The Vexing Issue of Self-Esteem

Dear Friend and Reader:

Jupiter has taken up residence in Leo for the next year, which in our astrological microcosm is a real change of pace. Mars is now making its way through the last degrees of Libra; it will enter Scorpio next week and then form an exact square to Jupiter on Aug. 1. If Jupiter in Leo is about passionate expression of life, Mars in Scorpio joining forces with Jupiter is going to push that with a nice jolt.

I have a nice thick folder full of charts for July and August, and every time I look at them my mind goes back to the topic of self-esteem. I devoted Planet Waves FM this week to the topic of Self-Esteem, Art and Business, which opened up the topic in a new way for me.

Photo by Eric Francis.

The more I consider this range of topics, and the more people who open up to me about their reality, the more obvious it becomes to me that underneath our political, social and economic crises (they are all related) is the issue of self-esteem.

I’m even finding that this is relatively easy to explain — perhaps because people relate to the issue of not valuing themselves, and know that it has a way of taking over their life. Yet one thing I am noticing is that lack of self-esteem takes so many forms that it’s often difficult to identify. Many of them are so encrypted into the culture, they are sold to us as normal.

A great many others involve sexuality, which is sold to us as abnormal despite being the normalist thing in all of existence. In our society (and many others) sexuality is infused with guilt, to the point where most people cannot experience sexual expression without some infiltration of guilt, or a total seizure. This is a problem. One reason it’s a problem is that in order to heal your self-esteem, your creativity and your sense of existence, you will need to tap into your core creative energy, which is also your sexual energy.

I will offer a metaphor. Let’s say you’re driving or riding along in a car. The engine (of most cars anyway) is running on gasoline. In a human, this is the equivalent of vital force, which on the physical plane and a broad spectrum of other nearby planes of reality is the same thing as sexual energy, desire and impulse — the core vitality that procreates, co-creates and all around creates the human experience.

When you turn on the CD player in the car, that is run by electricity. But the electricity making the music is created by a generating device that draws energy from the engine. If you turn on the headlights, same thing. If you turn on the wipers, same thing. If you charge your cellphone, same thing. In this way, all the nuances of that car are created from the same pool of energy at the core — the fuel running the engine, which burns and releases energy that can be used many different ways. If you cut off that core flow, then none of the peripherals work.

Photo by Eric Francis.

Humans work the same way. The cutting off usually comes in the form of judgment. When we misinterpret or misunderstand that core energy reaction as bad, as sinful, as sick or as troubled; when we deem it a bad thing and are ashamed of it, then we start to choke off our vital force. When it’s siphoned off from us by social conditioning and advertising, and sold back to us as product, our vital force becomes co-opted and weakened.

I am aware of a few problems with applying my theory (which is not really my theory, I’m speaking for an old tradition), even if it happens to be valid. One is the reaction, “Are you saying that to address my self-esteem problem, I have to deal with my sexuality?” Yes, that is what I am saying, among other things that will come up in the process.

Another is the hot mess that is sexual and relational reality in our era. We do not live in a moment where it seems vaguely appealing to experience or express a higher level of consciousness on these themes, because it’s not a jungle out there, it’s worse. We live in violent, angry times, which people are papering over with iPhone apps and bits of glitz and glam to help us feel better for a moment. A lot of that paper is money.

Once you peel off those layers, it’s necessary to deal with the shadow side of sexuality. It’s difficult to write a convincing marketing pitch for that, but I’ll give it a sentence or two. Unprocessed shadow — guilt, shame, sexual injury, any form of secrecy connected to intimacy, the feeling of having skeletons in the closet, and many other forms of the stuff — all consume creative energy.

The more you address shadow, the more you convert it back into the light of which it’s made. Remember that plenty of our shadow material, maybe most of it, comes from our ancestors, in particular our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents — not necessarily some wanderer in the Egyptian desert, but someone we’ve actually met.

Many people realize that the core of their pain and misery involves a sexual injury. Some suspect it, and the suspicion comes and goes; it fades in and out, but it keeps coming back. However, there are not a wide variety of options where to go for help. And among those options, very few of them connect the different planes of reality — for example, emotional, mental, physical, creative and psychic.

Photo by Eric Francis.

