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Professional Corner

New Lessons in Self-Esteem

More than 30 years ago, Dr. Nathaniel Branden set forth the proposition that self-esteem was indispensable to mental health. Without it, he pointed out that our resilience in the face of life’s problems was diminished…that negatives had more power over us than positives. The world was a frightening place.

The following are some questions asked of Dr. Branden about his latest thinking on self-esteem and how we can nurture ourselves in these very tricky times…

Many people think self-esteem merely means feeling good about oneself. Is that all it is?

That view is a distortion of pop culture. Unfortunately, the quest to promote self-esteem has produced many frivolous shortcuts.

One technique requires an individual to repeat daily affirmations that he/she is "special" or "wonderful". In reality, this is nonsense.

Self-esteem is trusting your ability to make appropriate choices and cope effectively with adversity. Building self-esteem requires a life-long commitment to six principles…

  • Living consciously. Maintain an unflinching willingness to face reality, even when it is painful.
  • Self-acceptance. Experience and take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  • Self-responsibility. Realize that you alone are responsible for your life and well-being.
  • Self-assertiveness. Be authentic in your dealings with others. Do not pretend to be someone you’re not to avoid someone else’s disapproval.
  • Living purposefully. Identify your goals and the actions needed to attain them. Organize your priorities to meet those goals.
  • Personal integrity. Exemplify the values that your profess to admire.

What can I do as a parent to give my child self-esteem?

You can’t give anyone self-esteem. You can create an environment in which a child can grow into a rational, self-responsible, and compassionate human being.

Frequently praising a child will not automatically help develop his self-esteem. It is how you praise that counts.

If you say, Johnny, you are a perfect angel, Johnny knows that is nonsense. Your praise – an abstraction – bears no relation to Johnny’s actual performance in any activity. In fact, such empty praise may make Johnny feel anxious because you are not acknowledging the real him.

Instead, parents should express reality-based appreciation based on the significance of the child’s actions. Say, Johnny, when you saw me drop the groceries, you didn’t waste a second running over to help me pick them up. Thank you.

This type of statement allows the child to draw positive conclusions about himself…to experience the pleasure that flows from good behavior…and to actively engage his own self-esteem.

In my book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, I recommend some of the best books I know on the subject of raising psychologically healthy children.

You have said that raising self-esteem is more than just a psychological need these days – it is an economic need. What did you mean?

Our economy is characterized by accelerating technological breakthroughs and unprecedented competitiveness. Skills that were sufficient to equip us for a decent job in the past are no longer enough.

Every significant change that affects our lives is a challenge to our resourcefulness and ability to adapt to the unfamiliar. The answer is to develop more confidence in your own mind and your competence to cope with life.

Commitment to the six pillars of self-esteem enables us to develop this confidence.

Many people feel personally overwhelmed by constant change. How can you develop self-esteem when you are flooded with fear?

"Overwhelmed" is a state of mind. Being overwhelmed and doing nothing is an easier response than the hard work of thinking through the new demands and claims on your consciousness.

No matter what your situation, it is your task to set priorities and realistically decide what is possible and what is not possible for yourself. At times, this requires difficult choices.

Get yourself balanced and centered. Discipline yourself to focus on what must be done, rather than on your self-doubt. This is a discipline that can be mastered if one is willing to make a commitment to mastering it. Most people who avoid surrendering to panic are able to see what they are capable of.

What kind of new research is being done on raising self-esteem?

To name only one development, I have become very interested in the field of energy psychology. It is based on the techniques of Eastern medicine, in which you harness the body’s own energy system to heal emotional problems.

Our bodies have meridians, or pathways, through which energy flows. When there is an imbalance or blockage in the flow, different types of emotional disturbances appear.

By focusing on a negative feeling, then applying "tapping" to strategic points on the face, hands and torso, the feelings often diminish or disappear entirely.

The success I have had in my own practice using these techniques made me rethink the longtime tenet of psychotherapy – that a patient must reexperience and talk through childhood trauma or deep pain to free himself of its negative impacts.

I do not regard energy psychology as an answer to all the challenges of psychotherapy, but it is an invaluable tool that can facilitate freedom from trauma and other psychic wounds. Books I have found informative include:

  • Energy Psychology (CRC) and Energy Tapping (New Harbinger) by Fred P. Gallo, Ph.D.
  • Tapping the Healer Within: Using Thought Field Therapy to Instantly Conquer Your Fears, Anxieties, and Emotional Distress (Contemporary), by Roger J. Callihan, Ph.D.

 

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Last modified: January 26, 2013