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THE EVERYTHING® SELF-ESTEEM BOOK Boost your confidence, achieve inner strength, and learn to love yourself Robert M. Sherfield, Ph.D. Copyright ©2004, F+W Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews. An Everything® Series Book. Everything® and everything.com® are registered trademarks of F+W Publications, Inc. Published by Adams Media, an F+W Publications Company 57 Littlefield Street, Avon, MA 02322 U.S.A. www.adamsmedia.com ISBN 13: 978-1-58062-976-8 ISBN 10: 1-58062-976-8 e-ISBN13: 978-1-44052-269-7 Printed in the United States of America. J I H G F Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Sherfield, Robert M. The everything self-esteem book / Robert M. Sherfield. p. cm. (An everything series book) ISBN: 1-58062-976-8 1. Self-esteem. 2. Self-actualization (Psychology) I. Title. II. Series: Everything series. BF697.5.S46 S52 158.1-dc22 2003017008 This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. — From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book and Adams Media was aware of a trademark claim, the designations have been printed with initial capital letters. This book is available at quantity discounts for bulk purchases. For information, call 1-800-289-0963. The EVERYTHING® Self-Esteem Book Reader: I ran away from home o; n a Monday. I left the South and ran to D.C., Dear to New York Cit y, and further north. Sadly, I did not find happiness or joy at any stop. I didn’t find validation and I didn’t find any place that made me feel any better about myself. Where is my happiness? I questioned. Why is no one here to rescue me? Why? Why? Why? I did not have happiness in my heart, my work, my relationships, my traveled for days trying to lose didn’t like me, and I life. I years to home, self-esteem or my years old. It took me twenty-seven I was twenty-seven me that myself. cannot run from ourselves. That trip taught realize that we running; it’s about stopping. In this book, I share the advice and activities that have helped others, and me, over the years. I provide a framework so that you can begin your wor k to better understand your worth, carve a path to your happiness, uncove r your purpose in life, and move toward an inner peace about the gifts and challenges bestowed on you as a human being. All the best to you, The EVERYTHING® Series Editorial Publishing Director Gary M. Krebs Managing Editor Kate McBride Copy Chief Laura MacLaughlin Acquisitions Editor Bethany Brown Development Editor Karen Johnson Jacot Production Editor Khrysti Nazzaro Jamie Wielgus Production Production Director Susan Beale Production Manager Michelle Roy Kelly Series Designers Daria Perreault Colleen Cunningham Cover Design Paul Beatrice Frank Rivera Layout and Graphics Colleen Cunningham Rachael Eiben Michelle Roy Kelly Daria Perreault Erin Ring Series Cover Artist Barry Littmann Visit the entire Everything ® Series at everything.com Dedication To Rhonda Montgomery, Patricia Moody, Sande Johnson, and Nancy Forsyth Acknowledgments My earnest thanks to Barb Doyen of Doyen Literary Services, Karen MacDowall Jones, Steve Spearman, Brian Epps, Leo Borges, Tina Eliopulos, Todd Moffett, Lynn Forkos, Debi McCandrew, Bill Clayton, Meg Galliano, Dr. James Williamson, Dr. Charles Mosely, Dr. Don Smith, Dr. Robert Palinchak, and Dr. Ron Remington. Contents Top Ten Benefits of Having Healthy Self-Esteem Introduction 1 What Is Self-Esteem Anyway? Finding Your True Self Formal Definitions of Self-Esteem Self-Esteem Takes a Bad Rap! Feeling Good versus Feeling Right Recognizing What’s Right 2 When Self-Esteem Is Unhealthy Recognizing Unhealthy Self-Esteem What Self-Esteem Isn’t Characteristics of Unhealthy Self-Esteem Looking for Love in the Wrong Faces The Effects of Unhealthy Self-Esteem 3 Influences on Self-Esteem The Past Matters Your Family Your Friends Your Teachers Television, Movies, and Music Letting Go of Old Ways 4 Déjà View: Seeing Yourself Through Clear Glasses The Pitfalls of Comparisons Self-Worth Your Uniqueness Believing What Others Say Handling Criticism and Praise 5 It’s Who You Are How You Behave Finding Happiness Forging Relationships Your Values and Spirituality Achieving Your Aspirations 6 It’s Not Just a Job Change and Growth Problem-Solving Skills Critical and Creative Thinking Skills Your Personal Economy Dealing with Mistakes 7 Getting Ready for the Journey Developing a Positive Mindset Setting Goals That Work Making Personal Commitments Developing a Plan of Action Getting the Job Done Sample Goal-Planning Worksheet 8 Work A Job versus a Career More Than the Money Working for Others Givin’ It All You’ve Got Activity: Stretching the Limits 9 Happiness and Laughter Defining Your Personal Happiness The Habits of Happiness Finding Happiness Sharing Happiness with Others Turning Away Misery Activity: Daily Happiness 10 Spirituality What Does It All Mean? Why Spirituality Matters The Power of Beliefs The Role of Spirituality in Character The Role of Spirituality in Ethics Activity: If It Is to Be, It Is Up to Me! 11 Wellness Wellness in the Body Eating Right, Feeling Right Caffeine, Nicotine, Alcohol, and Drugs Sex-Esteem Wellness and Your Thoughts Stress Reduction Wellness as a Way of Life Activity: Bury the Victim 12 Expanding Your Comfort Zone Getting Out, Getting On Taking Positive Risks Holding Back the Fears Dreaming Big Motivation to Move On Activity: Your Legacy 13 Looking Back Cleaning Up the Past The Danger of Living in the Past Running from the Past Learning from Mistakes Embracing the Lessons Activity: Digging Up Bones 14 Developing a Philosophy of Life What Is Your Purpose? Knowing What You Need Pursuing What You Want Why Are You Here? Where Are You Going? Getting There Activity: What Is Different? 