Self Esteem and Humility
by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
Self Esteem is one of the buzz words of modern society. We are taught that a healthy self image is crucial for human development and the foundation of healthy relationships. Jewish teaching on the other hand emphasises humility. The Talmud teaches that G-d will not connect with someone who is haughty and arrogant. Can humility and self esteem co exist?
Humility and self esteem are concepts that are often misunderstood. It is important to understand the proper definition of these ideas:
Humility is not about feeling small or inferior to others. Moses was the most humble of all men, yet he was the greatest prophet - a fact that he was aware of, and one that he himself was instructed to record in the Torah. True humility means to be fully aware of one's strengths, abilities and talents, while at the same time not to feel superior to others. To be humble means to recognise that strengths or aptitude are G-d given. We have a responsibility to utilise them appropriately to their fullest potential, but they don't make us better than other people. The humble person truly respects and makes space for others, whoever they may be.
Self esteem is not a feeling of greatness or perfection. True self esteem is about feeling comfortable and secure with ourselves. It is about accepting ourselves totally with all of our strengths and weaknesses and committing to nurture those strengths and improve on the weaknesses.
People who are insecure with their own identity will do one of two things. Either they will withdraw from others with an intense feeling of inferiority (false humility). Or they might invest tremendous effort to protect themselves with a false feeling of superiority and arrogance. These are the people that need to prove themselves constantly, by showing off there achievements and denying any shortcomings. These are the people who are always talking, giving little room for others. They feel threatened and are always on the defensive.
False humility (the inferiority complex) and an inflated ego and arrogance (superiority complex) both come from the lack of self esteem - a feeling of discomfort and insecurity with one self.
True humility can only exist with a healthy self esteem and self image. You can only make space for others and respect them, if you are totally comfortable with yourself.