It occurs to me that I hear too often of late a phrase that has become embedded in
our psyches and is used as a concise catch-all to help us understand our behaviours
or the behaviour of others: low self-esteem. We use it not only to make sense of
behaviours and motivations but also to excuse them.
Like any ‘off-the-shelf’ concept that finds its way into every day parlance, it can be a
little too easy to apply and, therefore, sometimes obscure a less palatable truth.
Indeed, there is the possibility that it can be used on occasions to avoid truth
This is not to say that to suffer from low self-esteem is not emotionally debilitating
because it is. Nor is it to say that low self-esteem can painfully restrict us from
fulfilling our potential because it can. There is much value in helping to bolster and
support somebody to take care of themselves, recognise and honour their
achievements and move towards accepting themselves as unique individuals with a
strong sense of their worth regardless of societal status or background.
If, that is, the identification of low self-esteem is accurate in the first place.
In a culture of modesty where ‘pride comes before a fall’ or where we might have
been urged not to ‘get above ourselves’, there can be some secret, self-
congratulatory comfort when we disclose to ourselves and others that we have low
Is it possible that, without giving enough consideration or acknowledgement to how
unrealistic or dishonest it might be, we can see a little too much virtue in putting
others before ourselves? And might this be exacerbated on occasions by an
instinctive need to defend ourselves from other ‘off-the-shelf’ phrases - like
narcissistic personality - the use of which has also become widespread and a little
too convenient? Have we come to believe, quite erroneously, that having low
self-esteem is the opposite to being a narcissist?
I wonder if we might sometimes be too ready to wear our low self-esteem as a badge
of honour to conceal the less comfortable truth that we think rather a lot of ourselves;
sometimes, perhaps, a little too much but sometimes just enough.