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  • Liking ourselves,

  • having high self-esteem as we tend to put it

  • is crucial to any feeling of well-being.

  • What's odd, then, is just how unpredictable the allocation of esteem often turns out to be.

  • There are people with modest jobs,

  • unspectacular bodies and unglamorous friends.

  • Who confidently nevertheless lay claim to buoyant levels of self-esteem

  • They seem to like themselves

  • despite the absence of any vigorous signs of approval from the world at large.

  • And then there are others,

  • for who no amount of achievement, prestige and financial security

  • ever seems to do the trick.

  • They anxiously chastise and critic themselves.

  • Always feeling that they've underperformed,

  • never quite trusting that they really deserved to exist.

  • Having sound levels of self-esteem

  • ultimately appears to have precious little to do with hitting any verifiable benchmarks.

  • It seems connected up with a stranger, more internal, more subjective kind of logic

  • with factors immune to standard notions of achievement.

  • Three factors stand out in particular

  • Firstly:

  • What your same-sex parent did

  • the single greatest determinant of how much you will esteem yourself

  • is how you compare with your same-sex parent.

  • Whether you have achieved more or less than mum or dad.

  • Rather brutally, it seems like comfortable levels of self-esteem

  • are only available to those who've managed to outpace their same-sex parent.

  • Those from a poor background have a big unwitting advantage here.

  • You might only be driving a beaten-up old taxi around Manhattan

  • and living in one room in Harlem.

  • But, if your same-sex parent was a subsistence farmer from Eastern Burkina Faso

  • you will at times feel princely nevertheless.

  • Similarly, yet more darkly,

  • you might have grown up in ostensibly privilege circumstances

  • but if your same-sex parent made a few hundred million

  • and you're only managing to pull in a middle-class salary

  • you're liable never quite to shake off the haunting feeling that you're a disgrace.

  • Second thing:

  • What your peer group is up to.

  • We don't feel inadequate in relation to everyone who has more than us

  • Only those who we've come to see as belonging to another

  • crucial determinant of self-esteem:

  • our peer group.

  • By this we mean the people who were educated with us

  • who are around our age

  • and who live in our part of the world.

  • These people matter infinitely more to our sense of well-being

  • than the population at large.

  • It's a piece of extreme bad luck

  • and a matter for particular commiseration and assistance

  • if ever our peer group produces someone who starts a billion dollar company or,

  • God forbid, ends up running the country.

  • Every time someone we went to school with does better than us,

  • a small part of us will die.

  • We should therefore take immense care,

  • to attend very ordinary schools,

  • and after graduation to throw all invitations to reunions straight in the trash.

  • Thirdly:

  • What kind of love you received in childhood.

  • A lot depends on what kind of affection we were the recipients of in childhood,

  • in particular, how many conditions our love came attached with.

  • Some of us had parents who only knew how to give out the conditional kind of love.

  • It was all about the grades and the schools reports,

  • we therefore grew up of course, to be high achievers.

  • But it's not so easy, running around your whole life long,

  • desperate to put out the raging fires of self-hatred

  • striving to impress everyone you meet in search of an unsatisfied desire for a parental approval you never knew.

  • But others, the blessed ones,

  • who've known unconditional love from the start,

  • will be ok just to be.

  • They won't have to do quite so much pushing

  • they'll have an inner basic buoyancy

  • guaranteed by the knowledge that they once mattered immeasurably

  • A big reversal like being fired

  • will be unpleasant.

  • It won't necessarily have to be a tragedy.

  • Knowing about the odd internal origins of self-esteem is crutial

  • because of how often we pursue goals in the belief that success will at last

  • give us the keys to feeling good about ourselves.

  • It seems the truth is slightly darker.

  • You might ostensibly be doing very well at work

  • but if your dad was a big shot, or your school buddy became president

  • or your parents didn't tank you up with the right unconditional sort of love

  • no amount of striving, goalscoring, and medal-winning is ever really gonna do it.

  • This changes where we should imagine our challenges lie.

  • Feeling good about ourselves

  • isn't ultimately something we can bring about through professional

  • or economic achievements alone.

  • In huge part, it's going to be about coming to terms with ourselves.

  • The result of understanding our past

  • and the dynamics of shame conditionality and humiliation might lie there.

  • It turns out that high self-esteem seems largely to be apprised of psychology

  • rather than the fruit of anything we might achieve

  • out in the world in relation to the economy.

Liking ourselves,

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