Self-Esteem, self-worth or the ability to love one-self is important to all of us and it’s a crucial quality for the Congruent Leader. As a leader in any form, our main objective is to empower people around us and to help them grow. If we try to lead from a place of low self-worth where we are unable to love ourselves and unable to see how we bring value to the world, we expect other people to see us the same way and treat us accordingly. With low self-esteem we will meet the world and everyone around us with fear and distrust. On the other hand, when we come from a place where we love ourselves, we know that we are worthy of other people’s love and respect as well. We want people around us to feel the same way and can afford them the space to feel lovable and competent.
People with high self-esteem are able to accept and appreciate all different feelings that they experience. They own those feelings and don’t have a need to apply inflexible rules to them such as “men can not cry”, “I can not show anger” or “vulnerability is a weakness”. High self-esteem allows people to act on the entire spectrum of feelings but also gives us the confidence and understanding that we don’t always have to act them out. With high self-esteem we get access to endless possibilities and choices that low self-esteem takes away. By having a healthy sense of self-worth we can move beyond reacting to events around us and start responding out of many choices, even be proactive in creating the reality we want to live in.
According to Virgina Satir, Congruence could only emerge from a state of high self-esteem so in addition to giving us a plethora of small tools that can help us deal with the present, Virginia also had the longterm goal of helping her clients, and really all of us, to strengthen our self-esteem.
An important idea in Virginia’s teaching was that we all have the tools needed to make changes, to make better choices, for healthier communication and to become more Congruent. Examples of these tools are the ability to learn new things, the ability to take action even when we feel intimidated and the ability to let other people know what we need (more on the Self-Esteem Toolkit in a later post). Our ability to access these tools may vary though and usually based on the level of worth we are able to ascribe to ourselves. With a good sense of self-esteem we have better access to these tools and with a low level of self-esteem we tend to lose touch with them. This builds re-enforcing feedback loops between our self-esteem and our tools for seeing options and making healthy choices. These tools are also strongly connected to a growth mindset and our sense of self-efficacy. If we see challenges as something we can master rather than threats to be avoided we generally increase our sense of self-esteem. Self-esteem is not about our ability to solve particular problems, however it is strongly connected to how we see ourselves as having the ability to, as Virginia wrote, “survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me”.
Our starting points may differ widely. We learn to define our self-worth from our parents and other family members, from peers in school and at work. Depending on the love and validation we received as kids, the tools for being Congruent and for dealing with change will either be given to us or hidden from us. Virginia wrote “Feelings of worth can only flourish in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.” The good news are that even if we were dealt a poor hand to begin with, we can always relearn and grow our self-esteem. Surrounding ourselves with the right people is a good starting place and Congruent leaders, the ones who are already capable of loving themselves, can often be the right people.