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Recently I was following a discussion on self-esteem on a Baha’i forum.  As someone who suffers from low self-esteem, I was particularly interested in the discussion, hoping to find a Baha’i-inspired way to overcome this problem.  I was disappointed to see the tone of the discussion, which was largely dismissive.

One contributor said:

The first thing that came to mind was ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s breakdown of the four different kinds of love:

  • God’s love for us
  • our love for God
  • God’s love towards Her Self
  • our love for our fellow human beings

At no time does The Master mention the spiritual validity or even the existence of a fifth kind of love, namely a human being’s love for oneself. Nonetheless, self-love has become an insanely successful commodity. Why?

This certainly made me think!

In the Secret of Divine Civilization (p.96-97), ‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us both:

…self-love is kneaded into the very clay of man ….

The heart is a divine trust; cleanse it from the stain of self-love.

All of this made me start to meditate on this question: Is there a healthy form of “self-love” from a Baha’i perspective?

Contributor 2 suggested:

  • There’s wisdom in knowing ourselves. And not just the Eternal, the Perfect, but also our flaws and foibles.

It reminded me of this quote:

The first Taraz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon  of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.  (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 34)

Contributor 3 suggested:

  • One theory is that individuals who have been abused – particularly by someone in a position of authority – have a deep mistrust of this parent-like God who resides outside them. These abuses need not even be direct; simple exposure to the dysfunction of the crumbling Age may lead to the same kinds of fears. Arguably, in this Day of corrupt governments, sexually predatory clergy members and vile human rights abuses, it may be unrealistic to expect the majority of people not to be deeply suspicious of an authoritative God who expresses Her will via Institutions and Laws, no matter how lovingly She is characterised. Perhaps at this point in the process, self-esteem aids serve a vital purpose for those individuals who have been so damaged that their healing requires they learn how to love the God within before they can even conceive of obeying a God without.

This article elaborates on this theme a little more:

The Role of Parents in Training us to be Obedient

Contributor 4 suggested:

  • It would seem to me that the Baha’i Faith is encouraging us to focus on “God love” rather than “self-love”. The most effective and safest way to love ourselves is to love the image of God that is potentially reflected in the reality of our true identity which is the soul.

This reminded me of the Hidden Word which says:

All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame.  (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words, 27)

Contributor 5 suggested:

  • The self-esteem industry consists of two broad streams: self-healing and self-improvement. Though it occasionally touches on notions of surrender and service, the latter tends to revolve around the cult of more; how to get more rich, more attractive, more employable, more…more. It’s the saddest kind of irony as studies upon studies have disproved the myth that acquiring more things equals acquiring more happiness – or as the ads imply, more ‘self-esteem.’ The first stream though, that of purchasable ‘healing,’ is the one that I believe offers the most insight to a Baha’i looking to assist a struggling brother or sister. What we need to ask ourselves is why. Why is this route so popular? Why do people feel more comfortable paying thousands of hard-earned dollars for guidance on how to commune with the Divine within, rather than acquiescing to a God found outside themselves (for example, in Holy Writings and Institutions), as well as within?

This got me thinking about our purpose of life, which is to know and worship God (not ourselves), and the best way to achieve that is to pray and read the Writings morning and night, and to participate in the core activities, which exposes us to the transformative Word of God, which can recreate us.

Contributor 6 suggested:

  • We really are powerless! In the short obligatory prayer, we remind ourselves daily: “I testify at this moment to my powerlessness and to Thy might”.  This frees us from the delusion that we’re any different from anyone else, specifically more damaged or less ‘spiritually evolved’ than anyone else.

Contributor 7 suggested:

  • My experience of America culture is that we are now living under a “self-esteem” regime where “feeling good” has become more important than “doing good”. The line between self-love and selfishness is not a bright and well-lit highway, but is more like a spider’s web in a dark attic.It reminded me of these quotes:

If man be imbued with all good qualities but be selfish, all the other virtues will fade or pass away and eventually he will grow worse.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 136)

But if he show the slightest taint of selfish desires and self-love, his efforts will lead to nothing and he will be destroyed and left hopeless at the last. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 71)

It may be helpful to understand the two ways that “self” or “ego” is understood in the Baha’i Writings as explained by Shoghi Effendi.

Regarding the questions you asked: self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá’í writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as “he hath known God who hath known himself”, etc. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection.

Contributor 8 suggested:

  • I’ve also noticed that having an ongoing negative mental conversation about one’s flaws, faults, and failings doesn’t seem to be conducive towards joy, kindness, appreciation, and treating others with love and serving humanity. Consequently, I’m starting to let go of excessive criticism of my own failures. And that seems to be leading towards an improvement in my overall ability to “live the life”.

It reminds me of this quote:

He urges you to persevere and add up your accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and bright side. The Master said: turn your back to the darkness and your face to Me.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 457)

Contributor 9 suggested:

  • I find it helpful to think of how ‘Abdu’l-Baha was. For Baha’is He is the perfect Exemplar of how we should be and live. His whole being was suffused with the love of God, so He was able to love all those He met without any hint of self-interest or self-love.

Summary

According to the Bahá’í Writings, self-love is kneaded into the very clay of our beings and we need to cleanse our hearts from its stain.  In order to do it we need to know ourselves well enough to recognize what leads us to loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.  The easiest way to do this is to make the love of God so strong in our hearts, that there is no room for anything else.

The negative mental conversations we have about our flaws, faults, and failings leads to our abasement.  If we want to be happy and joyful servants and teachers of the Faith, we need to treat ourselves with as much kindness, appreciation, and love as we would treat other people.  We need to turn our back on our failings and our face to God.

How do we do it?

  1. We remember that our purpose of life is to know and worship God (not ourselves). The best way to achieve that is to pray and read the Writings morning and night, and to participate in the core activities, which exposes us to the transformative Word of God, which can recreate us.
  1. Our parents have a role in educating us spiritually, but if we’ve been abused, it may be more difficult. Nevertheless, we remember we are all powerless.  In the short obligatory prayer, we remind ourselves daily: “I testify at this moment to my powerlessness and to Thy might”.  This frees us from the delusion that we’re any different from anyone else, specifically more damaged or less ‘spiritually evolved’ than anyone else.
  1. We follow the example of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, whose whole being was suffused with the love of God, so He was able to love all those He met without any hint of self-interest or self-love.

If we aren’t able to do this, our efforts will lead to nothing and we will be destroyed and left hopeless.

How has this helped you in your understanding of raising your self-esteem?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please post below.