15 Dealing with Contaminated People Identifying Contaminated People in Your Life Types of Contaminants (A Baker’s Dozen) Confronting Contaminated People Giving Them a Second Chance Eliminating Contaminated People Activity: The Stupidest Person I Know 16 Visualization and Positive Thinking The Power of Optimism Getting the Optimism Fever Conquering Pessimism Visualizing Your Success Putting Visualization into Action Activity: Twenty-Four Hours 17 Integrity A Personal Definition of Integrity Moral Bankruptcy Developing a Personal Integrity Plan Fitting Integrity into Your Life When Your Integrity Is Threatened Activity: What If? 18 Personal Responsibility Owning Your Actions Failure to Accept Responsibility Handling Blame Personal Criticism Letting Go of Perfection Activity: Past Responsibility 19 Forgiveness and Reconciliation Making Peace with the Past What Is Forgiveness? Forgiving by Communicating Forgiving by Resolving Conflict Learning to Trust Again Understanding Differences Take Action Now Activity: Finding Goodness 20 Self-Promotion It’s Healthy to Self-Promote Discovering You Renewing Your Relationship with Yourself Mementos of the Heart Letters to Myself Thoughts of Worth Activity: Self-Advertisement 21 Unconventional and Creative Thinking What Is Unconventional and Creative Thinking? Characteristics of Creative Thinkers The Fear of What Others Think Doing What Others Dare Not Do Trying Different, New, and Scary Things Activity: Being Unconventional 22 Active Listening Listening versus Hearing The Importance of Listening The Chinese Verb “to Listen” Learning to Become an Active Listener Overcoming the Obstacles to Listening Activity: Listening with Questions 23 Subtraction Admitting Your Weaknesses Overcoming Weakness Putting It into Perspective Learning from Others’ Comments Activity: I Am Certain 24 Giving Service to Others Volunteering Finding Gifts in Everyday Life Giving to Yourself Activity: What Can I Do Today? 25 Self-Esteem for Life More Work Ahead Make Wellness a Priority Practice Integrity in Every Action Forgive Your Past Live in Your Spiritual Nature Practice Optimism Set Goals for Your Personal Success Bringing It Home Appendix A • The Self-Esteem Assessment Inventory Appendix B • Additional Resources Appendix C • Goal-Planning Worksheet Appendix D • Bibliography Top Ten Benefits of Having Healthy Self-Esteem 1. You are more secure in who you are and what you have to offer the world. 2. You are able to see the good in others and in the world around you. 3. You are able to move on from the past and experience joy in the present. 4. Your are able to overcome adversity and setbacks more easily. 5. You are able to forgive yourself and others. 6. You have a clear sense of your own values, worth, integrity, and character. 7. You take better care of your physical and mental health. 8. You are able to develop a positive philosophy of life and live by that philosophy. 9. You are more optimistic, happier, and able to give of yourself to others. 10. You are able to take responsibility for your own thoughts, actions, and indeed, your life. Introduction WELCOME! AND CONGRATULATIONS! It may have taken a great deal of courage to meander over to this book, but in the words of an ancient Chinese philosopher, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” You are to be commended for taking that step. If you are reading these words because you feel a need to improve your self-esteem, you need to know that you are among the millions of people who suffer from self-doubt, fears of inadequacy, feelings of worthlessness, and unhealthy self-criticism. You are not alone in your journey. The Everything® Self-Esteem Book is written to help you gain a new perspective on your life, your actions, your thoughts, and your personal success. This book is about reflection, personal and professional goals, growth, renewal, and results. It is not a book for simply browsing through or just flipping through page after page. This is a book to be used, dog-eared, marked in, talked about, and used over and over. This book is about you and your journey. This book is about work! Changing the way that you look at yourself is not an easy task, but it is possible — very possible. Simply put, your search for healthier self-esteem is essential for your life. Yes, your life may depend on how well you think of yourself. Your self-esteem determines how well you treat yourself, how well you treat others, how you view the world, how you view yourself in the world, how you act in the world, and how you take care of your basic needs that are required for survival. The renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow identified a series of needs that exists in every living human being. Among those listed, in addition to your need for safety and love, are esteem needs. He suggested that until your basic needs of air, water, safety, love, and esteem, are met, you can’t fulfill your needs for intellectual achievement, the appreciation of beauty, and self-actualization or fulfillment. Many experts believe that moving toward healthier self-esteem requires two things: setting high, realistic goals, and