The Singular Effect of Self-esteem

By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

There are undoubtedly a number of factors affecting relationships that single men and women should consider.  Some of these have been addressed in other articles.  I wish to discuss one factor that has come to my attention.

It should come as no surprise that I am going to emphasize the importance of self-esteem in establishing a relationship.  I have been asked, “Where did you find the time to write 31 books?”  My answer is that I never wrote 31 books.  I have written only one book, in 31 different ways.  Everything I wrote about revolves around self-esteem.  Unwarranted feelings of inferiority and low self-worth are extremely common.  They can affect every adjustment in life.  They certainly can affect relationships.

A story from my files of thirty years ago, illustrates this fact well. “Harold” was 32, and sought help to stop smoking.  In relating his history, he stated that he had been unsuccessful in romantic relationships.  Each date would start out great, but would soon deteriorate.  After a number of such occurrences, Harold concluded that there was no point in trying anymore.

Harold had never felt good about himself.  As is characteristic of people with low self-esteem, he was unaware of his personality assets.  Although he was bright and interesting, he thought himself to be stupid and insipid.  He felt that any young woman who would get to know him would reject him.

His only hope, he believed, was to conceal his character defects.  He felt it was necessary to act in a way that would make a positive impression.  He did not dare to relax and act natural, because that would expose what he felt was his true inner self.  He was certain that this would turn anyone off.  This maneuver was self-defeating.  The artificial behavior was patent, awkward and resulted in the precise effect he wished to avoid.

Harold’s best friend, Joe, was drafted and sent to Vietnam.  He asked Harold that while he was away, to please take out Joyce occasionally to cheer her spirits.  When Harold took Joyce out to keep her company, he had no intention of impressing her.  He was not trying to establish a relationship with her.  He was simply doing a favor for a friend.  He was completely relaxed and natural.  The result?  Joyce fell in love with him.

People with low self-esteem may resort to any one of a number of behaviors to deal with these unpleasant feelings.  Some of these are described in my book, Life’s Too Short.  They all have an undesirable effect.

Because low self-esteem consists, by definition, of unwarranted feelings of negativity, it is nothing less than delusional.  A true self-awareness would eliminate many of these feelings.

People with low self-esteem are certain that their self-evaluation is accurate.  They see no reason to seek ways to overcome these feelings.  The alchemists of old tried unsuccessfully to convert lead into gold.  The prospect of achieving a true self-awareness may be frightening.  Why learn more of the truth about oneself if it is certain to be so distressful?

My suggestion to people who find it difficult to establish relationships is to avail themselves of methods to overcome their spurious self-image.  In addition to Life’s Too Short, I recommend the books on self-esteem by Nathaniel Branden.  Even if books are not sufficient to change an erroneous self concept, they do suggest ways in which this can be done. For many people, enhancing one’s self-esteem can be the key to creating a relationship that will lead to marriage and sustain it with confidence and joy.

The founder and medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Dr. Twerski is one of the country’s leading experts on alcohol and drug rehabilitation.  He is the author of numerous books and his column is regularly featured in Jewish Action.  His most recent work is Twerski on Spirituality (Mesorah Publications).

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This article was featured in the Spring 2000 issue of Jewish Action.
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