Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Path to Self-Esteem

As we detailed in my last article, "Self-Esteem: Infidelity's Biggest Trigger," a low self-esteem often plays into the underlying reason that a person falls into infidelity (there is something missing in me that the Affair Partner completes) as well as getting in the way of successfully rebuilding once the affair is in the open (He's rejected me for someone else; I'm a horrible person for doing what I did; motivates blame-shifting and  rug sweeping mindsets). I pointed out how bad self-esteem does not equal low self-esteem, but that good or proper self-esteem removes a focus on self from the esteem equation. If you've not read that article, I encourage you to click the above link and do so.

The route most people suggest to build one's self-esteem revolve around the band-aid treatment of making one's self feel more important, more respected. Often the list includes things like treating yourself to something special, doing something for yourself, demanding more respect from others, adopt some beliefs that make you feel better about yourself, etc. These are band-aid treatments because they treat the symptoms, not the root cause. Doing those things are a temporary fix until the next message you receive from a source that you're a failure, and it all takes a nosedive again.

I suggested last time that the "cure" for an improper self-esteem is humility. Before we dig in to what this is and how to get it, first we need to clarify what it is not. Because when someone brings up humility, they tend to associate it with the following self-esteem destroyers:


True humility is not to become a doormat for people to walk over. The real source of this unhealthy relational model is pride, not humility. It is based on believing if I do the right things to make him happy, he'll like me. Hold onto your questions; I'll explain why in a moment.

Codependent Relationship

True humility does not result in a relationship where fixing the other spouse provides the spouse's esteem. It does quite the opposite, freeing the other person to be responsible for themselves, even while you are cheering them on.

Passive Aggressive Behaviors

True humility will not result in underlying resistance while appearing cooperative and agreeable in order to maintain control and get what you want. Instead, it seeks to truly serve others for the betterment of all, including one's self.

Some will look at a truly humble person and believe they are exhibiting one of the above traits. But the key difference is in the above traits, one is seeking to feel better about their self through some attempt to control the situation or manipulate people. That is always a form of pride, not humility.

Humility, on the other hand, results in not focusing on self. On not seeking to control or manipulate others to feel good about yourself. The goal of humility is to place one's self on an equal plane of worth with everyone else.

The base definition of humility in the ancient Greek is "to lower oneself in relation to another." Likewise, the base definition of pride is "to raise oneself in relation to another." In order to put yourself on equal footing with everyone else, you must view their lives and needs just as important as your own. Any attempt to focus on your own self while using others to make yourself feel good is pride. It is putting your self as of more worth because you are using others to satisfy your desires and wants.

Keep in mind what humility is lowering one's self to. It is not inherent worth. All men and women are equal. It is not respect. It is in a focus of meeting needs and desires. If we are truly equal in worth, then my needs and wants are no more important than anyone else's. So the focus of our efforts cannot be on meeting our needs and wants above others. The moment we do, we put self in a position of worth based on what we do.

How Do We Foster True Humility?

You don't become humble by trying to be humble. The moment you seek it, you end up in pride, because you are doing it to lift self to a higher level than others. "Ah, look how humble I've become!" Then we're back to putting self in the esteem equation.

The key to answering this is control. At the heart of pride is making self important by controlling others or a situation. This is true of the doormat, the passive aggressive victim, or the narcissist. Pride says, "I want to control this for my maximum self interests."

To gain humility, we do the opposite. We give the control to others. I know, I know. This goes against our ideas of proper self-esteem. Seems to open up the door to being treated as a doormat, or abused by an abuser. But not really. Here's the difference.

For a doormat person, they meet any and every need because they hope to be liked and appreciated. Or they do it to control the other person in codependent manner or subvert them through passive aggressive behaviors. For a humble person, they do it purely to meet that person's true need, with no expectation of benefiting from it. Self is out of the picture, so there is no doormat to walk on. If they are unappreciative or don't reciprocate, that is no skin off their back since they didn't do it for that reason.

What loosing control means in practical terms is obedience. We become obedient to one another in love. When you are merely being obedient, you don't have the satisfaction of being prideful.

For example, when I was a teen, I decided on my own to clean out the garage because I wanted to surprise my mother. My motivation was to see her shock and praise me for being so considerate and helpful. It became a source of pride for me to say, "See what I did!"

Now back up. Let's say before my mom left that day she told me, "Rick, would you please clean out the garage for me?" Would I have been nearly motivated to do it? No, because self wasn't going to get kudos for deciding to do it. She might say it was a good job, but she would have expected that. Because I was only doing what was expected of me, I wouldn't have been able to take pride in what I'd done inappropriately, at least easily.

What am I saying? Don't surprise your loved ones with gifts? No. Rather, if you want to remove self from the esteem equation through humility, it is done through obedience to one another.

But we need to make one more point on this to avoid confusion. It is not an obedience to their demands and wants, but to what is in their best interest. To put it in obvious terms, if they say, "Give me a gun, I want to go shoot some kids at a school," you'd be obedient to everyone's best interest by not giving him that gun. A doormat would give him the gun. A humble person with proper self-esteem would not.

So, let's put this in marital terms, which is what our focus is here. What if your spouse is abusive, manipulative, etc.? Do you just obey him?

That will depend, but as pointed out, you are obedient to his best interest. Such types of relationships are not healthy for any involved, including the abuser. Obedience in that instance would be to leave in hopes he'll get a clue and seek help to change his destructive relational patterns. It would be obedient to the best interest of the kids, if any, who might suffer emotionally under such an atmosphere, to leave.

It would also be obedient to your own protection. "But I thought you said self doesn't enter the picture?" As a motivation to control others for your own ego boosting needs, yes. But if you do not protect yourself, there are needs other than your own that will go unmet. If mom is an emotional mess because of an abusive husband, she won't be able to fully meet the needs of her kids as their mother. Taking care of basic needs for yourself is being obedient to the needs of others. If you can't function in a healthy way, you can't help others.

"But what about a spouse who is simply not humble to me? Am I to continue to obey him when he doesn't respect me?" Yes and no. Yes, in the sense his lack of desire to meet your needs doesn't affect your reason to meet his needs. You aren't meeting his needs, if it is from true humility, because you want him to return the favor. So when he doesn't, you don't stop. To do so would indicate it arose from pride and a damaged self-esteem you are trying to shore up.

But, to continue in that type of relationship for long is not good for either of you. It needs to be addressed. It needs to be dealt with an healed. You might need to force the issue at some point by making it clear the situation cannot go on without forcing you to take some extreme measures, like separation. However, letting it go on and on would be an indication of pride rather than humble obedience.

In the end, you are simply being obedient to him/her by doing what is in the best interest of all involved. By so doing, your own needs are not front and center, though your basic needs are getting met that keep you going and healthy. But you are focused on other's needs not to use them for meeting your own, but because their needs are just as important as yours.

The end result is self is removed from the esteem question. You know your esteem is equal to everyone else's. Because of that, what others think of you or your performance matters little as it has no bearing on your self-worth. With self out of the picture, you are free to respond to others and be obedient to what is in their best interest out of genuine love for them as a person of worth.

Fostering humility becomes the path to proper and healthy self-esteem that will not only allow a hurt spouse or unfaithful spouse to heal quicker, but will prevent any self-focused decisions to have an affair to happen in the first place.

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