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Monday, June 17, 2024

Love & OM: The Journey To Self Through Relationship (Part III): Self-Esteem

This week, we examine the cornerstone of self-actualization: the self-esteem necessary for unconditional love

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INDIA. We had known each other for just two years. Although we had texted nearly every day, this was day 3 of 12 Akshay and I would be together, on the same continent, in the same country, on the same ocean, stuck together on a boat on our way from Mumbai to Goa. I was finally in India, visiting from New York, meeting him in person for only the second time.

Love is a risk

The night was stunning, stars exploding in the sky and the ocean breeze on the Arabian Sea salty and warm. Akshay was sitting across from me, looking at me with a raised eyebrow. “Why do you always choose people who aren’t worthy of you?”

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Just moments before, he had been making fun of me for my laugh or the way I was pouring my Diet Coke or my “accent” as was the way he often expressed his affection. His words fell like a slap. I looked at him, through tears, stood up and spent the next 3 hours by myself, staring into the black, churning waters beyond the misted railing.

The two years in between our visits had been particularly difficult for me. The loss of important relationships triggered a deep wound of worthlessness.

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“I knew the risk I was taking,” he told me last week, the first time we talked about it since that night several months ago. “I thought, ‘Oh god, the words are coming out, and I know we have this vacation ahead, and damn, I might have just ruined it’.”

It was a risk. “It was worth taking,” he said. “I cared about you enough to risk hurting you, to risk losing us.” We had made an unspoken commitment to help each other grow, and this was a manifestation of that commitment.

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Self-esteem demands acceptance of self

Maslow insisted in Toward a Psychology of Being (1968) that love is essential to self-actualization. “Not only does love perceive potentialities but it also actualizes them…This is not so much a perception of something that already exists as a bringing into existence by belief” (98). Without a full awareness of what Akshay was saying, he was prompting me toward my potential by clearing an obstacle I thought I had overcome.

“In self-esteem,” he shared in preparation for this article, “we become conscious of a self that is working toward authenticity. It’s where the wisdom of the I begins and materials things, people begin to fall away. It’s a consolidation of a self that has been in pieces.” And it requires, paradoxically, an “other” to reach into our darkness, see the obstacles to the light, and root them out. It hurts. And it’s the most selfless act of love we can offer another.

Self-esteem is an individual’s subjective evaluation of their own worth. Akshay’s question collapsed all the other frameworks I had carefully constructed. It was far less about the “others” in my life and more about a hole within myself that was still reaching and needing, hungry and consuming: a Charybdis in my psyche.

Self-esteem is foundation for unconditional love

Self-esteem is not self-actualization, and thus there is still a need, a longing to be seen by others. If we feel unworthy, then we cannot fully see the worth of others, we cannot fully love others. Akshay shared, “Unconditional love for oneself comes from another loving us unconditionally, when the desire for the relationship pales in the shadow of the need to uphold the other as a potentiating being.” And in order to unconditionally love another, we must first love ourselves. It’s reciprocal and infinite. In other words, I can’t fully love another until I fully love myself.

We discussed how if a couple, friends, parents and kids, etc. reach this phase of development together, trust is paramount. It takes an extraordinary amount of trust for another to speak what we cannot see in ourselves. But it is these aspects of ourselves that lurk in the shadows of our psyche that need daylight to heal. If there are aspects of my “self” that live in shame or fear, I cannot fully integrate.

The neediness for the “other” dissolves as ego needs are silenced. A sacred respect for the “thou” emerges and the foundation of unconditional and nondiscriminatory love (moving us toward complete ego-transcendence) has been laid.

Last week, as a part of this discussion, Akshay shared with me, “You keep encouraging me, even though I keep saying no. You keep believing in me even when I am filled with self-doubt. You continue to be patient with me even though I try to wear you down.”

“Yes,” I said simply. “Yes.”

What Maslow calls Being-Love “gives [the other] self-acceptance, a feeling of love-worthiness, all of which permits him to grow. It is a real question whether the full development of the human being is possible without it” (43). This Being-love transcends ego needs, and this depth of relating becomes the cornerstone of self-actualization.


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