The Twin Paths to Self Esteem – Solitude and Relationship

It often becomes apparent when talking to others with low self-esteem (SE) and low self-confidence (SC), that there is confusion about how to nurture, develop or heal this mysterious internal thing, substance, state, trait, or attitude (SE) and its external manifestation (SC).

There is no simple answer to this mystery for those who, as a child, have been significantly neglected, (not loved at all, or not enough), abused, (if one wanted to be generously callous about this cruelty, in opposition to neglect it would be called overstimulation), or loved too much (spoiled by being treated as royalty, often expressed in learning the cost of everything but the value of nothing.) Not to mention those with disabilities; another whole topic.

If these toxic developmental conditions apply the result is a deficient internal sense of self and security (SE) that otherwise could be counted on to deal with the obstacles, threats and trauma that occur over the course of life. If this internal security is near to or completely lacking it requires intensive psychotherapy (relationship activity) and/or immersion in creative activity (mainly solitary activity) or, a combination of both, to create hope for personal growth and healing.

In ordinary development where SE problems are significant but less severe and a person has some sense of self and some internal security, SE can be strengthened by understanding and implementing two principles along two lines.

THE TWO PRINCIPLES

  1. SE is developed, nourished and strengthened only through relationships that are reciprocal, respectful, cooperative and loving, and,
  1. SE is equally strengthened by developing personal interests with passion and creativity that often require solitude.

Relationships and solitude are neither good nor bad in a moral sense. It is important to highlight, that in the relationship case, obviously, others are required in order to build and strengthen SE, but poorly chosen others will weaken SE. Even healthy relationships cause pain by definition, but this pain, necessary for relationship growth, is different than the pain of too much or too little love.

In the solitude case SE is built yourself, by yourself, and while you still may interact to a greater or lesser degree with others, no one person is de facto required but you yourself; and at times this requires immersion in, and bearing beauty and ecstatic creative joy, and at other times bearing extreme pain and tantrums that can come when alone and separate. Confusion occurs in not being clear about the place of these two principles in your sense of self.

In order to clarify this confusion it is helpful to view the two principles along two lines.

THE TWO LINES

As we look at these lines it is important to note again we are not talking about something good or bad in a moralistic sense.

The FIRST LINE

It has two poles. At one end is the question: To what degree do I prefer solitude? At the other end is the seeming opposite: To what degree do I prefer interacting with people?

It is important to non-judgmentally decide where you fit on this line. It is perfectly alright to be a solitary person and it is perfectly alright to be a social person. And while most concur that, in a Buddhistic sense, the middle way, or some of both might be ideal, this isn’t true if it doesn’t fit with your own comfort and therefore with who you feel and know you are.

But at the same time, to build self-esteem one must be clear with oneself: I am more of a solitary person, or I am more of a social person. Because in the first case your self-esteem will be built mainly through working on interests and in the second case by working on social interactions.

A cautionary note: Problems arise as either end moves to extremes.  An example at the solitude end is someone who has become encapsulated, house bound or a hermit, who begins hoarding, drinking, drugging, bingeing or over eating.

An example at the relationship end is someone who panics if they are not with, or in contact with someone else nearly all the time, and who drinks, drugs, binges and purges, gambles, feels entangled and confused, is promiscuous or partying, just to not feel the pain of separateness and being alone. In both these cases not comfort, but discomfort is required to be who you are with growing autonomy and authenticity (SE).

If you are slipping into a capsule you must access your will and use decisive personal force to enable yourself to move forward and minimally socialize, this might initially include AA for example just to begin to be around welcoming others. Conversely, if you are becoming entangled and confused, have no time for yourself because you’re ‘so popular’ and have ‘so many friends’, and are ‘drinking almost every night’, you must access the same will to move backward toward a minimum of privacy and solitude, this might include individual therapy for example so you can stop and self-reflect.

Once you have established where you are on the first line, you begin work on the second.

The SECOND LINE

This is a measure of your energy.

At the solitary end you will take the energy you have each day and devote most of it to your interest. If you’re Sidney Crosby you will be alone for hours on an ice rink skating and shooting pucks, if you are Ms. Rowling you will be alone writing another Harry Potter fantasy-thriller.

At the social end you will be contacting and connecting with other people individually in developing intimacy, or as part of a group organizing relief for your good cause, or doing whatever is required for your purpose in the group from simple conversing to fundraising to running for political office.

The daily challenge on both ends is to be in touch with your feelings as monitors of how much you’re being true to your own personal need to be social versus your own personal need to be solitary. At the same time it is essential in both cases to plan for the future and as carefully as possible, without obsessing, to manufacture an energy supply through proper diet, proper rest and proper exercise. To come to see the value of doing things ‘properly’, particularly if you consider yourself someone from an unconventional background or someone with ‘progressive’ ideas, can be a personally revolutionary experience.

With maximum energy manufactured and husbanded comes the equally important task of how am I going to spend my energy capital on social versus solitary activity. The key to not feeling tired, drained, exhausted, depressed, burnt out, empty, or overwhelmed, is to realize that each day you have only so much natural energy gifted to you and so much that you have manufactured by living ‘properly’. You have to use ‘a mind of your own’, to think, to make effective choices about how much energy each day you might want to save and how you’re going to distribute and spend your limited daily supply.

There is no right or wrong. There are only more or less effective ways to build your SE. Let your feelings be your guide: If you feel good you are on the right track, if you feel bad you need to stop and reassess. Your active ongoing awareness and use of these two principles and two lines will help you significantly to gather greater internal strength and security and trust your inherent capacities for growth and healing. Your individuation is a life time task.

Dr. Clark Falconer is a Guest Blogger for PickTheBrain. He is a practicing Psychiatrist from Vancouver, Canada and the author of the new, critically acclaimed book The Three Word Truth About Love And Being Well.

Photo credit: ‘Twins‘ by Big Stock