Teachers, parents, and educators talk a lot about self-esteem. Self-esteem affects performance in school and work, the ability to create healthy relationships, individual happiness, and general quality of life–but you probably already knew that. In this article, I’m going to address one input in the self-esteem equation that often gets overlooked: integrity.
Here is one working definition of the term:
Integrity: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic valuesMerriam Webster
Integrity happens when we live consistently with our values, or our moral code of ideals. Everyone has values, and they only take a little bit of effort to identify. Let’s imagine that you value sexual integrity. You believe cheating on your partner, indulging in pornography, and taking advantage of people from the opposite sex is wrong. Let’s imagine that you have many other values, as well, like honesty, courage, love, kindness, and health.
Every time we act consistent with our values, we gain respect for ourselves, and our self-esteem increases.
In the example above, when you stay loyal to your partner, exercise sexual self-control, treat other human beings with respect, tell the truth, act with courage, radiate love and kindness in your interactions, and eat healthy and workout, you gain respect for yourself and your self-esteem increases. That is because in those moments you are acting consistent with your values.
On the flip side, every time we act inconsistent with our values, we lose respect for ourselves, and our self-esteem decreases.
In the same example, every time you cheat, indulge in pornography, take advantage of someone, lie, act like a coward, radiate hate and cruelty in your interactions, eat trash food and neglect your body, you lose respect for yourself and your self-esteem decreases. That is because in those moments you are acting inconsistent with your values.
We may be able to fool others, but we can never fool ourselves. Our brain keeps the score of everything. It knows the difference between strong character and weasel-like behavior, and it is often eager to remind us after the fact.
The opinion of others may be a dime a dozen, but our opinion is worth its weight in gold. \
As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.Proverbs 23:7
Integrity is good for our mental health, whereas a lack of integrity is precisely the opposite.
If we want to increase our self-esteem, let’s start by doing the things we already know we should be doing.