I can give you an example of how this works in the most positive way. By now everyone has heard of gay. Imagine someone is gay, which is their sexual orientation, but refuses to admit it or do something about it. How happy will they really be? The solution is to come out, which we all know means to be real about one’s sexuality. That is good for self-esteem and for everything else. What I am saying is that coming out is essential to resolving self-esteem issues.

But we have this strange pressure coming from somewhere — the pressure to be a puritan. I don’t see anyone walking around in those old-fashioned hats with black coats and huge buckles. But loads of people feel the pressure to be, or to act like, puritans. I can tell you exactly what this pressure is — it’s denial. Puritanism is the way to pretend everything I’ve just said in the past 1,000 words does not exist and/or is not true.

I don’t have the answer for where to go if you want to get help. I can tell you that there are people who are capable of helping and willing to do so, though you have to network your way to them, or follow the synchronicity pattern, with clear intent.

But before you get professional help, the first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself. The second thing you need to do is find a few people with whom you can be open. Not just one person, though one is a start. You would have to go past any trust issues, fear of judgment or personal shame and actually open up about how you feel. This is true whether there is a specific incident you can point to, or whether you’re addressing a sensation that is lurking below the surface of your personality.

Healthy expression of, and values around, body and sexuality are core elements of self-esteem. If you’re trying to figure out where you stand with yourself, I have a few more ideas. I’ve said that lack of self-esteem takes many forms that are difficult to see. If we can see those forms, then it’s possible to do something about them. This is a key to deducing whether what you’re experiencing involves self-esteem. With each of these concepts I will include what I think is an appropriate response.

Photo by Eric Francis / Book of Blue.

Telling yourself and others that you’re stupid. It blows my mind how often I hear someone tell me how stupid they are. Even if someone doesn’t know something, or cannot figure something out, self-affirming one’s own supposed stupidity is not going to help. It’s actually possible to take the posture, “I don’t know, and I’m going to figure it out, and if I cannot, I will find someone who knows.”

Lack of forethought. Do you plunge into things with no real concept of what is motivating you? Do you think through the potential consequences of your choices, for example, getting drunk in an abandoned factory with people you don’t know, getting married on the spur of the moment, putting a lot of money into an investment you have not carefully evaluated, or getting a serious operation without second and third opinions from other doctors? Forethought is an important element of self-esteem, and you will feel better about yourself if you carefully consider the implications of your choices.

Unwillingness to help oneself. Many people suffer in silence, and at the same time are consciously unwilling to help themselves, which often means refusing to seek help from others. There are many excuses — “I don’t trust therapists” or “nobody will believe me” or “it’s not that important anyway.” If you want to pluck up some self-esteem, make a choice to get help, stick to it for a while and see what happens.

Deciding in advance something will fail. Many people want to do new things but decide in advance that they will fail. They might even have an experience of failure that seemingly proves the point. Two points here — you don’t know if something will succeed unless you’ve tried it a few times. Also, anything that establishes itself in the world is the result of sustained, focused effort. The most successful people have ‘failed’ a good few times. You might take on the motto, “Nothing attempted, nothing gained,” or my favorite, “If you’re not fucking up, you’re not doing it right.”

Conscious choice not to commit to something because it’s not worth it. It’s really important to track any excuses you might make for not doing something. If you know something is an excuse, then it’s easier to address. Commitment is indeed connected to value, however, the paradox is that you might not know the value until you commit, which means persist for a while.

Sarah Renaud sees her Book of Blue portrait nine years later. The original was taken in Paris in July 2005 (in the artist’s squat at 59 Rivoli). This one was taken in Kingston in July 2014. Photos by Eric Francis.

Obsession with trivia. What do you think about? What do you consciously not think about? Do you avoid important topics because they are too difficult or don’t seem to be fun? Do you emphasize petty issues, gossip, the price of things, and judgments about others? No guarantees, but you might find it satisfying to think about important, deep issues; people write books about them, many of which are deeply engaging and which will help you open your mind. If you find reading difficult, go slowly, and look up all the words you don’t know, one at a time. Using a dictionary is one of the secret keys to self-esteem.

Narcissism and pretention. Do you find yourself counting the ways you’re better than others, or more sophisticated than they are? This is a sure sign of insecurity, and it’s also a really great way to feel horrible about yourself. If you decide you want to do something else, you have a lot of options, such as asking people about themselves. Once you hear a person’s story (the equivalent of walking a mile in their moccasins), you may decide they are your equal.

