Two contradictory messages often puzzled me as a young woman. In his great essay "Self-reliance," Ralph Waldo Emerson encouraged his contemporary Americans who were challenged by what they thought to be the sophisticated and superior European tradition, to "trust thyself." To discover self-esteem as a nation was crucial when it was suffering from lack of confidence in its history and culture.
It holds true just as on a personal level. Performance almost totally depends on self-confidence. When you trust yourself in full, it is very much likely that you will end up being an excellent performer whatever you do.
In the meantime, there is another message telling you that you should stop being selfish and self-assertive; you should be humble, denying yourself. Almost all religions teach that, that is, self-effacement since self-denial seems inevitable to surrender oneself completely to God, the only source of power. I myself was once told that divinity would be embodied in you as much as you empty your self, which was painfully perplexing at that time. Which one is true? To trust yourself? or to deny yourself?
By now, an answer has immediately popped up inside your head. Right? Yes, you are right! The psychologist Jung is of great help here. "Self" (usually capitalized), in his definition, represents an integrated whole to be realized as a result of "individuation", that is, the unification of consciousness and unconsciousness, multiple "false-egos" included. You see two different meanings in the word, "self," although we don't usually distinguish one from the other in common usage. In English, the self which needs to be trusted is capitalized as "Self," in Jung's term, while the other self to be denied is narrowed down to a "false-ego." That is, it turns out that what you trust is "Self," not "false-ego."
A feminist theologian, Valerie Saiving was appropriate in pointing out that women had been embarrassed by the traditional religious teaching that women and men should deny and overcome their sinful selves. What she suggested instead was that, unlike men, women nonetheless establish and strengthen their selves frist which have been ignored and neglected. They need to empower themselves by discovering their own unique worth and value. To rediscover women's self-esteem by empowering themselves is a life changing revolution to them, Saiving said. To stress here again, what she claims to empower is "Self," instead of "false-egos" which are indeed sinful and thus need to be overcome.
We all suffer from self-belittlement. We are belittled by the false-egos within us which have internalized others' views that see us as little because of sex, appearance, weight, height, color, grade, education, wealth, occupation, nationality, and particular school that you graduated from or are now attending. Those false-egos need to be denied.
On the other hand, Gloria Steinem, a feminist scholar and author of Revolution From Within, encourages us to remember two things, "First, all the potential of the universe is inside you. Second, it's inside every other human being, too." Here comes a reason for self-affirmation and also a possibility of ethics to respect and get along with others.
By Prof. Kim Myung-Joo
Dept. of English Language and Literature
Kim Myung-Joo -
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