Sparking the Creativity, Love, and Playfulness of the Human Spirit

I Heart Myself

Healthy self-esteem or healthy self-regard is a very sought-after quality. On some level we are aware of our innate and unique gifts in varying fields or relationships and wish we could better realize our potential or improve the level of happiness felt in our relationships. At times, our efforts to have productive careers or have affirming relationships are compromised by the attitudes about ourselves or life in general that we carry with us throughout the experiences of our day. Often, these self-sabotaging attitudes are the total of the emotional effects of pivotal events that have taken place previously in our lives. Some of these events left profound imprints on our personalities and behaviors, others had more slight impacts on us, but the sum of all of those events, both affirmations and slights, form a very firm sense of us, our limitations, but also our potential in some ways.

Hopefully, this entry will illustrate some not-so-common beliefs about the notion of healthy self-esteem and the deep-seated positive effects it can have both for your self as an individual and the person you are in your relationships and the affirming qualities they can have.

If you are interested in learning more about self-esteem, it’s worth mentioning that The Human Potential Center’s own Bob McGarey is offering a workshop, starting on April 25th, on self-esteem entitled, Building Sound Self-Esteem. Bob has been offering this workshop over the years and in fact has mentioned in the past, “If you are human, you need to attend this workshop”. That’s a direct quote and Bob’s substantial experience in understanding matters of self-esteem only make the workshop that much more enriching, so if your interest is piqued by some of the information contained in this entry, it might be worth your time to call the office and RSVP for the 4-week workshop.

While the idea of high or healthy self-esteem may be common knowledge, the reality of what healthy self-esteem looks like, may not be.

Nathaniel Branden in 1969 defined self-esteem as “…the experience of being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and being worthy of happiness“. This definition is interesting because high self-esteem is often associated with people who are high achievers or have receive lots of accolades or have found material success, and not a quality that is seemingly more basic or less exciting or glamorous. In other words, developing healthy self-esteem isn’t a quality that is comparative or needs to take the form of great success relative to others. Healthy self-esteem would be known as a quality closer to learning to be able to more easily adapt to life’s ups-and-downs and feel that the happiness you do have or seek is deserved. Seems simple enough to develop, right?

Or maybe not so simple. Read this quote from a blog entry from Psychology Today’s Harriet Brown,

Direct attempts to build self-esteem generally do not work. A few years ago, Joanne Wood, a professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, set out to test the notion that affirmations and other such self-talk make people feel better about themselves. The subjects in her study who started out with high self-esteem did report feeling a little better after engaging in positive self-talk. But those with low self-esteem—the very people you’d expect to use such techniques—felt worse. “The blithe recommendations to engage in positive self-statements are based on an intuition that they’ll work,” Wood says. “And they don’t, often.” Because these positive statements are so starkly different from the negative thoughts of the person with low self-esteem, they likely underscore the discouragingly long distance between where the person is and where she would like to be.

This research basically shows that self-esteem that is based upon reaching certain desired outcomes is rooted in a place that is inherently insecure and unstable. But the question remains, if you are one of the people that has a low or poor self-regard or self-esteem, how can you change that feeling?

According to Jonathon D. Brown, a social psychologist at the University of Washington,

Those with healthy self-esteem maintain deep-down self-acceptance even when they feel bad in the face of rejection or failure. Those with low self-esteem lack an internal “safety net,” and thus plunge lower than others when they experience life’s slings and arrows. They even perceive rejection and failure where it doesn’t exist”.

This insight grants those of us looking for a more wide-reaching sense of fufillment and happiness a starting place to gauge our current sense of well-being, but more importantly a place to begin to unwind the old, self-sabotaging attitudes and behavior that undermine our happiness and build a more satisfying, happy, and affecting relationship with ourselves. A relationship that is real and sustainable and honest than what we may currently have.

Learning techniques like ‘self-compassion’ or being more ‘mindful’ of your internal feelings and attitudes and being honest and accepting of both your limitations and gifts may prove beneficial.

Also, there is some interesting research regarding the genuine support of others and having a ‘giving’ attitude that was listed in Harriet Brown’s blog entry at Psychology Today,

Researchers like Jennifer Crocker have found ways for people to nudge their self-esteem upward—by taking their ego out of the equation and reframing tasks that push self-esteem buttons. Crocker’s most recent study, yet to be published, looks at college freshmen who met for the first time when they were assigned to room together. Over a period of 10 weeks, Crocker found that when one roommate consciously set out to be supportive of the other, the other student noticed and became more supportive in return. The upshot: Both students’ self-esteem rose. “It’s the giving that’s responsible, not the receiving,” says Crocker. “And if you do it in order to boost your self-esteem, other people may feel there’s something phony about it.

If you run into barriers or obstacles as you try to challenge your old beliefs about life and yourself, you may be somewhat empowered by this quote from the same blog entry by Harriet Brown,

Jonathon Brown believes that those with low self-esteem are often doomed for life, as the set point can’t be inched up too much. Depressing as his message sounds on the surface, it is compellingly honest. And it goes on to convey a means of damage control: If you have low self-esteem, you may not be able to change the way you feel about yourself, but you can learn strategies for better weathering the effects negative thoughts have on your mood and on the decisions you make. “It’s like the difference between a dog and a duck,” Brown explains. “A duck goes in the water and doesn’t get wet. That’s a gift ducks get early in life. A dog goes in the water and it has to shake itself dry. Maybe you’re never going to be a duck, but you can learn to be a better dog. You can learn to handle life better.”

This last quote ties back into the notion listed earlier in this entry about self-esteem being more of a ‘life-skill’ than a door to a lifestyle. If you can accept the gift that comes from accepting yourself as you truly are, and by ‘as you truly are’, I mean the person you are aside from your accomplishments or talents, the person you innately are, and can accept the challenges that come from making that person happy, it seems you will have healthy self-esteem.

Again, if you are interested in learning more about self-esteem from an experienced expert in psychology, try and attend the workshop Bob McGarey is offering on self-esteem titled, Building Sound Self-Esteem. That workshop begins on April 25th and requires an RSVP, which can be done by calling The Human Potential Center at 512-441-8988.

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