acting in some fashion to have a degree of success in reaching those goals. This book gives you not only self-esteem theory and thought, but also a series of practical, useful exercises and thought-provoking suggestions to help you help yourself in reaching your goals of healthy self-esteem. As you begin working toward healthier self-esteem, think of it as a daily goal. Choose some task each day that will help you more clearly see what you have to offer to yourself and the world. Once you have begun to realize the gifts that you possess, you can begin to concentrate on finding positive self-esteem through laughter, spiritual thought, exercise, risk taking, contemplation, positive visualization, forgiveness, creativity, and personal integrity. This book is useless without your total commitment and unbridled passion for improving your self-esteem. You, and only you, have the power to change your life. Know, however, before you begin the journey, that the path to healthier self-esteem will not be completed instantaneously. Just as your self-esteem was not shaped overnight, it will not be reshaped overnight. Honesty, patience, work, and need are the tools required for this journey. Before you begin reading the chapters in this book, turn to Appendix A and take the Self-Esteem Assessment. This will give you a better understanding of your present thoughts and ideas about yourself before you begin. Chapter 1 What Is Self-Esteem Anyway? Self-esteem is one of the most elusive concepts in the world. Some people call it the “eternal elixir for happiness,” while others call it “useless psychobabble.” You will need to decide how important self-esteem is to your life and what steps you need to take to acquire a healthier self-esteem. Finding Your True Self Who are you really? When you are at home at the end of the day and you are alone for a moment, who are you? It has been suggested that your true self is who you are when no one else is looking. Are you the bright, energetic person you portrayed at work today, or are you the shy, sullen person you portrayed at a meeting last week? Only you can answer that question. You may not even be able to answer it right now, but rest assured, true self is personal, true self is deep, true self is complex, and true self is important. When is the last time that you stood before a mirror and honestly, truthfully, completely looked yourself in the face and read the story of your own life? It’s not something that you do every day, but have you ever done it? Have you ever realized that you have more than one “self”? This is not to say that you have multiple personalities, which is a rare condition. But everyone has more than one self. Your selves may include the roles of a mother/father, a daughter/son, a wife/husband, an aunt/uncle, a friend, a traveler, a searcher, a teacher, a learner, a leader, and/or a follower. You may not act the same way in every role or “self.” Deeper still, you have a public self and a private self. This complicates the issue of self-esteem further. You sometimes see yourself as a public mother and a private mother, a public son and a private son. Your history, your environment, and your own value system shape your different selves. Even without you realizing it, this duality can be very costly. Portraying two selves can cost you in terms of stress, energy, honesty, and self-esteem. Many psychologists suggest that while we may have multiple selves, that we should focus on being one self instead of many selves. The Public Self versus the Private Self People may see you as bright, youthful, happy, carefree, and helpful. Are these really true depictions of yourself, or are they pictures you have painted for them to view? Your public self may sometimes be very different from your private self. You may be afraid to let “the public” see who you really are for fear of being criticized or embarrassed. You may pretend to be something that you are not just to fit in or, at the very least, to avoid standing out. People with healthy self-esteem have found the way to blend the public and private self to form a close partnership so that the two are not diabolically juxtaposed to each other. That is to say that as a private mother or father, you would not do something that you would not consider doing as a public mother or father. Two as One Are you your true self, or are you the self that others want you to be? Do you behave so that others will accept you, love you, invite you places, and call you, or do you behave so that you are happy with yourself? Your self-esteem is damaged when you try to be someone or do something for the sake of others. When you do something that goes against your inner grain, you know the internal struggle that brews. You know that your true self lost out and your “public self” or “persona” won. Self-esteem is aided when you learn to take the best of every self you have and work to make that your one self, the self to whom you are true. Formal Definitions of Self-Esteem There are as many definitions, assumptions, and revelations about self-esteem as there are people who write about it, research it, and long for it. Two of the earliest theorists on self-esteem were William James and Stanley Coopersmith. The “Sum Total” William James is usually identified as the earliest psychologist to investigate the concept of “self.” He defined the self as “the sum total of all that a person can call their own.” He divided the self