On Self-ESteem

Before I get started, this post needs a disclaimer: the following may make no sense. Chalk it up to pregnancy brain, the white noise machine in my head that has shrunk my mental capacity down to thoughts of “I’m hungry” and “I’m tired” and…yep, that’s about it. I’ve tried my best to not just write those two lines over and over, but I can’t promise the alternative is any more edifying!

On the Women’s Retreat we split St. John Cassian’s Eight Vices amongst us, each of us exploring one of them in more detail. I drew self-esteem. I had struggled before that with the difference between the vices self-esteem and pride. The way we use those words today, one (pride) is simply an excess of the other. I think, though, that I now understand the difference as Cassian depicts them.
I see pride as a solid, heavy state of self-satisfaction and self-pleasure. It is holding on to what is good and attributing it to yourself, feeding yourself praise, weighing yourself down. Self-esteem, by contrast, is a seeking vice, more active, a hunger for approval instead of the “full” feeling of pride.

Self-esteem is performing for the approval of men. It is seeking to puffed up by the praise of others. St. John says self-esteem attempts to “inflate” and “puff up” ourselves through enticements. I picture this puffy state as balloon-like, our selves expanded with hot air, leaving us light, unmoored, subject to the whims of others. Self-esteem is a dangerous, insidious vice, a hard enemy to recognize. You can get your behavior completely in line – you can master the demons of gluttony, lust and anger – and still be prey to the demons of self-esteem and pride. Earlier vices get at the what of our behavior, self-esteem and pride at the why. It takes a gut check, a self-test of “why am I fasting/praying/serving?” I feel overwhelmed thinking about all the fronts on which we must remain vigilant, and then grateful that we are not in battle alone – not I but Christ.

And the opposite of the seeking hunger of self-esteem and the heavy fullness of pride? Holiness, hesychia, stillness is being centered in God; it is operating out of a solid core that hungers for His approval alone. I see a calm, grounded person moving through life with grace and humility. I pray for that state to be my heart’s desire – to wish to please not others, but my God.

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