The Second Power of Self-Esteem
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I treat many
disorders, some clinical, some "general." Self-Esteem is not
found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
as a "formal" illness, but we all know it pervades everyday
activities and interactions with others. I've treated low
self-esteem for years, and have even written an ebook detailing
its components and how it evolves. There are Four Powers,
as I call them.
The first is Worth. I've written other articles about this,
posted in this and other article directories. Worth is about our
basic assumptions, gleaned from our earliest experiences.
Worth is about our fundamental orientation to the world in which
we live, intertwined with how we are in that world. Are we good?
Are we bad? Do we deserve to have lots of things and to have a
good life? Or, are we doomed? But, The focus of this article
is on the Second Power, which generally follows from how we deal
with the First Power.
The Second Power of self-esteem is Competence. Competence
is about our actual abilities, as we judge ourselves internally
and as we are judged by others when comparing ourselves with others.
Competence is about being able to run faster than others when we
were kids. It is about getting better grades on math tests or
being more pretty or handsome. Competence is about getting
promotions faster or bigger raises, or being better at any ability
with anyone in any venue.
Competence is also about achievement, especially when we do
not think we have real abilities, or when our abilities are judged
to be just "so-so." Think "Rocky," as in the Sylvester Stallone
movie. He was not such a great fighter and came from a poor
neighborhood, yet, look what he accomplished. He took an inchoate
ability, developed it through hard work and perseverance, and then
triumphed over the evil Apollo Creed. But achieving achievement
is not the only or even the best goal when developing Competence.
Most of us are good at some things and mediocre at far more
things. Some of us are downright inept at some things.
Some of us are very good, or even brilliant at a few things.
This is the nature of the human condition. What we think about
this configuration of our abilities determines how we develop our
native talents, and not surprisingly, how much we improve our
self-esteems in the area of Competence. And, one does not
actually have to be brilliant at any one thing to have a high
self-esteem in this "second" area.
All one has to do is think that they have talent and to accept
that this is a "relative" state of affairs, not an absolute one.
In other words, when we think that we can do things, probably at
least average or maybe even a little better than average, we
position ourselves, relatively speaking, to other people in our
world, and do so in a benign way, psychologically. Such thinking,
as it turns out, is very adaptive, healthy, not egocentric
(think narcissistic), nor destructive with respect to others or
ourselves. It allows us to fail with dignity because of lowered
yet realistic expectations, but leaves ample room to excel; that is,
develop what abilities we have without putting undue pressure on
ourselves. When there is real talent, this "attitude" allows it
to manifest without so much ego involvement. And, because we
think of Competence in this way, we appreciate what we have without
needing to be so competitive with others, or ourselves thus avoiding
the tendency we all have to put ourselves down.
In other articles, I'd like to explore this Second Power more
but also explore different dimensions of the two remaining Powers
(Ego-Strength and Self-Acceptance).