While delivering a Self Leadership training in Mauritius a few years back now a question of self-esteem and humility was raised. It has been raised in almost every Self Leadership training I have delivered around the planet. It seems this is not a “one off” phenomena, but it exists as a cognitive dissonance among many cultures including my own Maori Culture. As such it is an interesting question that has many tentacles. To be clear, the only one I will address in this reflection is that of the relationship between the self-esteem and humility and how to deal with this question when raised.
The question asked by many is: “How can one have self-esteem and still remain humble?”
The understanding is that when one has value for self this somehow equals not being humble as defined. And more so, by a cultural belief that governs humility or being humble. Humility as defined by many who I have trained, from their cultural perspective and practice, is to disallow any personal recognition of ones greatness, beauty, or positive character traits. Two dictionary definitions provides the following:
“The quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.”
“The quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people; the quality or state of being humble.”
By definition, in either case, the affect is such that to be humble we must discount and then engage in the act self de-valuing to demonstrate humility. This is psychologically problematic in more ways than one and leads to various cognitive distortions.
As a Neuro Synergy and TAP Trainers we know this, but communicating our teaching to bring understanding can be a challenge in cases where this culturally sanctioned way of operating is so deeply entrenched.
With self-esteem being fundamental to a robust sense of self we need to be aware that we are not just dealing with teaching them the psychology of self-esteem and how to construct that, but also addressing the cognitive dissonance experienced by some, if not most, of our participants (head on) so that are able to try on what they may consider the conflicting beliefs or values held in self-acceptance, appreciation, and self awe.
The cognitive dissonance: My take is not that people struggle with the harmony between the two parts (self value and humility) I don’t think humility is a problem. The problem that gives rise to the dissonance is in the ill definition, and consequently the inauthentic expression or function of humility which immediately puts it at odds with self valuing.
So when asked this question I deal with the dissonance as follows:
When we permit ourselves to authentically give ourselves the gift of unconditional positive self regard we set ourselves free to experience “Authentic” self-steem (a quiet sense of self assurance) which then provides that we do not need to speak of our own greatness or as some say “Put the wind in our own sails.” That when we truly understand that our value is not determined by being or having something we then do not have the need to self gratify publicly. In this understanding, we are of value as a result of simply winning a very special race, and arriving on this planet. This then provides that when asked, “How do you know you are of value?” we can answer “I just am” which gives birth to the state of authentic humility.
I may also mention that I too was raised in and had learnt to practice inauthentic humility from cultural expectation, but realised that my forefathers could not possibly have meant for me to hold or have low self-value. I concluded the opposite in fact. I recall a time where my father paid me a comment about being proud of me in a context and that his own father (no longer with us at the time) would have been proud of me also. My first response then was, “Oh, it was nothing” in my feeble attempt to be humble. I then noticed my fathers face sadden at my response so I quickly said, “Thank you” which immediately brought my father face back to life again.
In a short exercise we run in training we ask our participants to answer the question, “How do you know you are of value?” and write their answer down. We observe our participants writing a list of reasons why they are of value. This exposes how they consider their value and worth to be conditional and opens up a wonderful reflection and discussion. Yes it is very exposing for them but important for them to experience it to make the distinction and talk through their epiphany.
In closing, Wikipedia provides the following definition of humility:
“Humility is variously seen as the act or posture of lowering oneself in relation to others, or conversely, having a clear perspective, and therefore respect, for one’s place in context.”
From my experience, the greater majority of people I train and coach enact the first part of this definition. They lower themselves and diminish their efforts in order to demonstrate humility. I see my role as an Neuro Synergistic trainer as ensuring they learn and integrate the latter, “Having a clear perspective and therefore respect for one place in context.” To give ones self the gift of Unconditional Positive Self-Regard is to give ones self the gift of Authentic Humility.