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I was molded with the help of divinely chosen traits gifted by the Lord. Right from my birth, I spent my time only in the service of the body and soul that I was housed in. Our affairs went well in my initial years. With only a few dips in my health that I soon recovered from. I saw myself in heights I had never seen before. In my pride, I forgot Who brought me into being. I forgot my humble beginnings and I forgot to be thankful. As years progressed and our surroundings got harder, my position began to fall. I could see only misery and that made me weaker. I was no longer strong enough to support the body and soul. I looked for ways to get back to health, but I failed. I knew something was missing. I knew I was doing something wrong, but I couldn’t put a finger on it. I, Self-esteem, have been looking for an answer ever since.
This vital support system of ours, self-esteem, is the perception that individuals have about themselves. It includes their beliefs and their worth. Self esteem influences many emotions in a person including sadness, pride, shame and triumph. This quality of a person finds its importance in how a person behaves in different surroundings and their relationship with other people in the world.
Most of us may be familiar with the American psychologist, Abraham Maslow who proposed a theory in psychology called the ‘Maslow’s theory of needs’ in his paper ‘A theory of Human Motivation’. In his theory, he suggested that human beings have certain needs that can be arranged in a hierarchy according to their priority. Which means, the needs at the bottom should be satisfied before moving up to the next need in the hierarchy. These needs, ordered from the most basic to the least are: Physiological needs- that include sleep and hunger, safety needs- that include security from danger, social needs- such as love and friendship, esteem needs- that include self-confidence and sense of achievement and finally self-actualization- that includes reaching your full potential.
Self-esteem in the Islamic perspective can be explained as the middle path between the two extremes of self-loathing and arrogance. When a person is in the extreme of self-loathing, he perceives himself as worthless and is convinced that his life is not going to get any better. He loses faith in Allah, gives up supplicating and goes into depression. In worst cases, this person may even take his life. In the other extreme of arrogance, a person believes that his possessions and the benefits that he enjoys are solely due to his hard work and skill. He forgets to pray and thank Allah for his blessings and thinks that he is no longer in need of anyone’s help.
The true definition of having self-esteem is in fact being confident about one’s self, one’s qualities and one’s worth. Along with that, it also means believing that everything that one has is from Allah and there is a need to be thankful for it. Self-esteem also encompasses the quality of tawakkul or absolute confidence in the Will of Allah. It is mentioned in the Quran:
“When you have decided on a course of action, put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those who put their trust in Him. If Allah helps you, no one can overcome you. If He forsakes you, who else can help you? Believers should put their trust in Allah.” [Quran, 3:159]
Coming back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, in the Islamic perspective, the top-most need of self-actualization can be taken synonymous to fitrah which means the natural instinct of worshipping Allah that we are born with. As Muslims, our sole purpose is to work on attaining this self-actualization, to work on pleasing Allah so that we may make ourselves a place in paradise.
In order to get to the stage of self-actualization, the needs at the bottom of the hierarchy need to be fulfilled. Let us look at the different ways by which we can work on improving our self-esteem.
- Foster Faith: As mentioned earlier, when we find that the graph of our imaan is getting to a low point, we need to remind ourselves of the main purpose of our existence. We need to be steadfast in every form of worship including daily prayers, recitation of Quran or dhikr. When we put our trust in Allah, the changes in the world around us no matter how grave, will not bring us down and we will find that our confidence has increased.
“Those who believed and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah, verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” [Quran, 13:28]
- Capable Company: The company you keep plays an important role in the shaping of your character. Make sure you are in the midst of the pious. Do not spend a lot of time with people who engage in negative discussions. Be with people who appreciate your good deeds and prevent you from doing bad ones.
“And remember the Day when the wrong-doer will bite his hands and say: “Woe to me! Would that I had taken a path with the Messenger. Woe to me! If only I had not taken so-and-so as a friend!” He has led me astray from this Reminder after it had come to me. And Satan is ever a deserter to man in the hour of need”. [Quran, 25:27]
- Presentable Play: Your outward appearance can also have an effect on your internal well-being and self-esteem. Make an effort to look presentable no matter in what surrounding you are. Looking presentable doesn’t mean going overboard with make up and fancy clothing. In fact, it means dressing up neatly and maintain good hygiene.
“Say, ‘Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah, which He has brought forth for His servants and the good things, clean and pure, which Allah has provided for them?’ Say, ‘They are lawful for the believers in the present life, but they shall be exclusive for them on the Day of Resurrection’ Thus We explain Our signs for the people who understand” [Quran, 7:32]
- Personal Pricing: Do an assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. If you are suffering from a low self-esteem, you might find it difficult to list out your strengths. In that case, take help from someone close. After you’ve made the list, think of ways you could work on reducing the weaknesses and developing your strengths.
“Whoever works righteousness- whether male or female- while he or she is a true believer, verily, to him We will give a good life. And We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do” [Quran 16:97]
- Helping Humans: As much as possible, be of assistance to other people. Be it in little ways or large, or in materialism or advice. Helping others will give you a sense of worth and satisfaction. And of course, also gives a relief to the person receiving your help. Not everyone has the courage to reach out for help. Sometimes, taking the initiative to provide help before being asked is also necessary.
“Indeed, Allah enjoins justice and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed.” [Quran 16:91]
This life is too short to regret and live with low self-esteem. Working on improving ourselves is paramount if we are aiming for a happy place in the everlasting hereafter.