into three parts: the “Material Me,” the “Social Me,” and the “Spiritual Me.” Most importantly, Smith argued that self-esteem is largely dependent on the goals we have for ourselves and the degree to which we reach those goals. He believed that if something is important to you and you achieve it, your self-esteem grows. Conversely, he suggested that if something is not important to you and you do not achieve it, it does not damage your self-esteem. Self-esteem is weakened or damaged only by negating or failing at the things that are important to you. The Material Me The Material Me refers to all that you have that gives you harmony and unity, such as your body, your family, your possessions, and material belongings. James stated that as a human, you have a need to protect your body and your material things, and to have others notice them and look on them favorably. He suggested that your material “things” such as your home, your clothes, your car, and your furniture are all extensions of your self. The Social Me The Social Me is about recognition and even acceptance from others. You show different sides of yourself to different people depending on the situation. James suggested that you have as many “social selves” as you do people, or groups of people, for whom you care, because you need to be recognized positively by this group of people. He believed that your relationships with other people played a great role in your identity. “Nobody gets to live life backward. Look ahead — that’s where your future lies.” — Ann Landers The Spiritual Me The Spiritual Me relates to the feelings and emotions you have about yourself — your innermost thoughts, desires, dreams, and feelings. This “spiritual” me has little to do with formal or organized religion; it has more to do with the relationship with and knowledge about your self. James suggested that we have a tendency to seek honor and favorable praise for ourselves. This is tied to the need for self-preservation. A Judgment of Worth Stanley Coopersmith defined self-esteem as “a personal judgment of worthiness that is expressed in the attitudes we hold about ourselves.” His landmark self-esteem assessment instrument The Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (CSEI) remains one of the most widely used and reliable tools in self-esteem research. Most psychologist, therapists, and self-esteem experts agree on a basic level that self-esteem is the picture we hold of ourselves in our own mind and the value we place on ourselves. Healthy self-esteem is having a positive, affirmative, and constructive view of yourself. These words suggest that you believe in your capabilities; accept your strengths and limitations; set and work toward realistic goals; develop positive, rewarding relationships; and discover comfort in the world around you. Unhealthy self-esteem is having a negative, pessimistic, disapproving view of yourself and the inability to see beyond your limitations and problems. Low self-esteem is a mental health problem. Low self-esteem can cause you to lose sight of your goals, weaken your motivation, deprive you of meaningful relationships, and cause you to focus only on your limitations. Psychologist Charles Cooely likened self-esteem to a “looking glass.” He believed that you define your self by what is reflected back to you from others, using what others think of you to build your own concept of self. I Will Survive A more recent theorist and psychologist, Nathaniel Branden, defines self-esteem as “confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life, and confidence in our right to be successful and happy, the feeling of being worthy, deserving, entitled to assert our needs and wants, achieve our values, and enjoy the fruits of our effort.” He sums this statement up in a formal definition: “Self-esteem is the disposition to experience oneself as competent to cope with the basic challenges of life and as worthy of happiness.” Taking this definition to its basic core and using everyday language, you could say that people with healthy self-esteem hold the following motto in earnest: “Happiness is possible and I will survive.” Self-Esteem Takes a Bad Rap! Thomas Sowell, a columnist for Forbes magazine and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, calls the theory of self-esteem “useless psychobabble.” Michael Edelstein, psychologist and writer, finds that studies “not only cast doubt on the benefits of high self-esteem but suggest that it might even be harmful.” Roy Baumeister — noted professor, researcher, and self-esteem expert — concludes, “the enthusiastic claims of the self-esteem movement mostly range from fantasy to hogwash.” Dr. Onkar Ghate, researcher and writer, categorizes some teachers who use self-esteem theories as “pushers of pseudo self-esteem” and calls their ideas “a disease.” In a Newsweek article, Sharon Begley cites research to support her assertion that “unjustified self-esteem can trigger hostility and aggression, and may even underlie violence like the recent school shootings.” Why So Bad? Why is self-esteem taking such a bad rap? Why do these noted professionals have negative remarks and theories about acquiring healthy self-esteem, and if they are correct, why is healthy self-esteem pursued by millions, and why are there books, tapes, articles, psychologists, therapists, and educators advocating that you lift your spirits and elevate your self-esteem to unprecedented heights? Honestly, many