In case your prince turns into a drunken slob or your golden goose dies, and when you can no longer rely on the world to provide you with self-worth, you will need to know how to become your own supplier. This concept of self-sufficiency is no more strange than it is when we apply it to other areas of life, whether it is leaving home and earning your own income or western economies learning to become self-sufficient for their energy requirements.
The first thing that Jenny (of the prince turned frog story in the last post) would have to tell Cinderella is that the technique or method for achieving self-sufficiency is by making an informed decision. There are two pieces of information needed in order to make the decision to become one’s own source of self-worth and positive self-esteem: firstly, an understanding of how it came to be that we rely on others for self-worth in the first place, and secondly, based on that, a perspective on how the world really is as opposed to how we mistakenly think it is because of our early-acquired distorted personalized view of how it is. With that information clear in our minds, we can approach making the decision to become our own source of self-worth.
Self-esteem develops in early childhood, before we can remember.
Our self-esteem fell into place when we were very young, probably when we were between the ages of three and five. It emerged in the course of our normal healthy emotional development. It arose as a result of two events that occur in each and every one of our lives, regardless of the circumstances of our lives.
Everyone who reads this article has a mother who cared for them. Some of our mothers may have been more caring than others, some better at caring and providing for our needs than others; some of our mothers may even have been not so caring and not so responsive or quite uncaring and even indifferent or neglectful at times. Regardless, we all have at least some experience of being cared for by our mothers or someone who functioned as a mother. That we are here reading this means that someone cared for us enough to keep us alive. Strange and counterintuitive as it may sound, Cinderella would not have survived without her mother, which in her case was her cruel stepmother.
Even with the best and most loving, devoted mother in the world, there are times when they can not be there for us when we need them.
Now, regardless of how nurturing and attentive our mothers may have been, even with the best and most loving, devoted mothers in the world, there were times when they could not be there for us when we needed them, because as we got older, we lost our proximity ot our mothers and they from us. As we got older they spent more and more time away from us doing other things. And likewise, we spent more and more time away from them, as all normal growing human beings do. This increasing separation between mother and child is normal, natural and necessary for life. So there are times when our mothers are not there for us, and in their absence we may have our needs go unmet and unfulfilled. When that happens, we become increasingly distressed and eventually can become quite overwhelmed. In that moment we feel abandoned, and we register that abandonment as a threat to our survival.
All creatures, including humans, have to have ways to recognize and respond to threats. Without that they would be destroyed and the species would disappear. Our human way of dealing with threats is by thought and understanding. We call ourselves Homo Sapiens, Man the Wise, in recognition of this essential human quality that distinguishes us from all other species. Our faculty of thought develops through different stages over the course of our childhood. At the earliest time that we are able to understand our own experience, which is probably when we are three or four, we make sense of our world in a way that has been called egocentric or narcissistic. This means that we see ourselves at the centre of whatever we experience because our minds have not yet developed to the point where we can see things from someone else’s point of view. Whatever happens to us is about us. If my mother doesn’t show up when I need her, it is about me, not her. It means that I am not important enough to her. Because I cannot know anything about why she is not there, because I am too young to understand anything about work or traffic or shopping or whatever else keeps her from me when I need her, I understand her absence as meaning that I am not worth being cared for, in other words, that I am worthless.
We reach the conclusion that we are worthless because of the universal experience of abandonment on the one hand and of narcissistic thinking on the other hand, where we mistakenly believe that whatever happens to us is about us.
This is equally true for every last one of us, and it doesn’t matter who or how loving and present our mother was; we all have this experience and reach the same conclusion about our inherent lack of worth. We reach this conclusion because of the universal experience of the progressive loss of proximity with our mothers that leads to the universal experience of abandonment on the one hand and on the other hand the universal experience of cognitive development where we go through an egocentric or narcissistic stage where our understanding is that whatever we experience and whatever happens to us is about us. If, heavens forbid, our prince charming leaves us or turns into a frog or our golden goose stops laying or, as with Jenny from the earlier post, our partner turns into a drunken alcoholic, then we make that rejection or disappointment mean something about us and our lack of worth. We say to ourselves, this bad thing happened to me because I’m not good enough; if I were good enough, or worthwhile, then this bad thing would not have happened to me. This is the egocentric way of thinking, and we all think egocentrically, especially when it comes to our emotional thinking.
When we recognize our unrealistic egocentric thinking, then we put ourselves in a position to take a more realistic view of events and our experience of them. We can then look realistically at the circumstances of our disappointment and say yes, this bad thing happened to me, but these are the reasons for it, and the reasons are not about me and my lack of worth. Accidents don’t happen because I am unworthy. Illness doesn’t happen because I am worthless (or worth less). Natural disasters don’t happen because people are bad. Rejection doesn’t happen because I am not good enough. Bad things don’t happen because of my lack of worth. They happen for random reasons or because the other people’s preferences don’t necessarily coincide with my preferences or with who I happen to be.
If someone does not like me, it is about their preference, not about my worth.
This does not mean that we are perfect and that we do no wrong. Things that go wrong for us may go wrong because of us, because of our behaviour. If someone rejects me, it may be that they do not like me or do not like me anymore. But, (and this is the difference), their liking or not liking me is not about my worth; it is about their preferences. We are all discerning creatures, we all have our likes and dislikes, and we all can and do change our minds. When I change my mind about what I do and don’t like, that just means that something or someone is or is not my particular preference. It does not mean anything about that person’s worth. When people become the source of their own self-worth, then what I think of them may be interesting to them or not, but it has no bearing on their worth because they determine their worth, not me,and vice versa, I determine my worth, not them.
If and when my proverbial prince or princess turns into the proverbial frog, it is because of the frog-prince, not me. If you don’t believe me, just ask Jenny. She knows.
I will post a new blog in three weeks’ time on happiness.