Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
Home | About Dr. Phillips | Forest Garden Office | Reading Room | Advice Line Articles | "Office Staff" | Other Services | Psych-mobile | Choosing a Therapist | Affordable Therapy or Life Coaching | Dedication
SELF ESTEEM II: Let the Sunshine In and Banish the Internal Critic

SELF ESTEEM: Let the Sunshine in and Banish the Internal Critic

Last month's article identified our internal commentary ("thinking") as the carrier of our positive or damaged self-esteem. The article describes the fact that most people believe their thinking is an accurate mirror of reality when in fact their thinking contains a collection of filters ("judgments") derived from their personal background and life experiences. Too often the judgment filter is negative, an unintended effect of criticism from parents and authority figures which over time has become a part of a person's thoughts. The article named this negative judgment filter as the "Internal Critic" and identified the Internal Critic as a damaging source of low self-esteem. Everyone can benefit from an understanding of this process and can apply corrective experiences to improve their self-concept and self-esteem.

Unfortunately the concept of self-esteem has been criticized, even ridiculed, in the media, perhaps because of an overemphasis on empty, superlative positive reinforcement doled out to our children even when they do not deserve the praise. Another reason for the criticism has been the observation that narcissists and egomaniacs pump themselves up with self praise when the positives are not earned (most likely to hide their real internal self doubts and insecurities). Let me set the record straight. Positive self-esteem is a life affirming part of self-care which supports the positive qualities of happiness and optimism, and results also in positive life achievements, strong marriages and family values as well as good health over long lifespans. In order to be an effective part of an individual's personal development, however, self-esteem must be realistic and accurate, not based on empty overblown superlatives conferred by doting families. In fact current research has even shown that undeserved superlative praise does undermine children's motivation to achieve success in school.

So how do we, as adults, understand and bolster our self-esteem? Our background have either helped or hindered our feelings of self-esteem. There are two ways to do this. Simply stated: 1) you need to recognize and reinforce realistic strengths and achievements; 2) you need to counter the negative judgments of the past contained in your critical thinking patterns and self-judgments. This month we will focus in on the first task. Most people can accomplish a great deal in improving their self-esteem without difficulty as long as they are able to make a sustained effort to recognize and record positive qualities and override the voice of false modesty.

Your first homework assignment is to discover and affirm your positive self qualities. Each day write down at least one example of a positive achievement or a valued characteristic that you know to in yourself. When you try this homework the first thing that you will realize is that you were very reluctant to notice or record positives about yourself because it feels like bragging. As children we were taught not to "blow your own horn" or brag too much. Teenage lingo criticizes friends who think they are "all that." We were taught to avoid realistic self praise out of a sense of false modesty. If you are still sensitive to these kinds of taunts from the past or the Internal Critic, you can do this exercise without telling anyone. Just do it! Every day, jot down at least one positive, realistic and accurate quality you notice in yourself. Soon you should have a long list of real achievements and noteworthy characteristics. While you are adding to the list, also take time to read and reread the characteristics. You will soon find yourself feeling great, cheerful and happy, looking forward to each day with a sense of pride and optimism.

Many people have a hard time getting started or completing this exercise, realizing they have been conditioned to suppress feelings of self pride and look enviously at others achievements: (the "grass is always greener in your neighbor's yard" syndrome). To avoid this roadblock it's important to screen out comparisons to the achievements of others. Of course other people do accomplish great things and should feel pride in their accomplishments. But they also experience difficulties in their lives. You may not know about these problems as you admire their achievements. Just shift the focus only to yourself and avoid all comparisons. Competition can be adaptive but competition is unhealthy in extreme forms. The road to good self-esteem is quite different from the road to the Olympic games!

Another pitfall is a related type of comparison to socially valued achievements. Attaining advanced degrees, securing prestigious appointments and positions, earning a great deal of money: all are seen as important achievements. Other achievements may not be seen as socially valuable. Knitting a beautiful sweater, fixing broken parts in your automobile, caring lovingly for your children, singing hymns in beautiful harmony, cooking appetizing meals: are these equally valuable? Yes! The world is a better place when everyone values the achievements of daily life and models positive self-esteem to their children on a regular basis.

Another difficulty is encountered when people block on recognizing positives. You may need prompting to look at different types of areas to find positive qualities. To shorten this article, I will add a list of positive adjectives and feedback areas to the article when I post it on my website. (As a word of explanation, I post articles in the Reading Room of the website at the time of publication in the Southern Neighbor. (See below.) Just remember, everyone is special and unique. Every life is valuable. We must learn to appreciate and cherish ourselves as much as we value and care for others.

Positive Adjectives.

Loving; sensitive; brave; intelligent; thoughtful; generous; loyal; truthful; strong; energetic; sexy; decisive; creative; imaginative; fun; attractive; interesting; supportive; funny; considerate; affectionate; organized; resourceful; athletic; cheerful; coordinated; graceful; elegant; gracious; playful; caring; a great friend; exciting; thrifty; playful; committed; involved; expressive; active; careful; reserved; adventurous; receptive; reliable; responsible; dependable; nurturing; warm; virile; kind; gentle; practical; lusty; witty; relaxed; beautiful; handsome; calm.; lively; great partner; great parent; assertive; protective; sweet; tender; powerful; flexible; understanding; silly; shy; vulnerable.