It has been quite a while since my last blog. The reason being that about five – six weeks ago, very dark outside, I tripped and fell. I fractured two ribs, punctured my lung and banged up my knee. To paraphrase Winston Churchill – those were not my finest hours. However, I am 90% improved and getting better every day.
What that experience brought to my attention is how much our body image and physical efficacy are such an important part of self-esteem. And that is what I would like to write about today. I wrote about self-esteem in my very first blog and indicated that our self-estimate is the hub of our wheel of life.
Self-esteem is the immune system of the mind and of the spirit. Self-esteem is our experience of feeling competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and feeling happy and worthy and deserving of happiness. People who have the greatest sense of self-esteem are those who feel they are doing their life’s work. Genuine self-esteem is what we feel about ourselves when things are not going right.
Self respect has to do with our value as a person – an inner certainty – a sense of happiness – a feeling of success about life – and feeling worthy enough to attract – allow – and receive love into our life. People with a lesser sense of self-estimate – or esteem – find it easier to give love – than to receive it.
If you have a healthy immune system – does that mean you will never get sick? Of course not. But you will be less susceptible to illness and you will experience a faster recovery. Having a high level of self-esteem doesn’t mean you will never be anxious – miserable – depressed – or overwhelmed on occasion. The advantages of having a strong sense of self and worthiness is that you have good psychological shock absorbers. If you are attempting to achieve a goal – and hit a wall – you will persevere. You may not always succeed – but you will succeed more than you fail. A top manager in one of the executive seminars I was conducting said to the group “I have been knocked down five times – but I got up six”. The average CEO has had 3.2 major failures before succeeding.
Persons with a low sense of self-esteem will go through the motions of persevering – but will fail more often than succeed. Our self-esteem generates a certain level of expectancy and expectancies become self-fulfilling prophecies.
While our sense of self-esteem shows up in different areas of our life – it shows up most prominently and consistently in the area of relationships and love. If a person doesn’t feel they are lovable – they will find it hard to believe someone else loves them and will usually find ways to sabotage the relationship in some fashion. Have you ever tried to tell or convey love to a person who doesn’t feel lovable? There isn’t much you can do to convince them.
Our self-esteem of course will vary – in different areas of our lives and our effectiveness level, performance – or success – will correspond to your self-esteem in that particular area. For example – you may have high self-esteem as a manager and communicator of ideas – and your performance or effectiveness level will correspond to your self-estimate. You may have low self-esteem with mechanical things or replacing parts and putting gadgets together – you and your friend’s may lovingly call you a “klutz” in that area. You may have average self-esteem as a parent or spouse and your competence in that area will correspond accordingly.
If you take all the areas of your life – and make a bar graph of high and low effectiveness levels – you will probably end up with a zig-zag profile. Psychologists would average that out and come up with what is called a “g” factor – or general level of self-esteem. Of course, if you want to raise your self-esteem in a particular area of your life, one approach would be to begin improving your performance.
Perhaps taking a course on effective parenting, joining Toastmasters or taking a continuing education course on Public Speaking and Effective communication. Not a good money manager? Taking that night school course on financial planning, and so forth. As you raise your performance and effectiveness level in different areas of your life, your self-estimate in that area should go up accordingly.
In contrast to the “bottom up” method of changing self-esteem is the “top down” approach. By utilizing certain exercises, using EFT to change limiting beliefs in certain areas of your life, and of course, re-educating and re-programming your subconscious with affirmations, visualizations and/or self-hypnosis will also work in improving your effectiveness level in different areas of your life.
This, self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves. Our self-concept is broader than self-esteem and is the umbrella – so to speak – which subsumes our beliefs, ideals, our body image, which is an important part of our self-concept. It includes our liabilities, assets, limitations and capabilities and self-esteem is one of its major components.
Everyone, of course, is born with 100% self-worth. You cannot pour more water into a glass that is full to the brim. There are no better-thans or less thans. However, as we are growing up and begin acquiring certain beliefs about ourselves – primarily from well meaning parents, teachers, friends and so forth, we begin to to assess our value, our worth as a person. Some people metaphorically take on so many barnacles, wounds, traumas and insults that they begin to re-evaluate and devalue their sense of worth. Some people, despite their cruise ship of life being so overburdened with barnacles somehow develop survival skills and go on to succeed. These people are called invulnerable in the literature – and these are the people we should be studying. What is it that these people are doing right despite horrific and brutal histories filled with abuse and shame? We need more studies of success – not just pathology – which unfortunately is the way most of us are trained.
The importance of self-esteem was first drawn to national attention over forty years ago following the publication of Psychocybernetics by cosmetic surgeon – Dr. Maxwell Maltz. In his book – he described – how he would volunteer one morning a week and do cosmetic surgery on prison inmates in the local penitentiary. After two years or so – the warden called Dr. Maltz into his office and pointed out how the men whose nose jobs and facial disfigurements were improved through plastic surgery – were not committing more crimes and going to jail following their release from prison. Dr. Maltz realized that by changing their body image, which as I noted earlier is a very important part of self-image, the convicts felt better about themselves. He went on to describe self-esteem as “the most important discovery of the 20th century”. However – this is not necessarily true of everyone.
In later writings, Dr. Maltz described two female patients who had radical cosmetic surgery on their faces. In assessing themselves after the bandages were removed – and the swelling disappeared – the women looked and looked at themselves – and very sadly – and disapprovingly said – “I don’t look any different – not much has changed – I still feel the same about myself”. That was when Dr. Maltz realized that self-image, for most people, was internal – not the external trappings of what we call beauty.
Along the same lines, I remember an almost painfully candid interview where Elizabeth Taylor described herself as “short – – pudgy – – awful thighs – – I hate my nose – – my eyes are too far apart – – I don’t like the shape of my face – – I wish I could change my whole appearance at times”. That self-description – from one of the most beautiful women in the world. No wonder she had such a series of self-destructive behaviors – eating binges – drug and alcohol abuse – a number of accidents and multiple surgeries – eight marriages and so on. Self-esteem is an inside job.
To be continued in our next blog…
Lee Pulos, Ph.D., ABPP