Deciding for other people that they don’t like you. You know that thing where people insist that everyone hates or disrespects them? Or that if they have a problem, that nobody will care? This is both evidence of low self-respect and it also stokes it. Why decide how others feel about you? Why not let them demonstrate their feelings? Anyway it’s unlikely that people think about you as much as you think about you. Everyone has a lot on their mind and you’re unlikely to get much bandwidth unless you give someone a reason to focus on you.

Insisting that others be as shut down as you are. Does it make you nervous when others express vitality, talent or creativity? The answer is not to make anyone feel they must be less than you, or to undermine their opportunities by interfering. The more supportive you are of others, the better you will feel about yourself — and the more you will learn from them about how to be expressive. This is especially true when it comes to sex — you have the choice to insist that others shut down, or to support them, or to live and let live. You might say this is the ultimate measure — and expression — of self-esteem.

In all of these things, there is more choice than you may think.


Weekly Horoscope for Thursday, July 17, 2014, #1007 | By Eric Francis

Aries (March 20-April 19) — Humanity seems to live in terror of its own creative strength. We see this play out so many ways — in schools that ban creativity, in political movements where people sacrifice their own freedom, in people who object to sex in any form except for a scandal, or those who deny any notion that there is more to life than they have today. Fear of creative strength also comes in the form of denying the kind of pleasure that nourishes in favor of pleasure that depletes. This is no longer your path, to the extent that it ever was. I would describe this phase of your life as being about pumping your vital force with gusto, in every form you know it to take. Make your choices based on how edgy they are, not in terms of what you get but what you must offer or take the risk of becoming. Take the risk not of danger, but of failure — you will be glad you did.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — You may be tempted to do or say things in an effort to please those you feel are in positions of authority. Yet it would be better to take authority, especially over your own ideas. You don’t have to meet any standard except for being real. However, in our society this concept needs some explanation. Being real means matching your words to your actual opinion. It means matching the expression on your face to how you really feel. It means asking a question when you don’t know, instead of guessing, though that includes first checking in with yourself to assess what knowledge you already have. To take authority you have to be your own authority, which is a complex task; rather than being about bossing yourself around, it’s about having a balanced viewpoint, taking different opinions under advisement and ultimately being responsible for your own decisions. Someone who can do that is a valuable person within any group or organization.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — It’s been said that a smart person learns from his or her own mistakes, but a truly wise person learns from the mistakes of others. You are now entering territory that you’ve seen others struggle with many times. You may be concerned that you have to go through some similar crisis, though I assure you that you do not. The experiences of others do not need to warn you off of any ambition or intention you may have. Rather, I suggest you get some information about the territory from those who have been there. In the end, your success is going to depend on how resourceful you are. So I suggest you take a wide view of resources, including your own talents and skills, what people close to you might be able to offer (starting with blood relatives you actually trust), and finally, money. There may also be one well-positioned individual who can be a positive influence. Remember: use your allies.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — There remains the ongoing puzzle of how you translate what you feel into words. Anyone who has been friends with a dog knows that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. With humans, what you say is as meaningful as how you say it, and this often translates to the feeling behind the message. That is also the challenge — actually feeling when you speak, and aligning your emotions with your words. It’s worth stepping up to that one. At the same time, there’s that little problem of words being so easily misunderstood. Today and for the next few days, it would be a good idea to choose your words with extra care, and to go through several drafts of anything you want to put in writing. Leave it on your screen for a while and stare at it before pushing ‘send’ — for hours or a day or two. You will be glad you did.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — You may be concerned that you have some unknown or undetected weakness or vulnerability, which is persisting even with Jupiter in your birth sign. It’s true that there is something concealed, that you’re concerned about revealing or don’t want known about you. But that is not necessarily a disadvantage. If you work with this feeling, you may discover that it contains power. You can, for example, consider that something you perceive as fearful may play to your advantage. Whatever you’re sensing has the power to go both ways. That much is clear. But that does not mean that it’s a random factor. On one level you’re experiencing a test of your expectations, or of what you presume in the face of missing information. Life is holding out some unusual promises for you now. That is sometimes a little edgy. Keep your thoughts positive. In the end, you will be glad you saved yourself needless anxiety, and fostered the skill of positive thinking.