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The highs and lows

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.

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