How to Develop a Balanced Sense of Self- A healthy sense of self-worth is one thing; but when narcissism takes the spotlight, no one wins.
Part of the trouble with the modern concept of a healthy identity is that self-worth has been confused with self-esteem. It is important to distinguish between the two. Yes, it is important to cultivate an intrinsic sense of inner value. Everyone is worthy of love and acceptance – this is self-worth. It is related to self-respect. It means your worth is unrelated to what you do or what you have.
Self-esteem is different and is a bit like self-confidence, involving how you feel about yourself, your appearance or abilities. This can change according to the particular context such as your career-self compared to your social-self. It is your perception of how you are doing in the world according to external markers. To encourage both self-worth and self-esteem, the messages we give our children should go like this: “You are lovable for who you are AND you still have to work at being the best you can be.” “I still love you AND that behaviour was not acceptable so there will be consequences.” “Yes you are special AND so is everyone else.”
Signs of a non-narcissistic self-esteem include: the ability to take responsibility for your own self; self management both emotionally and materially; social relatedness; the ability to give and take in relationships; consideration for and respectful treatment of others; competence in your chosen field (an internal measure, not competitive or comparative); and contribution to the collective good.
DEVELOPING A BALANCED SENSE OF SELF
1. Service and contribution
The key to having a healthy self-esteem, but not being a narcissist, is to value who you are but then to ask: Is who I am a contribution to the greater whole? Do my endeavours add to the collective good?
The war generations had a martyr mindset that said: “One must contribute to the good of others at the expense of one’s own self.” This is not healthy. But now we have swung to the opposite ideal where it is acceptable to foster the good of your own self at the expense of others. The chaos of financial markets and environmental degradation are symptoms of this. We need to come to a middle ground where what is good for the self is used as a contribution to the good of others. It is win-win. We need to nurture and foster our own authentic self and then put this self in service to others. Our esteem should be based on what we manifest in the world.
2. Self-caring not selfish
We can have high self-worth while still having a healthy humility. This means we value ourselves as equal to, but not better than, others. Excessive self-esteem exalts the self and others become pawns in your own grandiose drama. Maintaining a balanced level of self-esteem requires that we distinguish between self-care and being selfish. Self-care is healthy. Putting yourself first isn’t selfish – it’s about being responsible. If your vehicle of expression, your self, is diminished or its needs are ignored then your physical, mental or emotional being will suffer. You lose and so do others. If your self is thriving then you have a better capacity to contribute to your family and the broader community.
When you are selfish you focus on your own needs to the exclusion and at the expense of others. A self-centred person may be accomplished and self-expressed but none of this adds anything to the collective good.
3. Living in harmony
The world is groaning under the weight of millions of individual desires and ambitions. Everyone wants to be glamorous, wealthy and famous. I know people who are busy doing affirmations for being rich or for getting the job or relationship they want. People are big on ‘manifesting’ their own positive reality. But this can be very self-centred and even narcissistic if there is no concern for whether your desires work in harmony with everyone else. What is the point of having what you want if everyone around you is suffering? We are all in this world together so rather than focus on the individual, the planet’s symptoms require us to work as one.
To avoid the narcissism trap ask yourself these questions:
– Do I acknowledge others’ self-worth, as well as my own?
– Do I aspire for others to ‘manifest’ what they want too, not just what I want?
– Is what I want or is my identity created at the expense of another in the world?
We certainly don’t want a world of martyrs, but narcissism doesn’t work either. We want people who are brimming with self-worth who lift others up with them. These people don’t gaze at their own reflection; they are too busy making their contribution in the world.