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Notice who you meet or even randomly encounter over the next few days, and treat everyone with fully conscious respect. Eliminate any standoffish attitude you might have, burn off any fog that might sometimes surround you, and focus on who you are speaking with. Treat everyone with care and compassion, and lean in with an ear for how you might help. Go out of your way to treat everyone the same way, which means with the utmost attentiveness. It is an unfortunate habit of current society to take an uppity approach with people based on the flimsiest excuse, with no excuse or out of habit. It seems too much to ask for people to present themselves to the world with even a modicum of humility, as if to do so is to lower oneself in some way. This is a profound misunderstanding, and it’s one that you don’t want and cannot afford right now.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — Although Mars stationed direct in your sign on May 19, it has yet to enter new territory. Said another way, Mars is still in ‘shadow phase’ and has not gone past the degree where it stationed retrograde back in March. This happens soon — but not before one final experience of whatever the retrograde symbolized. True, it meant many things to many people, but since early December your life has had a dominant feeling, a recurring theme or persistent issue. It’s the one thing that many or most things have had in common. There is an underlying circumstance or pattern that is related to this issue, and you’re about to see what it is. There is some theme of fairness, and it’s related to honoring commitments. It may also be related to the ways in which you hold others to honoring their commitments to you. The way you did things in the past will no longer serve you. Now you have one distinct advantage: you know this, and that will help you make the decision you need to make.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — Sleepwalking, being in autopilot, trance state, spacing out. Everyone drifts into this state at some point, though currently many people are drifting through life paying as little attention as possible. Often this is aided and abetted by alcohol, pills or other substances. I don’t know your personal circumstances, but I do know your solar chart. Right now you need to pay attention. I could list off a dozen reasons from just your solar chart, though let’s skip that. Pay attention. Notice where you are and who is around you. Notice what you’re doing and why. Come out of the dream state and enter fully waking state. That means taking nothing for granted and yes, as one of your Scorpio cousins recently said to me, it means keeping your mind alert and active at all times even if this seems really weird. Engage your awareness fully, in manual mode, and keep waking up as many times as necessary.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — You are starting to see possibilities where you did not see them before. Correspondingly, you may also be seeing problems you didn’t notice before, though I would propose that those problems may not exist. You may be saying that if the problems are not real, then how do I know the potentials are real? Well, the mind is better at making up problems that don’t exist than it is at coming up with solutions or creative options. Even if this is a matter of emphasis, it will pay to focus your attention on what works, or what will help, rather than on what might not be going well. One thing I’ve noticed in my decades of working with people as their astrologer is that most are not so good at seeing the possibilities. You are — and if you want, you also have the discipline to make them real.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — Your chart describes an inheritance of some kind. That concept can be expressed many different ways, though the overall inference is success and benefit. You have resources available to you and there are people willing to help you out. Should you be in a position to receive assistance of some kind from an investor, make sure you preserve your rights, that you don’t get in over your head and that you have a relatively easy way out of the arrangement if it does not work. Understand who is taking the risk and what risk that really is. Finally, keep the benefits in mind. Any arrangement would best be based on mutual benefit and on love of the work. The same aspect pattern describes a very friendly scenario in love and sex. Just keep reminding yourself that every person is their own individual, free to come and go as they please.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — Who is your reference point for self-esteem? You need an example, and if you discover that you’re not finding too many of them in the world, consider that a sign that you’re using your discernment. Your astrology suggests that the past few months have had a special theme, which is understanding the emotional basis for self-worth, or lack thereof. It is not a mental exercise. For you self-worth resides at the root of your emotional nature. The central message of this time in your life is that no matter what anyone has done to you, or what has happened to you, you are the one who decides how you feel about yourself. You decide who you call as a witness. You decide who you believe. Ultimately, you make your own decision about who you are. Yet that decision has an emotional basis, not a logical one. That is the beauty, and the biggest challenge.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — Make your work count. Recognize the value of what you do, by which I mean look carefully, note the facts, observe the world around you and really get it all the way. You have no need to look to others for reassurance, even though it’s likely that you are being recognized for your contribution. Part of this means recognizing the economic value of what you contribute. By that I mean its inherent value and its value to support you and those who directly benefit from it. Yet in the same way that a dollar is exchanged many times and is therefore more than its face value, your work extends far beyond your immediate circle of awareness and benefits those who you may never meet or know about. Therefore I suggest you use some exceptionally positive astrology and make it work for you — in every way, including how much fun you have doing it, and the special pleasure that comes from total dedication to quality.

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