And I do mean "healthy" self-esteem. So now you're probably concerned that I'm telling people to become self-centered jerks, or that they should think of themselves as better than everyone else. In response, I need to make one thing perfectly clear. I do not think you should think you're greater than others. You just need to think you're great.
In fact, the way you prevent yourself from becoming some selfish maniac is by knowing that you're not greater than anyone else. You should know you're better at some things and not as good at others. You should know you can learn a lot, no matter how studied you might be... and so can everyone else. You need to know you're a work in progress and that you need to keep working on yourself, but you also need to know you're great. You are great because of who you are, and because there is only one you.
This might sound funny, but you are not greater than anyone else just because you're beautiful. You are not greater than anyone else just because you have a bunch of money. You are not greater than anyone else because you have attained more education, or because people think you're great, or even if you have spent your life doing "good works." You are not greater than anyone else. Everyone is equal! And everyone should know they're great.
As a matter of fact, everyone is equally important, too. You are every bit as important as anyone else. Now, I am not saying that a completely unproductive person is equally important to society as the President of the United States. But I can tell you this, on a daily basis this seemingly unproductive person is more important to himself than is the President. The same is true for you. On a daily basis, you have far more impact on your life than does the President. Isn't that right? Then certainly, from your perspective, you are more important to you than is the President. And if you know you're great, and you know you're important, then that tends to be enough to make you a productive member of society, too.
Okay, Okay... I can practically hear you thinking... "surely he can't be saying that rapists, criminals, mean people, haters, backstabbers, and egotists are great, can he?" My answer to that is, if they truly knew they were great it would not be possible for them to be any of those things. The primary attributes of each of these "types" at the time that they are engaged in the behavior that gives them that name, requires that they ignore the needs of others, which does not happen much if you know you're great. If you know you're great, you have no need to ignore the needs of others because you have no need to make yourself greater by exploiting or "downing" others. If you know you're great, you know you'll manage to get what you need in a legitimate way. That is, because you know you're great, you won't have a problem asking for what you need, or for legitimate recognition of your accomplishments. More often than not you'll feel like you get plenty, so why would you need to hurt anyone else?
Knowing that your needs are legitimate is, in actuality, one of the most important aspects of knowing you're great. When you know you're great you also know that you deserve to be treated like you're great. Of course that doesn't mean you'll always be treated like you're great, but it does mean that you're not going to spend much time with those who treat you badly. It wouldn't make sense to continuously experience treatment from others that is clearly inconsistent with your view of yourself. People who know they're great don't stay in relationships in which they're not treated accordingly.
If you know you're great, then you know you count. That is, if you know you're great, then you know that what you want and desire, and what you think, are legitimate desires and thoughts. You may not always get what you want, and you might not always be right in what you think, but if you want it or think it, it should not be ignored. At the very least you should know you deserve your desires and thoughts to be considered. At least that's what you'd think if you knew that you were great.
So you might be wondering if knowing you're great means you don't get depressed, or anxious, or moody. As a matter of fact, knowing you're great is a way to stay somewhat protected from mental illness, but it does not prevent bad things from happening. Knowing you're great will not prevent a whole slew of hardships that have nothing to do with what you think of yourself. It also doesn't change your genetics or the circumstances in which you're born. However, if you know you're great, you are certainly less likely to be in bad relationships because you treat others with respect and expect the same from them. You're less likely to take ill-advised risks because you have no need to bolster a weak ego. So you're also less likely to have emotional problems brought on by bad relationships and it's less likely that bad things will happen to you. If you know you're great, you are, indeed, less likely to get depressed or anxious or moody for a large variety of reasons.
Perhaps the most important reason that knowing you're great does make you less likely to develop emotional problems is that when things are tough you feel things will likely get better, and when others are not treating you well, you can see your part in the problem without taking all the blame or taking other's views too personally. You see, if you know you're great, you can consider the opinions of others without thinking you stink and without your pride boiling over and thinking you need to prove others wrong. Because you know you're great, where some would get mad as though insults are too much to bear, you can maintain your knowledge of your greatness without fear that you've been truly damaged by someone's opinion. Knowing you're great works as sort of a balancing mechanism that helps you right the boat when the seas get stormy regardless of what kind of storm is brewing.
Of course that might make one think that knowing you're great always has a positive effect on every relationship. Unfortunately, the effect of knowing you're great on relationships can be mixed. Knowing you're great does not make you get along with everyone, even if they too know they're great. There are still going to be those who are more like you and less like you, and some you like more than others. Knowing you're great might make you more likely to get along with others, but it doesn't make you like them and it doesn't make them like you. Actually, even when you really know you're great, and yet you have perfectly healthy humility, some will dislike you just because you clearly know you're great. Mostly that will come from those who don't know they're great because they'll resent that someone could feel so good and confident. You see, knowing you're great is not the most common phenomenon, and is actually a phenomenal accomplishment.
Unfortunately, developing the knowledge that you're great is not exactly natural for many people. Often, life does not treat people like they're great, and it would be very hard to imagine that developing such confidence could occur in some circumstances (please see article, "self-esteem and its connection to cognitive dissonance"). Even in the best of circumstances, the knowledge that you're great does not always develop because it is not possible to clearly show children that they are loved unconditionally. Even though most parents do love their children unconditionally, the love they offer must always be balanced by the discipline that is required in teaching children to be responsible. So, successfully developing really good self-esteem, or the knowledge that you're great, is actually quite rare even in the best of circumstances. It is so rare that, in a way, it is the ultimate focus in any psychotherapy.
Knowing that you're great is, in fact, a great way to simplify what therapy is all about. Even where someone has been traumatized, even in those cases where someone used to know they were great but seems to have lost that knowledge, even when working with a couple and each of them needs to see the greatness in the other, or in families where if only everyone could see the greatness in one another everyone would prosper, knowing you're great helps to solve every problem. If there could be one human idea that could change everything for everyone simultaneously, one truly humanitarian ideal, it would be that everyone would know that they all are great. It would be shared and it would spread. And it starts in each individual (please see article, "From Id to Family System"). It doesn't come easy, but if it came, it would make the whole world a much easier place to live, grow and be healthy.
If you don't know you're great, you do not have healthy self-esteem. That's a problem. I wish I could say it's an easy problem to fix, but that would be a lie. As simplistic as this might sound, if you don't know you're great, then learning that you're great, and believing it, is going to be the most important goal you will need to set in feeling better about your life. In order to accomplish that goal, you will need to accept and know that you are not alone in your greatness. Each in their own way, every person is great, and all are equally important. You are not any greater than anyone else. If you know you're great, you will have no real problem treating others as your equals because you will have no need to demean or exploit them in making yourself feel greater than others. If you know you're great, you'll have little difficulty knowing that your thoughts and feelings are legitimate and should be considered. If you know you're great, of course you'll be less likely to get depressed, anxious, or moody. Of course you won't get along with everyone, but you'll get along better than most. Unfortunately, you might just find some who dislike you because you've accomplished something unusual. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to develop the knowledge that you're great. But developing that knowledge, and sharing that knowledge, could be the beginning of a great revolution in your thinking, and could be the seed in making the idea grow. If you haven't yet developed it, developing the knowledge that you're great would undoubtedly change everything about your life. If everyone developed the knowledge that they're great, the feeling would spread. If everyone knew they were great, in fact, there is no doubt that the world itself would be a far greater world, a world in which we all could truly live and love freely, and perhaps, just maybe, we could all fully and freely flourish and thrive.