others agree with their views! What? you ask. How can people agree that healthy self-esteem can be “hogwash,” “harmful,” “psychobabble,” or even dangerous? The answer is quite simple. In the past decade, acquiring healthy self-esteem has taken a frightening turn toward the ridiculous. Scores of well-meaning individuals including teachers, parents, and counselors have turned the quest for positive, healthy self-esteem into something that would make Stanley Coopersmith, Abraham Maslow, William James, and countless other pioneering psychologists whirl in their graves! In the past ten to fifteen years, self-esteem theory has moved away from the concept that well-planned goals, hard work, and achievement brings healthy self-esteem and rushed toward the notion that self-esteem comes from a series of meaningless phrases and inappropriate praise. What is a self-affirmation? A self-affirmation is when you use phrases such as “I am okay,” or “I am good at my work,” or “I am a great baseball player” to help you feel better without doing any work to make yourself better. Self-esteem is not about chanting phrases or unwarranted praise. To simply state, “I love myself!” or “I’m okay!” or “I am smart!” or “I am pretty!” is as useless as saying, “I am a great pilot!” never having taken a flying lesson. Unless you do something today to “love yourself more” or make yourself more “okay” or “smarter” or “prettier,” your position in life will be unchanged. Acquiring healthy self-esteem is more than saying, “I’m great,” it is about setting goals and doing things to make yourself great. It Takes Action With all of the feel-good propaganda surrounding self-esteem, many people are mistakenly led to believe that there is not that much to gaining healthy self-esteem other than chanting a few phrases and receiving passing approval from others. This is not to suggest that thinking positive thoughts and receiving warranted praise can’t aid you in your quest; they may. But acquiring healthy self-esteem is arduous work, and without action on your part, true self-esteem will remain elusive. Let’s say that you are feeling down because your weight is out of control. Someone comes along, a friend perhaps, and tells you that you look nice today. For a moment, your spirits are lifted — you feel better. However, you know that you have made no effort to control your weight, that you gained two pounds this week, and that you don’t believe that you look nice. The good feeling that the praise gave you is fleeting. However, if you have worked all week on a new wellness program, eaten healthier, walked two miles each night, and have lost four pounds this week and that same friend comments about your appearance, the feeling brought on by that positive comment will last — because you did something to deserve it. You worked toward a goal, achieved it, and you were recognized for it. This is the stuff of true self-esteem. One of the most exciting ways to begin to build healthy self-esteem is to set a small, short-term, realistic goal and work toward that goal with passion. Once that goal is reached, you begin to understand what achievement means to healthy self-esteem. Feeling Good versus Feeling Right Self-esteem has less to do with “feeling good” than it has to do with “feeling right.” There is a substantial difference between the two. Feeling good cannot make you feel right, but feeling right can make you feel good. Now, do not be mistaken here. This “right” has nothing to do with “right versus wrong.” This feeling of right has to do with feeling authentic and genuine inside. Healthy self-esteem is much like your old, comfortable recliner. When you sit down in it, you feel at home. It’s like the chair knows you. Other chairs are okay and may even be comfortable, but nothing feels like your chair. Your chair feels beyond good to you, it feels right. It fits you well. The Luck of Larry Take the case of Larry, for example. Larry works for Cooper Industries. He likes his job as an advertisement layout artist, but it is not the career of his dreams. His real love is painting. He works steady and does well, but usually he does just enough to get by. However, Larry’s “getting by work” is much better than some people’s “best work.” Larry continually receives compliments from his supervisor and colleagues. These compliments make Larry feel good and give him a boost, but deep inside, Larry knows the truth. His work just happens to please a few key people. Larry knows that he is not really even trying. He knows that his heart is in his artwork, not in his ad designs. The praise feels good for a while, but it does not feel right. However, whenever Larry receives a compliment on a painting that took weeks to conceive and much creative energy to paint, the praise feels right. The feeling lasts. Continually doing things that go against who you are as a person and what you know is right can cause immense damage to your self-esteem. Imagine yourself in this situation for a moment so that you can fully understand Larry’s situation. You may have experienced a similar situation in your own work or life. If so, you know that feeling good is temporary while feeling right is long lasting. Such is the case with self-esteem. Simply having people compliment you on something for which you did not work may make you feel good for a moment, but deep inside, you know the truth just as Larry does. You know that if you do nothing tangible to deserve