By Alice Trimmer
Self-doubt, self-acceptance, self-esteem, self-loathing—it is essential to have a good relationship with oneself in order to function well in life and to establish healthy relationships with others. But how does one develop self-esteem without going overboard and becoming an egoist? This is the question that is exhaustively explored in Michel Esparza’s book Self-Esteem without Selfishness, published in Spain in 2010, and recently made available in an excellent English translation by Devra Torres (Scepter Press, 2013).
This topic will be familiar to devotees of self-help books, but Esparaza’s solution is no quick fix. Esperza describes the balance between arrogance and the kind of false humility that saps initiative as “humble self-esteem,” and he makes it clear that the effort to achieve this balance is one that necessarily has to last a lifetime.
The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 “Pride and Its Difficulties” explores the twisted nature of the situations we can get into through a misunderstanding of how to view ourselves. Part 2 “Towards a Definitive Solution” sets out in depth a way to develop “humble self-esteem” and in the process, enjoy a happy life. Esparza is a Catholic priest, so it is no surprise that his solution involves a deep spiritual journey. He also holds a medical degree and thus is well equipped to explore his topic from a wide variety of perspectives: physical, psychological, and emotional. One of the pleasures of the book is the wealth of quotations from literature and philosophy that he employs to illustrate his points. Although this book is written from a Catholic perspective, the author approaches his topic in a way that people of all faiths can understand, and all can certainly benefit from the insights offered.
The subtitle of the book, “Increasing our Capacity for Love” gives a clue to the basic premise—that a rightly ordered love of self is the first step in enabling ourselves to give to others, whether in a romantic relationship or through the love of friendship. Drawing on classical philosophy, Esparza gives a lucid account of the different kinds of love as well as tips on how to navigate one’s way toward self-giving. His insights on the differences in communication styles between men and women, and the connection that these differences have with needs, understanding, and trust, are clear and incisive, and can be profitably employed in the workplace as well as in family life.
The search for the right kind of self-esteem is of particular interest to young people, as they seek to answer the question “What kind of person do I want to be?” At Rosedale, the educational center in the Bronx where I work, the Program Directors used excerpts from Chapter 1 as part of our fall volunteer training. Both the high school and college students found it refreshing, understandable, and engaging, and the readings led to many fruitful discussions.
Alice Trimmer is on the Board at Murray Hill Institute and is the Director of Rosedale Center for Girls in the Bronx.