Building Whose Self-Esteem?

Q: I have often heard about the importance of building a child’s self-esteem. Yet I find it very difficult to help my children with this, as I myself suffer from low self-esteem. How am I expected to give my children something that I don’t have myself? I often have feelings of self-doubt and question my ability to do certain things well. How can I convince my children of their own self-worth when I haven’t convinced myself of my own?

A: As parents, we try to act as role models of what we’d like our children to be, both with regard to their personalities and their general behavior.There are times, however, when this is difficult to achieve. Yet, in truth,building your own self-esteem isessential to you yourself! When we experience self-confidence in our own abilities, we are better able to reach our full potential, so it is very important to work towards this goal.

Just the fact that we are created in Hashem’s image — b’tzelem Elokim — is enough of a reason to feel a great sense of self-worth. Each person’s neshamah is a chelek Elokah mi’maal — an actual part of Hashem above. This thought needs to be meditated upon — especially during those times when it feels like we’ve accomplished little and all our efforts seem fruitless. That we have a neshamah and a guf that are elevated on a constant basis through living a life of Torah and mitzvos is a wonder in itself!

We need to cultivate an unconditional love for ourselves in the same way we do towards our children. Even with their imperfections we love our children, and we need to envision ourselves in a similar vein.

What prevents us from internalizing this reality? Our feelings of never being “good enough,” which pervades our thinking. In actuality, limited human beings are never “good enough.” Yet Hashem created us this way intentionally in order for us to grow and develop our middos and reach our spiritual potential.

Parents need to accept human limitations, starting with themselves, so that they will accept the limitations of their children. In this way, they will become less frustrated with their children’s perceived “inadequacies.”

A common roadblock to self-esteem is perfectionism. I have often asked such individuals: “Are you saying that you are better than Moshe Rabbeinu? He was not perfect, [Hashem is perfection] — and you are upset because you feel that you should be?”

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov deals with this idea in Likutei Moharan (Chapter 283) on the passuk (Tehillim 104:33) “Azamra Lelokai b’odi” — interpreting it to say, “I sing to Hashem with the little that remains with me.” Rebbe Nachman reflects on those days when we are frustrated with the limited results of our efforts and we question our self-worth. In such circumstances we need to look back and focus on whatever positive actions we did take. Did you not refrain from yelling at the child who left his shoe in the middle of the floor — almost causing someone to trip? Did you not take the time to say a brachah even while in the midst of speaking with two different family members? Whatever they may be, we need to be aware of all these small, positive actions and sing to Hashem! Reflecting upon our positive actions and intentions causes a snowball effect. The positivity gathers more and more momentum, which leads to greater belief in our eternal reality of being a tzelem Elokim.

The life of every individual is comprised of numerous maasim tovim. What about yourself are you most proud of, that reflects your own value system? Perhaps being very ehrlich amongst others who do not excel in this trait is something you feel particularly proud of. Perhaps being sensitive towards others in your own unique way is something at which you excel. A person needs to be specific about the areas in which he or she is outstanding in order for these feelings of self-worth to truly penetrate the heart.