Someone with low self-esteem frequently feels unworthy, incapable, and incompetent. This can lead to:
- Social withdrawal
- Anxiety and emotional turmoil
- Lack of social skills and self-confidence.
- Depression and/or bouts of sadness
- Eating disorders
- Inability to accept compliments
- An Inability to be fair to yourself
- Accentuating the negative
- Exaggerated concern over what you imagine other people think
- Self-neglect or treating yourself badly
- Worrying whether you have treated others badly
- Reluctance to take on challenges
- Reluctance to trust your own opinion
- Expecting little out of life for yourself.
As Baha’is, we can’t afford to let this get in the way of teaching and participating in the core activities. The world needs us too much! So what causes low self-esteem, and how can we overcome it? Let’s look at what the Baha’i Writings have to share.
Uninvolved, Negligent or Abusive Parents: When we’re children, our feelings about ourselves are formed by how we’re treated by our parents. If they have mental health problems, substance abuse issues or other challenges, they may not be able to provide their children with the care, guidance and attention they need and deserve. If they are abusive, children may feel that they did something to deserve the abuse, or that they were not worthy of the respect, love and care they deserved. All of these can cause significant self-esteem problems.
These might help:
Body Image: Body image is a huge factor in young people’s self-esteem. From the moment we’re born, we’re surrounded by unrealistic images of what women and men should look like, what the “ideal” body type is. Women’s bodies are constantly objectified in the media, making it seem as though their bodies exist for others to look at, touch, use, etc. When puberty comes around and our bodies start to change, they don’t change into what we see on magazine covers or in music videos. This can lead to feeling unattractive and inadequate. While men’s bodies are not treated as an object for others to the same extent, the images portrayed are a sign of masculinity. Young men may feel pressured to develop large muscles as a show of strength and manliness; they may also feel self-conscious about their height.
The best way to understand and overcome these messages is through participation in the junior youth empowerment program.
These quotes might also help:
It matters not what the exterior may be if the heart be pure and white within. God . . . looks at the hearts. He whose morals and virtues are praiseworthy is preferred in the presence of God; he who is devoted to the Kingdom is most beloved. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 267)
For the body of man is accidental; it is of no importance. The time of its disintegration will inevitably come. But the spirit of man is essential and therefore eternal. It is a divine bounty. It is the effulgence of the Sun of Reality and therefore of greater importance than the physical body. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 262)
Human beauty and perfection require the existence of the ear, the eye, the brain and even that of the nails and hair; if man were all brain, eyes or ears, it would be equivalent to imperfection. So the absence of hair, eyelashes, teeth and nails would be an absolute defect . . . but their absence in the body of man is necessarily faulty and displeasing. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 129)
Negative Peers: Just as the way we’re treated by parents or guardians can greatly influence our self-esteem, so can the way we’re treated by peers. Being part of a social group that brings you down – by not respecting you, by pressuring you to do things you’re not comfortable with, by not valuing your thoughts and feelings, etc. – can cause you to feel like something is wrong with you, or that the only way for you to be liked is to do what others want and not listen to your own heart and mind. This is very damaging to how you see yourself.
Participation in children’s classes and the junior youth spiritual empowerment program can give our youth exposure to a healthy peer group.
These quotes might also help:
Beware! Walk not with the ungodly and seek not fellowship with him, for such companionship turneth the radiance of the heart into infernal fire. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 57)
The company of the ungodly increaseth sorrow, whilst fellowship with the righteous cleanseth the rust from off the heart. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 56)
Treasure the companionship of the righteous and eschew all fellowship with the ungodly. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 3)
Do not associate with the wicked, because the company of the wicked changeth the light of life into the fire of remorse. If thou asketh for the bounties of the Holy Spirit, associate with the pure ones, because they have quaffed the eternal chalice from the hands of the Cupbearer of eternity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 434)
[E]stablish ties of friendship, on the basis of shared understanding, with those previously regarded as strangers. (Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2010)
Now associate with good people. You must try to associate with those who will do you good and who will be the cause of your being more awakened, and not with those who will make you negligent of God. For example, if one goes into a garden and associates with flowers, one will surely inhale the beautiful fragrance, but if one goes to a place where there are bad-scented plants, it is sure he will inhale an unpleasant odour. In short, I mean that you will try to be with those who are purified and sanctified souls. Man must always associate with those from whom he can get light, or be with those to whom he can give light. He must either receive or give instructions. Otherwise, being with people without these two intentions, he is spending his time for nothing, and, by so doing, he is neither gaining nor causing others to gain. (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)
Unrealistic Goals: Whether the pressure comes from themselves, authority figures or peers, some young people expect way too much of themselves in terms of school achievement, extracurricular involvement and/or social status. Those who struggle academically may think they should be getting straight A’s all the time; those who perform well academically may try to take on too many other activities and expect to be “the best” at all of them. Young people who crave popularity may expect everyone to like them, not believing they can’t please everyone. This failure to meet unrealistic goals may lead to the feeling that you are a failure in general.
