Self Esteem or Other Esteem?

woman-low-self-esteemIn my previous article, Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis, I proposed that a devaluation of one’s self lies at the heart of most psychological and emotional disorders. Let’s now explore more deeply what the term self-esteem denotes and come to appreciate what we mean by it as well as what gets in our way of attaining it.

I have come to believe that the way the term self-esteem is used is actually a misnomer. The first half of the expression, self, would seem to indicate that esteem, the second half of the expression, is derived from one’s self. Yet if we look closer, we find that most people seek a sense of worthiness from that which lies outside of them. For a student, it might come from good grades; for a businessperson or worker, it’s derived from a promotion or a raise; and for most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide a temporary increase in esteem. Our society generates billions of dollars in revenues from inducing people to seek the quick fix of vanity as a means toward feeling better. Yet none of these actually contribute one iota to self-esteem. Ironically, they may even get in the way.

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Low Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis

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According to the National Institute of Health, one in every two Americans will ultimately be diagnosed with some form of mental illness. What’s behind this staggering rate of malaise? Aside from the psychiatric/pharmaceutical collusion that tends to overly pathologize normal life challenges and transmute them into mental illness, I’d offer that the primary culprit is low self-esteem. Yet the DSM – the psychiatric bible for diagnosis – offers no diagnosis of self-esteem. My experience informs me that marginal self-worth manifests through an array of dysfunction, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, ADHD, codependence, failed relationships and, even more tragically, lives lived out in mediocrity.

We focus on the more specific diagnosable illnesses that result from marginal self-worth because we have medications that treat them, notwithstanding their questionable results. But there is no pill to offer someone with low self-worth, so there’s no revenue to be generated. Moreover, as a culture, our intellectual proclivity is to focus on the symptom and disregard the underlying and perhaps complex circumstances that contribute to the devolving of a human life. This is due to our drive to over simplify and seek quick solutions to the very complex tapestry of a human life.

 

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Seeking Authenticity

What does it mean for someone to be truly authentic? And how many people do you know actually fit that description? Do you feel that you’re authentic? Let’s take a look at what this word truly suggests and just what blocks us from achieving authenticity. 

Naturally, the word authenticity evokes an image of something pure or unadulterated. A letter of authenticity confirms that a certain object or work of art is not a counterfeit. The act of authenticating is a process of determining that something is indeed genuine, as it is purported to be. Experts receive training to authenticate precious objects, memorabilia, and documents, among other rare items. Yet we have no such method for ascertaining the authentic nature of people.

Short of being caught in a bold-faced lie or transgression, methods of determining an individual’s authenticity often go unexplored. One’s authentic nature is revealed in their ability to express and share what they think or feel in a relatively unadulterated form. Diplomacy, political correctness, false flattery, people pleasing, avoidance and silence may, in fact, be designed to mask the authentic, unfiltered self.

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I’ll Be Happy When…

What is the source of happiness? We tend to assume that happiness will come from a future event. It typically depends upon something else happening. The script often reads like this:

I’ll be happy when… I fall in love.

I’ll be happy when… I get married.

I’ll be happy when… we can buy our dream house.

I’ll be happy when… we can furnish the house.

Still, the anticipated happiness is elusive so we tie it to more future events.

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When Doing the Best You Can Becomes a Compulsion

Is it always a good idea to do the best you can do? This question came up recently in a therapy session and catalyzed me to look more deeply into the nature and implications of this common assumption.

The man with whom I was working felt it essential that he always do his best. In his case, this inclined him to constantly measure himself as to whether he had acted at this optimal level. He confessed that very often he was stuck in analyzing the past, debating whether his words or behavior were the very best choice. When he wasn’t stuck in that groove, he was typically fretting over future decisions, concerned that they also might not be the very best choice. The nature of his inner voice was highly self-critical, addicted to measuring his actions.

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Collapsing The Wave: Creating New Realities

Some of the remarkable discoveries from quantum physics can be adapted to help us break free from the groove of our past and unleash real change in our lives. The quantum world reveals that light has a somewhat schizophrenic nature. It has the dual capacity to exist either as a wave or a particle. This tendency is referred to as the wave/particle duality. This seemingly illogical notion is naturally counterintuitive and rubs against our common sense of logic. Ordinarily, we believe that things either are or are not. This is not the case here, however.

It appears that when the light photon is not being observed it exists in waveform, but at the moment of observation, the wave collapses and becomes a particle. The act of observing actually collapses the wave. Prior to making the observation the wave represents a state of pure potentiality. That potential only becomes manifest into a fixed state when we look at it. I have come to see that a very similar phenomenon occurs in our lives.

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Stuck in a Groove

For those of us old enough to remember vinyl records, we might recall that when there was a scratch on the album, the needle would sometimes get stuck in the groove. The same sound or lyrics would keep repeating. In the groove, the tone arm couldn’t find its way into the next groove. This is exactly what happens with our thoughts. They tend to keep reiterating the same messages, time and again. When they do so, we summon old memories and feelings and we become stymied in trying to change.

The replay of old thoughts and feelings indicates that we aren’t truly present. The past is not dead in these circumstances, but alive and kicking in the present as we continue to replicate the past. This is such a wasteful way to live our lives as we move from moment to moment – wanting for change – but not understanding how to achieve it. The continuous repetition of old thoughts and feelings robs us of new experience. As well, it deprives us of the discovery of new ways of being. The groove is where fear reigns supreme. Coming out of the groove is where self-actualization appears.

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What Do We Mean by “Moving on”?

We recently announced a new feature at A Shift of Mind called the Question of the Week. The following is my response to Louise, who wrote:

People say “move on” but how can you when the toxic job is the last on your resume and their comments (or lack) are a plague to you; or the spouse refuses to finalize the divorce, or the parent refuses to understand that his lack of emotional support and outright favoritism of the sibling has resulted in pain and suffering (physical attempts and cheated of inheritance) to you? How not to feel a failure? or inept? How to “deal” with Life?

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The Familiar Zone

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What we refer to as our comfort zone becomes at times not quite so comfortable, as it is familiar. Old habits and behaviors that we struggle to transcend become impeded by the barriers of this comfort zone; which I now more aptly refer to as the familiar zone.

Typically, moving out of the familiar zone causes us disquiet if not outright distress or anxiety.When asked why we don’t engage the changes that we claim we seek, a common response that I encounter is, “It makes me anxious,” or “I feel uncomfortable doing that.” From this perspective we might consider that we need to shift our relationship with the discomfort.

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