#Culture: Can Too Much Self-Esteem And Self-Love Be A Bad Thing? Asking For Self-Improvement!
For someone who has been teased all her life for being overweight and not fitting into the accepted beauty standards, the body positivity movement came at the right time. I was growing from a girl into a woman, and to be a confident, self-assured one, I needed to love myself the right way. Cultivating that self-esteem wasn’t easy. It took years of telling myself repeatedly that whatever, however, and whoever I was, I was worth it. I began taking pride in my appearances, discovered a new-found obsession with fashion, and learnt to get my makeup game strong. Simultaneously, I strove to make myself the best in whatever I chose to do—work, friendship, relationships, art. At some point in my early twenties, I felt I had the right amount of self-esteem to help me be whoever I wanted to be.
The more I read about all these phrases like self-love (different from self-esteem, apparently), self-confidence, self-acceptance, and a whole bunch of positivity jargon, the more I kept telling myself, I was perfect, just the way I was. If someone wanted to be friends with me, love me, want me in their life, they’d have to be like Colin Firth from Bridget Jones’ Diary, who loved Renée Zellweger’s Bridget, just as she was. Alas, what happens in chick-lit and rom-coms stays in chick-lit and rom-com movies. My Mr. Darcy never really did come. But I continued to be someone who kept on loving herself, not trying to change anything about her, despite a few warning signs here or there.
You’d see that as a good thing, and normally, I’d agree. Except, it wasn’t doing much good for me anymore. I had the confidence, the esteem, the self-worth. But underneath all that warm and fuzzy insulation of empowerment, what I also had was an inability to accept any genuine flaws that I might have.
In the movie Set It Up, Zoey Deutch’s character drops a bloody good truth bomb—We like because. We love despite. I felt that. You see, I liked that I knew how to make myself look attractive, but I loved myself despite my body image issues. I liked that I was a bottomless well of creativity, but I loved myself despite my laziness and procrastination. I liked how I never let a bad relationship affect me in any way, but I loved myself despite my commitment issues and lack of trust. I liked that I’d always find a way out of the most difficult situation, thanks to my brain. But I loved myself, despite knowing that my intelligence often gave me a superiority complex that was hard to shake off.
I loved myself despite my flaws. But I was often left wondering, was I loving myself too much to the point of being oblivious to the things about me that I genuinely needed to work on?
Also Read: What Is Toxic Positivity And Why Should You Be Wary Of The ‘Good Vibes Only’ Squad On Social Media?
When you’re in your late 20s, change gets harder. As my mum likes to point out, “That’s why they’d get people married early. It’s hard to adjust to married life later, when you’re too set in your ways.” Touché, mother, I thought, as I struggled hard to change myself. Now, this wasn’t some twisted version of Indian Matchmaking where I was ‘compromising’ who I was and what I wanted out of my life for some socially mandated custom. I wanted to initiate this self-improvement project because I thought it would make me better at everything I was already good at.
Alas, the defence mechanisms of self-love and self-esteem that I had laboured to erect in my psyche became barriers to this self-development project. Too much sense of self can do that to ya? Who knew. For example, I was so used to loving my body for however it was, that I stopped hating looking in the mirror. In fact, I’d relish it, glancing at my image in every reflective surface possible. Yes, sure I was overweight, and every time that became a problem (like when I was shopping for clothes, or trying to find a guy who’d fall for me), my mind would easily flit to easy solutions. I’d discovered plus-size shopping, found out that I could actually attract some good specimen of the opposite sex by being this confident person. And as long as I looked good in pictures (taken at the right angle of course), I was gold.Image: Pixabay
But then, there was reality, which no amount of positive Instagram posts and friends telling you that you’re stunning, could change. The weight was affecting my health. It was still keeping me from wearing the most fashionable clothes, indulging in physical activities like adrenaline sports, and living my best life. When the pandemic struck, I discovered that my weight was a coronavirus co-morbidity. However, every time I thought of pulling up my socks and losing weight, I’d be hit by that bout of self-love, which told me that ‘in these unprecedented times’ it was okay if I wasn’t my best self. And so, once again, I picked up that extra chocolate-chip cookie, baked that pizza, and resigned to being a couch potato.
Every message , every person, every self-help article was telling me I was okay, I was perfect. Except, perhaps, my parents, who owe it to me to be honest. But every time they said something, I’d pull up that self-love wall, and hide behind it, where nothing would come close to touching my preciously pristine self-worth.
The same thing happened when I tried to become more organised and effectively manage my time so I could be less lazy and more productive. But there came a research that said, “Oh honey, it’s okay if you’re procrastinating or are a hot mess. Turns out, that’s what makes creative people… er… creative geniuses.” Alright then, I will continue browsing social media until the wee hours, wake up late, work late, and basically throw time management out the window. Has my creative genius been unleashed? Naah, I just feel listless, uninterested, and snappy.
You see, there’s a very thin line between self-esteem and self-love. (I’d know because I did my research before writing this.) Self-esteem is an individual’s evaluation of their own worth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own mental and physical well-being instead of sacrificing it for the sake of others. While my high sense of self-esteem was already prohibiting me from doing something about my flaws, I was mighty drunk on self-love too. Which means if someone else was suffering because of my flaws, and that was bothering me, I’d stop caring, you know, for my own mental peace. *We don’t need that kind of negativity in our life, right?*
The result? I was stuck in a developmental rut, where all the self-esteem and self-love I had painstakingly cultivated for myself was stopping me for achieving self-actualisation! It felt like being stuck in an unwinnable level on a video game of my life. It’s like when the doorbell rings, and you get up to answer it, but then your mom tells you from the kitchen that she’ll get it. And so you sit back down and let her do it, even though you know she is busy and you should’ve done it yourself.Image: Flickr
So the important question here is, can too much self-esteem and self-love be a bad thing? We’re bombarded so much by all this positive messaging that is telling us to love ourselves just the way we are. But it is imperative to, at some point, ask if it is inhibiting you from developing in some necessary way. I’m glad that I am not bogged down by my realisation of self-worth. Believe me, I’ve seen how hard it is for people with low self-esteem and self-worth to get through their lives. So it might seem like I am speaking from a place of privilege or my problems are frivolous compared to theirs.
But this insecurity stems mainly from this very true adage that excess of anything is bad. That means, too much of self-love and self-esteem can, eventually, be a bad thing. Especially, if y0u let them become barriers in your head. The best way to avoid that, then, is to stay grounded, or let someone help you stay grounded, and accept your flaws as flaws first.
Love yourself despite those flaws, but let that love not consume you. Because at some point in your life, you’ll probably be ready to address those flaws, maybe even want to change those bits about you. And if they’re buried too deep down under all that excessive love, how will you ever reach them?