These quotes might help:
Human society at present exerts a pernicious influence upon the soul of man. Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power. The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh aims to reverse this process. The soul of man needs to be adorned with the virtues of humility and self-effacement so that it may become detached from the Kingdom of Names. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)
At the heart of every development endeavour is consistent, systematic action. Action,
however, needs to be accompanied by constant reflection to ensure that it continues to serve the aims of the endeavour. (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 14)
It is only through continued action, reflection and consultation on their part that they will learn to read their own reality, to see their own possibilities, make their own resources . . . (Universal House of Justice, to the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)
To view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others is wholly alien to Bahá’í thought. (Universal House of Justice, to the Bahá’ís of the World, 1 March 2017)
Previous Bad Choices: Sometimes we get locked into a certain pattern of decision-making and acting. Perhaps you haven’t been a very good friend in the past. Maybe you didn’t apply yourself in school. Maybe you participated in risky behaviors like drug use or unprotected sex. You might think you’re just “the kind of person” who behaves in those ways. You may even dislike yourself significantly because of past choices, but don’t think you can change courses now. Therefore, you won’t try. You’ll continue making choices that reinforce your own negative self-view.
Forgiveness of self and understanding God’s forgiveness will help.
Negative Thought Patterns. When we get used to feeling, thinking and talking about ourselves in a particular way, it becomes a habit. If you have often felt that you’re worthless or inferior, if you constantly think negative thoughts and say negative things about yourself, then you’re likely to go on feeling and thinking the same way unless you break the cycle by challenging your negative thoughts and feelings about yourself.
We have many stories of the Hands of the Cause who were shocked by their appointment, because they knew how unworthy they were. When John Robarts received the telegraph appointing him as a Hand of the Cause, he thought it was for his wife! When William Sears was appointed, he wrote back to the Guardian saying, “Not worthy.” The Guardian replied, “Get worthy“.
Howard Colby Ives had this to say:
I one day asked Άbdu’l-Bahá how it could ever be possible for me, deep in the mass of weak and selfish humanity, ever to hope to attain when the goal was so high and great. He said that it is to be accomplished little by little; little by little. And I thought to myself, I have all eternity for this journey from self to God. The thing to do is to get started. (Howard Colby Ives, Portals to Freedom, p. 63)
These quotes might help:
When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 30)
The heart must needs therefore be cleansed from the idle sayings of men, and sanctified from every earthly affection, so that it may discover the hidden meaning of divine inspiration, and become the treasury of the mysteries of divine knowledge. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Iqan, p. 68)
Peace of mind is gained by the centering of the spiritual consciousness on the Prophet of God; therefore you should study the spiritual Teachings, and receive the Water of Life from the Holy Utterances. Then by translating these high ideals into action, your entire character will be changed, and your mind will not only find peace, but your entire being will find joy and enthusiasm. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 112)
You know well that the habits of mind and spirit that you are nurturing in yourselves and others will endure, influencing decisions of consequence that relate to marriage, family, study, work, even where to live. Consciousness of this broad context helps to shatter the distorting looking glass in which everyday tests, difficulties, setbacks, and misunderstandings can seem insurmountable. And in the struggles that are common to each individual’s spiritual growth, the will required to make progress is more easily summoned when one’s energies are being channelled towards a higher goal—the more so when one belongs to a community that is united in that goal. (Universal House of Justice to the 114 Youth Conferences, 1 July 2013)
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Finally, we’re not alone! Rúhiyyih Khánum tells us how Shoghi Effendi’s hardest task, from the very beginning, was to accept himself.
Every time one goes into the details of any particular period in the Guardian’s life one is tempted to say “this was the worst period”, so fraught with strain, problems, unbearable pressures was his entire ministry. But there is a pattern, there are themes, higher and lower points were reached.
The pattern of 1922, 1923 and 1924 reveals itself, insofar as his personal life is concerned, as an heroic attempt to come to grips with this leviathan – the Cause of God – he had been commanded to bestride. Again and again he was thrown. Torn by agonies of doubt as to his own worthiness to be the successor of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, struggling with himself as had so many Prophets and Chosen Ones before him, he argued in the depths of his soul with his destiny, remonstrated with his fate, appealed to his God for relief – but it availed him naught. He was firmly caught in the meshes of the Master’s mighty Will and Testament.
He hints at this many times in his letters: “the storm and stress that have agitated my life since ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing…” “I, for my part, as I look back…to the unfortunate circumstances of ill-health and physical exhaustion that have attended the opening years of my career of service to the Cause, feel hardly gratified, and would be truly despondent but for the sustaining memory and inspiring example of the diligent and ceaseless efforts which my fellow-workers the world over have displayed during these two trying years in the service of the Cause.” In another letter he wrote: “…looking back upon those sullen days of my retirement, bitter with feelings of anxiety and gloom…I can well imagine the degree of uneasiness, nay of affliction, that must have agitate the mind and soul of every loving and loyal servant of the Beloved during these long months of suspense and distressing silence…”
That his own condition, and what he considered his failure to rise to the situation the Master’s passing had placed him in, distressed him more than anything else for a number of years is reflected in excerpts from this letters. As late as September 1924 he wrote: “I deplore the disturbing effect of my forced and repeated withdrawals from the field of service…my prolonged absence, my utter inaction, should not, however, be solely attributed to certain external manifestations of in harmony, of discontent and disloyalty – however paralyzing their effect has been upon the continuance of my work – but also to my own unworthiness and to my imperfections and frailties.”
His hardest task, form the very beginning, was to accept himself. (Rúhiyyih Khánum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 71-72)
I’d like to finish with this beautiful song. The lyrics were written, sung, filmed and edited by Amelia Mahony, the 15-year-old daughter of Elika Mahoney, a well-loved Bahá’í musician herself. It’s a wonderful mantra to sing, whenever you’re feeling attacked by low self-esteem.
How has this helped you understand this topic better? Post your comments below.