around it.

As David Burns, M.D., well-known cognitive therapist writes, “Self-esteem is not a useful concept.”

Part VI: Developing Integrity

Values and Priorities

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving and that is your own self.”

Aldous Huxley

Do you have values? What are your values? If you have a choice between sticking to your values, or pleasing someone else, which do you choose? Which is more important for you, being accepted, or doing what you believe is right? Examples of values which you might believe in would be honesty, independence, compassion, treating others with respect, living by The Golden Rule, trying not to hurt others, and contributing to society and the world. Make your own list. It has to be your own, not mine, not your mother’s or father’s. It doesn’t mean that we’ll be perfect at it, but it becomes a guideline or template for our action choices. When you think about PAEJO, “what outcome do I want?,” your values will be an important guideline. You can’t control if other people will like you. But you can control your choice of actions, through mindfulness, being present, being aware of your doubts, fears, and judgements from childhood, and choosing actions which fit your values.

Many people live life by the Reverse Golden Rule, (“RGR”). We often see the world as “dog-eat-dog,” everyone out for themselves. So the belief is “people will treat me selfishly” and the RGR goes “Treat other people the way you expect them to treat you. This is also known as the “screw-’em” rule.

You can choose for yourself, and you can choose what you value in others. I have found that the “Golden Rule” rather than the RGR has brought me better relationships, and friends who similarly respect my feelings.

One of the important ways that The Potent Mind works is by helping you create a new space inside. When you start to let go of your judgments, and your fears of other people’s judgments, it will leave you with some emptiness. When you consider your values, your needs, your strengths and weaknesses, and what gets your juices flowing, you will begin to imagine new possibilities for your life. Follow your passions. Develop your values. Build your character traits. Use your strengths. Face your weaknesses and shore them up, with help where needed.

We’re a work in progress.

Here are some character traits and values that I have put together. You may not agree with all of them– you have to work out your own. We’ll never live up to all of them all the time but they are goals we set that can guide our choices of action.

Mind Gem #6: Determine your values and priorities and use these as your guides for action. Determine the character traits you value and develop them in yourself.

Part IV: Being Present and Filtering Your Emotions

Actions and Consequences

“I think you should take your job seriously but not yourself-that is the best combination.”

Judi Dench

If your mind is in the past, thinking about your mistakes, blaming yourself or others, feeling resentful about things, then you’re NOT in the pilot’s seat. If you are worrying about tomorrow, then you’re NOT in the pilot’s seat. If you’re judging yourself, wondering if you’re good enough for the job, then you are NOT in the pilot’s seat. When you notice yourself slipping out of the pilot’s seat, simply remind yourself to get back into it. One way to do that is to remind yourself to be present, take a slow deep breath, focus on your chest, on the physical sensations of the air going in, and then as you exhale focusing your attention on the sensations of the air coming out. This brings you physically and mentally into the present from wherever you were. Each time you notice yourself leaving the pilot’s seat, and nudge yourself back in, you’re practicing mindfulness.

Now that we’re starting to work on staying in the driver’s seat we can begin to look at the control panel. Reading our emotions properly and responding in healthy ways can help us navigate around obstacles and reach beyond our dreams. Trick is, we can’t always trust the instruments. Sometimes when an alarm goes off, it’s a false alarm. Doing something drastic might get us in trouble. This is how it is with our feelings and impulses. So we have to understand what can get in the way-how beliefs we formed in childhood distort, and stick-how what we think we know, and what we don’t know we don’t know, can blur our view.

Let’s go back to our three important questions.


  • Are my Perceptions Accurate?
  • Emotions Justified?
  • What are the possible Outcomes?

PAEJO. Perceptions Accurate?, Emotions Justified?, Possible Outcomes? I try to remember it as the consequence guy, Jo, waiting to be paid if I don’t carefully consider the outcomes of my actions and reactions.

Let’s talk about consequences. We want to move away from blame, whether it’s blaming others or blaming our self. Instead, the healthier, more effective model is that there are consequences to our actions, and we must accept them, learn, modify our behavior. So accept that we are lifetime students. Blaming and kicking ourselves, or others, only distracts from the learning process by adding hurt, shame, anger, and other negative emotions on top of the original mistake. We can’t change other people who tend to kick themselves or people around them, but we can choose for ourselves to get out of that kind of obsessing and abuse of ourself and of others. Getting rid of blame from your life is related to living nonjudgmentally. You’ll see that this is also the key to dealing with self-esteem problems.

Mind Gem # 4: Blame is a distraction. And
4a: Make a mistake, make a correction.

Part III: Don’t Let Your Emotions Control You

Hijacked by Our Emotional Mind

Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Here’s an example of a simple but powerful new concept that can start you off. Most of the time when we feel an impulse or emotion, we don’t have to do anything! We almost always have time to hold back our reaction on what we say or do, and give ourselves extra time to process what’s happening before we act. As I become older, and theoretically wiser, I can’t tell you how often I’ve found that keeping my mouth shut, or not lashing out when I feel like it, has lead to the better outcome.

Emotions are there to grab us, to suddenly hijack our mind and our body and set us into motion, without having to think. Anger is there to mobilize us to attack, fear is there to help us defend, love is to help us connect with others, and to regenerate our species.

The sudden hijacking of our mind and body is usually quick and strong, and if you don’t act on it, it sets up a physical struggle inside. You can learn to win that struggle as you listen further.

Mind Gem # 3: Next time you get hijacked by an impulse to act, consider if you can give yourself time to think about how to respond to it. Usually you can.

An impulse can suddenly try to yank us out of the pilot seat. It’s like an alarm, sometimes it’s the real thing but it may also be a false alarm and reacting without thinking can be disastrous. Emotions can be sudden but they can also build, and we can find ourselves being swallowed up by them before we realize it. We may not be aware that we’ve left the pilot seat. We can get lost in our “emotional mind.”

Mindfulness will teach you to find the driver’s seat and stay in it. If you hear alarms (strong emotions), and think you have to act immediately, gem number three reminds you to process what’s going on before acting.