Dealing with Low Self Esteem
by Arye Ackerman
A substantial majority of emotional or behavior problems are due to one
common underlying factor, an unjustified and unwarranted feeling of low
self-esteem. Low self-esteem is likely to interfere with family
relationships, social relationships, occupation, spiritual growth and
every aspect of ones life.
Dr. Abraham Twerski, M.D. the founder and medical director of the Gateway
Rehabilitation Center in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, writes: "Many times in
our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the
decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as
though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will
happen, you will never lose your value. The worth of our lives comes not
in what we do or whom we know, but by WHO WE ARE. You are special - Don't
EVER forget it."
He defines the meaning of low self-esteem as a feeling of inadequate,
inferior, dull, socially inept, unattractive, unlikable and "alone against
the world". You have nothing to offer or contribute. You don't think you are
worthy of respect and love. You have no feeling of self-value and
People who have negative self-images are extraordinary sensitive. Their
egos are so fragile that they anticipate that their imaginary defects will
be noticed. The most profound feelings of low self-esteem paradoxically
occur most often in those people and children who in reality are most
Evaluating events in a negative way make you feel, sad, depressed,
miserable, angry and anxious. Believing you are inferior, untalented,
unimportant, influences your actual ability to achieve those traits. If you view yourself as unable to and not capable of achieving a goal, you
actually wont be able to achieve it, even if you have sufficient and
adequate qualifications to achieve that goal.
Early experiences can impact greatly on the beliefs we have about
ourselves. Certainly parents, teachers, and other adults can do a great
deal to make the road to self-esteem easier or harder. What you believe
about yourself and your abilities serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Your self-image is not an objective reality. It is based on who you think
you are and what you are like. It is based on messages you received from
your parents, brothers, sisters, friends, classmates, teachers, neighbors,
and everyone else you met in your life.
While we cannot change the world
or our past, we can change how we relate to them. There is nothing you can
do to change the way you were treated in your childhood but you can change
the way you think and feel in the present. Evaluating something in a
positive way will always make you feel happy.
Self-esteem is comprised of two principle ingredients, feelings of
competence and feelings of value. A person with a healthy self esteem
loves, appreciates himself and thanks G-d for what He has given him. You
have a positive outlook on life and look at each new day as an opportunity
to learn, to experience the world and to achieve your goals.
of self-respect are independent of others. You do not allow others to
control you, but you do not feel the need to control others. You look at
life and it's difficulties as challenges and opportunities for personal
growth. You are commanded by G-d to strive, not necessarily to succeed.
A person should recognize that that he has intrinsic value and worth and
is a competent and capable individual.
Your emotions exist in order to motivate you to take an action. Guilt
signals one to change. Pain signals one to care for oneself, and boredom,
depression or anxiety, signals oneself to bring about change.
Many people experiencing emotional or behavioral difficulties, who seek
psychiatric treatment for depression, have been depressed for most of
their life as a result of their negative self-image. Anti-depressant
medications will usually not help these people. Instead of the therapist
trying to figure out what is wrong with his client, he may try to point
out to his client, what is right with him.
Cheshbon Hanefesh, which is self-criticism, can be beneficial for you when you think
of ways to improve. The Torah gives intrinsic meaning to all life regardless
what he can or has achieved. The Torah commands each person to try, and
try again, but not to believe that success is totally contingent on his
particular behavior and effort. When this belief is in place, a person will
not experience anger or depression even if he fails. Nowhere is a Jew
commanded to succeed, but rather to act according to the commandments of
the Torah. The person acts and G-d decides which path history will
Having weaknesses does not make you incompetent or a failure. The real
purpose of life is to become the best person you can become and to utilize
your abilities for good.
Self-esteem and happiness are interdependent. It is difficult or impossible
to have a healthy self-esteem without being happy. In a home with true
Torah and Simcha (happiness), where parents suspend their judgment of G-d and
accept G-d's ways, it is likely that young children will absorb this.
If parents only verbalize their faith but in practice do not have true
acceptance of G-d's ways, their children are apt to follow suit.
Hope is to joy what despair is to depression. A Torah person, even in the
depths of problems should find hope in his faith that G-d will never
abandon him. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said there is no such thing in reality as
hopelessness. Despair does not exist. Despair is a distortion of reality
and a hallucination.
Self-esteem does not solve all the problems of life. Struggle is intrinsic
to life. Sooner or later everyone experiences anxiety and pain. While
self-esteem can make one less vulnerable, it cannot make one ignorant of
Think of self-esteem as the immune system of consciousness. If you have a
healthy immune system, you might become ill, but you are less likely to;
if you do become ill, you will likely recover faster, your resilience is
greater. Similarly, if you have high self-esteem, you might still know
times of emotional suffering, but less often and with a faster recovery.
Its presence does not guarantee fulfillment, but its absence guarantees
anxiety, frustration and despair.
Our sages mentioned the subject of self-esteem and ways to correct this flaw in
character, in many of the Holy Books. The one solution helpful to everybody is,
support and encouragement. King Solomon said, " When you have worry in
your heart, speak to somebody". Rabbi Elemelech from L'znsk says in the
"zetel katan", a person should find a friend who he can trust and speak
about his faults and get support from him. A proven method to achieving a
positive self-image is to acknowledge and share your anxious feelings with
Self-esteem support groups, provides support and encouragement. A group
will help you recognize your potential, skills, talents and abilities and
help you realize that you're not the only one with this problem.
The purpose of working the 12 steps of self-esteem is much the same as
that of working the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous; namely, to free
ourselves of a pathologic dependency and to get support.
It takes participants on a journey toward self-discovery by enhancing
self-awareness, identity formation, self theory and goal setting. You will
walk away inspired and motivated to reach for new levels of accomplishment
and personal growth.
If you would like to join a 12 step self-esteem support group, or invite
Arye Ackerman to deliver a lecture to your organization, school, religious
group or in your home, please contact Rabbi Arye Ackerman (in Jerusalem)
at 053-468346 972-2-5868295, (212-5615920 Israel time) or write,
For more information please visit visit the 12 Steps to Self Esteem website:
Rabbi Arye Ackerman lives in Ramot, Jerusalem. He is a qualified
psychotherapist and has received the blessings and guidance of Rabbi Dr.
Abraham Twerski and Rabbi Roll, Director of 12 Steps to Self Esteem to
facilitate self-esteem support groups.
from the February 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine