Is Self-Esteem a Contradiction to Humility?
There is lots of talk out there about the importance of self-esteem, though many times this is not really understood. The Torah teaches us to be humble and it is considered praiseworthy to “nullify” our will in order to follow G-d’s will. Does that mean that there is no place for the “self” and self-esteem in Judaism? Nothing could be further from the truth. In this column, we are going to be discussing “Soul Esteem” to understand what it means to have healthy self-esteem. Self-esteem must begin with knowing who we are. We are born into this world as pure souls that must now reside in physical bodies and go on to live physical lives with all of their trappings. While physicality can be quite distracting, we cannot forget that our true worth does not come from our physical existence, it comes from our neshama, our soul, which is a part of G-d Himself. What does this mean practically to us? We must live our lives with the awareness that we have unconditional, eternal worth simply because we possess a neshama.
In today’s world, we judge ourselves and others by externals. Worth becomes based on appearances, accomplishments, acquisitions, social status, and many other external things. While many of these externals may help a person feel good about one’s self, it is crucial to remember that these are only external factors that can fluctuate, which means that they are not emes – the ultimate truth. Truth is unchanging, and the only thing about each and every one of us that is unchanging is our essence, our soul. This is why we are calling self-esteem, “Soul-Esteem.” There are many ways to help individuals build themselves up and enhance their self-esteem. However, nothing can replace the boost a person will experience when he acknowledges the fact that his value is unchanging no matter what mistakes he may have made along the way, because he has a piece of Hashem, a neshama, that remains pure and perfect at his core. This is a most empowering realization! This means that despite the criticism of others, or past mistakes, the soul remains intact. True one’s purity may become more concealed, even to oneself, but one’s true existence remains unchanged.
Picture a glistening diamond. Now, imagine that same diamond gets neglected and is no longer preserved. Over time a dirty film develops around it, hiding its original pristine state. It may even become so disguised, that we forget it is a diamond and begin to treat it like any other stone. Before long, we may begin kicking it around or even tossing it back into the earth. We have forgotten the value of the diamond, but I ask you, “Is it still a diamond?” Of course it is! As are you, a neshama that has not changed. Think of “soul-esteem” building as polishing your inner diamond. You have it, it’s there and no matter what you have been through, what you have been told, and how you may have forgotten, this does not change the fact that at your core, your essence has not changed. And so, going back to our earlier question, is it antithetical to Judaism to focus on self-esteem when we are meant to serve G-d and follow His will? It is actually one and the same. When we recognize that our very essence is a part of Hashem Himself, then our inherent self-esteem comes from that knowledge. As we strive to reveal the true essence of our souls, we in turn reveal G-d and His will in this physical world. As we tune into ourselves, on the soul level, we also tune into G-d.
When we reconnect with our neshama, we attach ourselves to The Infinite! What can be more empowering and “Soul-Esteem” building than that?
– Mashi Benzaquen, LCSW