What does it mean to have a healthy self-esteem?
These days, we regularly read about and hear about how to build our self-esteem and how to preserve our children’s self-esteem in magazines, on television, on the radio, and in books.
Maybe it’s the economy, the environment, social changes, or any number of other factors that we are exposed to today.
And maybe it’s also an age-old yet timeless part of the human experience.
Whatever the case may be, amidst all the barrage, do we even remember or know at all what a healthy self-esteem actually feels like? Even for just a few moments?
I want to ask you to do something: Picture a time in your life when you really felt happy with yourself. I mean honestly, truly happy with you. Just you.
Not with a possession, not with a particular accomplishment, and not with a relationship; just with yourself.
Are there such moments for you in your life? If so, what were they like?
Being a psychiatrist, people are often interested in whether or not I think that they are doing the right things or making the right decisions in their lives.
Sometimes those questions involve things that could affect the person’s self-esteem in some way, shape, or form; changes that they want to make.
For example, people have asked me if I thought it would be “healthy” for them to get plastic surgery—a nose job (rhinoplasty), breast implants, tummy tuck, or liposuction.
Or, they might ask about gastric bypass surgery, hair replacement, or hair removal.
How about professional teeth polishing or veneers (“…they’re painless now you know, doc…”)?
Should I lose more weight, gain more muscle, or put lifts in my shoes?
Should I only wear certain colors or avoid others?
Dresses or pants?
Full suits or sport jackets?
And I don’t mean to make the last few items sound trivial, because for some people, they really are not trivial at all.
The fact of the matter is, all of us, to some extent or another, have to negotiate a sense of self-security and self-esteem on a regular basis.
And many, many, things can affect it, including failures, successes, relationship and financial status, work and family issues, etc.
Without getting all psychiatry/analytical with you, I can simply say that you often have more leeway than you think regarding what seems appropriate and what doesn’t regarding building up or keeping your self-esteem.
As long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, you can often—after appropriate research and professional consultation if it’s a procedure you want done, or some open and honest discussion with a friend or family member if it’s not a medical procedure—pursue options which may personally help you feel a greater sense of self-esteem by helping to address something that perhaps you’ve struggled with internally for a very long time.
Of course, nothing can replace the self-esteem that comes from a tranquil inner peace and an accurate sense of—and an appreciation for—who we really are as individuals. That all comes from the inside.
But I think it’s wrong to judge ourselves or others too quickly when deciding to do things that make us feel good about ourselves, especially if no harm is being done, and if those things are very specific and relatively few in nature.
Yes, one can go too far with this and essentially become addicted to temporary quick fixes which never lead to lasting change.
But my professional experience has been more full of people who made well thought-out decisions in which they were able to take charge of and change an aspect of themselves which they simply could not make peace with, often for their whole lives up to that point, and often after much internal struggle, growth, and change.
Some particular examples include those whose self-esteem was strongly affected by childhood anomalies like moles or birthmarks that they were exquisitely sensitive about despite therapy, or a lip or palette issue of the mouth, or a hair loss problem, severe scarring acne or other skin issues, or teeth problems. Others have struggled all their lives with metabolism issues despite making significant psychological and nutritional progress. And some had body changes after giving birth or upon getting to a certain age which they could not make peace with no matter how hard or how long they tried—again despite positive, disciplined, and healthy interventions along the way.
I’ve seen permanent and lasting change in many who have “fixed” issues which they could simply not reconcile within themselves and their lives. I’ve seen them become better spouses, better parents, better workers, better neighbors, and just plain happier and more positive people.
These are the stories which often give me pause and which make me ask myself: How much therapy would be required to make a small stone stop bothering me if it were in my shoe? (Answer: none!)
So if you’re thinking of getting a procedure done or making a change–of addressing any particular aspect of your appearance, personality, or environment in any way at all–please make sure you open yourself up to others and explore it first. Choose people who would be empathetic with you but who would also point out the potential pitfalls or dangers in your plan. And also be open to the hard work of trying to change how you feel about yourself from the inside first, for that is where our self-esteem ultimately comes from regardless of what else we do on the outside.
Then, after your due diligence is done, I wish you good luck and let’s see what you can do with your “new life”.—Go For It!
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First)
Cobwebs and Ugly Wallpaper