the compliment, the “good” feeling quickly disappears. However, if you actually do something to deserve the praise, the right feeling lasts. The Magic Wand If a magic wand could be waved to give you positive, healthy self-esteem, there would be many more happy people in the world. But there is no magic wand; there are no phrases of praise that can come from anyone that can give you meaningful, lasting, self-esteem. And finally, there are no words, exercises, or suggestions in this book that can help you . . . unless you want them to help you. There is no magic fix. Reading this book without doing the work suggested (and it is work) is a waste of time. Recognizing What’s Right You may be thinking to yourself, I haven’t felt “right” in ages. How do I find “right” in my life? Perhaps the best way to find “right” is to think about when you did not feel “right.” The answer may be in the negative more than the positive. For example, suppose for a moment that you went to the post office and one of the clerks was very rude and unhelpful to you. During your conversation with him, you made several rude comments back to him and also made several remarks about his job performance. It felt great to get that off your chest. You feel good! He deserved it, you were thinking at the moment. Later in the evening or maybe in the car on the way home, you begin to regret what you did. You know that those comments did not help the situation. You know that you may have hurt someone. You begin to feel “less good” about what you did. Why? Because that action was not “right” with who you are as a person. That action went against the grain of your personal fabric. This is a perfect case of how “good” and “right” are very different. This is also a perfect scenario of how our self-esteem becomes damaged when we forego “right” to have a momentary “good” feeling. “Sometimes a person hits upon a place to which he or she mysteriously feels that he or she belongs.” — S. Maugham Self-esteem is as complex as the heavens, as vast as the desert, as deep as the oceans, and as fleeting as the wind. But, self-esteem is also as simple as setting a personal goal, working toward that goal with passion, focusing on the positive aspects of your life, and adhering to your personal sense of “right” as you move through the days. Chapter 2 When Self-Esteem Is Unhealthy The beast of unhealthy self-esteem knows no prejudice; it does not discriminate based on race, age, sex, religion, or any other social or economic category. It does not work on a time clock and approach when it is convenient. It does not tap on your door and ask your permission to enter. Recognizing Unhealthy Self-Esteem The beast of unhealthy self-esteem wanders into your life at the time and place of its choosing. It sometimes masks itself as depression, fear, anxiety, or feelings of utter worthlessness. The beast knows no boundaries and has a mind all its own. It is relentless unless you learn how to recognize its approach, distinguish its footsteps on your porch, and deny its entrance into your life. There are those who think that people who suffer with self-esteem issues are introverts who never leave home; individuals who are submissive and oppressed; or people who fail at family, career, and friendships; and people who are always involved in self-destructive, self-sabotaging activities. This simply is not true. Granted, a lack of self-esteem certainly causes many people to be introverted or have poor relationships, but generally speaking, the downtrodden are not the only people who have self-esteem issues. People with self-esteem issues come from every walk of life; they are lawyers, auto mechanics, hospitality professionals, teachers, swimmers, construction workers, and investment brokers. What is self-sabotage? Self-sabotage is consciously or unconsciously doing things to obstruct your success. This includes lying, cheating, closing off your emotions, attacking others, refusing to participate in activities, and procrastinating. Phillip and the Good Life A compelling example of this is a young man named Phillip, who worked as an accountant for a major firm. He drove a new Viper, owned his own home, and seemed to be as happy as anyone could be. He often spoke of going out with friends and taking vacations. The good life was his. But Phillip revealed to a friend that he was totally miserable. His friend was completely shocked. He had gone into accounting because his parents pressured him by refusing to pay for his college education unless he majored in a business field that “offered lucrative employment.” The car and home were purchases aimed at making him happier in a job he hated. When he assessed his friendships honestly, he admitted that he had only one real friend; the rest were merely acquaintances. He confided, “I don’t contribute anything to anybody or any purpose. I feel useless and I’m miserable.” In order for Phillip to be happy, he had to change his life. He had to make adjustments so that his own personality could begin to blossom. On his own dime, and on his own terms, he returned to school to study what he loved most, drawing and painting. Today, Phillip owns his own art supply store. His accounting background comes in quite handy, but he is using his skill as an accountant to augment his passion, his “calling” in life. He makes time to draw and paint now, and he is surrounded by artists on a daily basis. The Moral of Phillip’s Tale Much of