What exactly is self-esteem? An incredible amount of thought and writing have addressed this topic. “Many years ago Alfred Adler, a European psychiatrist, wrote that everyone has feelings of inferiority. Sometimes these feelings stimulate us to healthy actions and achievements, but inferiority feelings also can be so overwhelming that they cause us to withdraw from others and develop what Adler called an “inferiority complex” writes Gary P. Collins, Ph.D. in his book ‘Christian Counseling.’
Dr. Collins further states: “People who feel inadequate and inferior (one estimate suggests that this may include 95 percent of the population) tend to compare themselves unfavorably to others. Such comparisons can lead to a lot of human misery and feelings of inadequacy. Adler believed we can only escape this inferiority trap by stopping the comparison of ourselves with others and by giving up the common desire to be superior. More recent writers have argued that individuals overcome inferiority by developing a positive and healthy self-esteem.”
Historically, both Alfred Adler and Abraham Maslow are the distinguished progenitors of the self-esteem movement. Both men had a genuine concern and a desire to understand why people failed to achieve existential authentication. Indeed, they both formulated a “hierarchy of needs” in their collective psychoanalytic systems. According to both Adler and Maslow people have basic needs that must be met in order for them to experience self-authentication.
Adler’s conclusions were based on findings derived from working with individuals with severe problems and circumstances. Maslow’s conclusions were based upon working with those who were meeting the challenges of life with vitality and authentic determination.
Adler’s view of an individual’s hierarchy of needs was simple and direct. The hierarchy of needs was or is based upon a pyramid of ascending needs. In Adler’s scheme the most basic need for an individual is security. After the need for security is met at the lower level an individual is free to move on to find fulfillment at the next level. Until the needs at a certain point are met the person is not free to be concerned with higher pursuits.
Adler’s hierarchy of needs system has three steps or interlocking needs which are security, significance, and satisfaction through power. Whereas the Maslow scheme has five distinct interlocking steps that include physiological needs, safety and security needs, love and belonging needs, self-esteem and self-actualization needs.
Interestingly, it is the Maslow scheme that has provided western culture with its doctrine of self-esteem. What then is self-esteem? Self-esteem, according to Dr. Collins “refers to the evaluation that an individual makes of his or her worth, competence, and significance. Whereas self-image and self-concept involve a self-description, self-esteem involves a self-evaluation.”
Persons within our culture have had local and national heroes stripped from their lives. Children rarely read about the lives of great people from the past. They no longer know what heroes are. They have purposely been trained to become ahistorical creatures. They have no connection with the past, present, or future. They are in need of visionary ones who will reintroduce them to themselves as persons embedded in history, and who possess significant value. Yes, we may define self-esteem, but how to get, where to get it, and how to keep it remains the question. I believe that it is high time for our culture to return to God, who gives self-esteem through the unscientific medium of love.