Phillip’s self-esteem was tied to his work. Research suggests that this is usually true for men, while women tend to tie their self-esteem to family and home. You may be thinking, Well good for Phillip, but I can’t just up and quit my job; I have to make a living somehow. You might even be thinking, My career is not the problem; I love my work. I’m just not happy with X or Y or Z. Research shows that people spend less than thirty hours over their entire lifetime thinking about and researching their career choices. If you begin work at twenty years of age, work forty hours per week, and retire at sixty-five, you will have worked 93,600 hours in a job that may not have been your calling. The moral of the story about Phillip is varied. Phillip was quite successful in the eyes of many people, but inside, he was in agony. He was unhappy and suffering from diminished self-esteem for several reasons, the most essential one being that he was working in a job that did not match his purpose in life. This is a real-life example of someone who did something to change his life and improve his self-esteem. There is no positive affirmation that could have changed his life. He could have repeated, “I am successful,” “I am happy,” “I love my job,” 10,000 times, and at the end of the day, he would still have known the truth. He took action and found his fervor, his purpose. You can, too. What Self-Esteem Isn’t Sometimes it is easier to understand what self-esteem really is by looking at what it is not. You may recognize many of the following traits from experiencing them yourself or by witnessing them in other people. There Is No Bandwagon First, self-esteem is not a group activity. There is no “we” in self-esteem. You never hear people talking about “our” self-esteem. In this voyage, you are on your own. Yes, you can seek the advice of loved ones, you can share your dreams and struggles, and you can talk about your advances and setbacks; I encourage that. But ultimately, there is only you. It is essential to your journey that you understand this concept. No one can give you self-esteem. “I want to know if you can be alone with yourself, and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.” — Oriah Mountain Dreamer, Native American Elder Leave the Magic to Merlin Self-esteem is not an illusion. It is abstract and intangible at times, but it is not an illusion. Healthy self-esteem is possible and real. Many people give up on self-esteem because they have never tried to improve it, used incorrect techniques and advice, and/or allowed themselves to believe that it is a myth postulated by “mystical healers.” Self-esteem is real, and your journey will be real, also. I’m Too Sexy for My Shirt Self-esteem is not arrogance. Arrogance is an overabundance of false pride that is used as a defense when a person feels his or her actions or character are being attacked. Arrogance aligns itself with egocentrism, a belief that your worth and importance is greater than John Doe’s worth and importance. People with healthy self-esteem find joy in recognizing others’ worth as well. Self-esteem is about finding one’s inner beauties, strengths, and gifts and using them to the fullest advantage. It is not about bragging and making yourself more than you are. As you well know, few things turn people off more than the unabated arrogance of a person. “Tell me what you brag about and I’ll tell you what you lack.” — Spanish proverb Could You Stamp This Please? Self-esteem is not validation. There are those who believe that if they can get a few people to love them (or to like them), they will be validated as a person of worth. Self-esteem is about only one type of validation — self-validation. It means that you have come to terms with your worth and merit and that is the only stamp of approval that you need to survive. Some people seek validation through detrimental avenues. They believe that self-esteem will come if they can get validation through whom they know (“Guess who I went out to dinner with last night?”), what they have (“You’ll just have to come with us on our new boat . . . we bought a larger one!”), how they look (“Brandon told me I was beautiful”), where they’ve been (“It’s nice, but not nearly as nice as when we were in Florence!”), or what they do (“I’m the executive vice president to the CEO of the owner”). There is absolutely nothing wrong with being proud of what you have and where you’ve been, but it will not validate your existence. Wallowing in the Mire Self-esteem is not about “if only.” Yes, you may have to revisit the past and make reparations for pain and hurt, but the road to healthy self-esteem does not involve a vocabulary filled with “if only . . .” The past is done. You can never change it. The most you can hope for from the past are lessons learned and possibly forgiveness. Nothing can be gained from “if only-ing” yourself to tears. You know the drill: If only I had worked harder. If only I had been more self-sufficient. If only I had foreseen. If only I had loved him or her more. If only I had not been afraid. If only I had been stronger, quicker, braver, happier, healthier, friendlier, sexier, thinner, prettier, less selfish, richer, smarter, more outgoing, sportier, more powerful . . . yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. Aren’t you tired? “If only” is one of the worst enemies of healthy self-esteem. Move on! Characteristics of Unhealthy Self-Esteem Debilitating. That is a powerful and scary word, but it is a fact of life for scores of people who suffer from low, unhealthy self-esteem. It is amazing how many people still joke about self-esteem as if it were a word made up to explain away a hangnail. Unhealthy self-esteem has ramifications that reach into your career, your relationships, your behaviors, and your psychological well-being. Your personal attitude is as visible as the clothes you wear. People see the attitude that you wear and they treat you accordingly. People with positive attitudes and an upbeat way of thinking are greeted with positive feedback. People who have negative viewpoints and constantly act downtrodden are treated as such. Your attitude is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Self-esteem is not a panacea for world peace and total bliss, but it definitely has its benefits. This list includes some of the negative behaviors and attitudes associated with unhealthy, poor self-esteem. You decide if these attitudes or behavior have ever crippled you in some way or if you recognize these characteristics in yourself or other people. Generally speaking, people with self-esteem issues may have a tendency to: • Act immature and have poor interpersonal skills. • Participate in self-destructive behaviors. • Become angry and lose their tempers quickly. • Sacrifice their identity for the sake of “fitting in.” • Dodge reality and unpleasant situations. • Enjoy the demise or humiliation of others. • Criticize themselves and others frequently. • Act superior and brag incessantly. • Overreact when criticized in any manner. • Engage in self-sabotage. This list may be just the entrance to the mine. Deeper and darker characteristics appear in countless people who leave their esteem unattended. Looking for Love in the Wrong Faces Another unhealthy characteristic of people with low self-esteem is looking for “love” or affection or even sex from anyone because you do not feel you deserve real love or affection. I’ll take what I can get, you convince yourself. He’s better than nothing, you say on those lonely nights. These feelings come from years and years of convincing yourself that you are not really worthy of true, authentic love because there is something wrong with you. Stop for a moment and think how totally debilitating, thoroughly devastating, and downright tragic that thought is: “I am not worthy of love. I am not worthy of love.” So in that unworthy state, you search for anyone who shows you the least bit of attention. You take “love” in any form you can get it. You give of yourself emotionally, financially, and yes, sexually just so you can have another person hold you for a few moments. Does any of this sound familiar? If it does, then you know how demoralizing these actions are to you and how damaging they are to your self-esteem. The psychologist Abraham Maslow detailed the basic need for every human being to feel love. It is innate. It is a part of our genetic makeup. It is as necessary as air and water, and our need to feel love can sometimes be overwhelming. The relationship of this need to your self-esteem is this — if you feel badly about yourself and feel that you are not truly worthy of something so wonderful, you will either deny yourself this treasure, or you will take it from the first person that offers it, even if it is false and not genuine. When you wake up in the morning with one more “bad love experience,” this only deepens the feeling and belief that you are not worthy. It is only when you can begin to understand that you do deserve honest love, and that you don’t have to take the first thing that comes along (because you believe it may never come again), that you begin to know your worth. Unhealthy self-esteem inhibits us from seeing that authentic, legitimate love is out there for us. It forbids us from being able to welcome, understand, or appreciate the real thing when it comes along. The Effects of Unhealthy Self-Esteem Unhealthy self-esteem can worm its way into every facet of your life. Sometimes, many of your problems may be tied to unhealthy self-esteem and you don’t even know it. People with unhealthy self-esteem tend to be pessimistic and then push that pessimistic view on the world. If you are a pessimistic person, this affects the way you see yourself moving and working in the world. People with unhealthy self-esteem also often display anger toward others inappropriately. If you are filled with rage and anger, you have a hard time controlling it and a harder time still of knowing where to focus that anger. Tied to this anger, people with unhealthy self-esteem also become aggressive for no apparent reason. The smallest remarks or criticism can send them into a tirade. They begin to blame others for their lot in life and refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions and the consequences. They tend to have very little compassion for their own lives, and thus, they have very little compassion for others. If they have nothing to live for, they can’t see that other people do. “The point of the journey is not just healing. It’s also recovering the truest, most spontaneous, joyful, and creative core of ourselves.” — Gloria Steinem Ironically, it has even been suggested that people with unhealthy self-esteem tend to be more promiscuous and participate in unhealthy sexual behavior at a greater rate than those with healthy self-esteem. More Bad News Following are further examples of how unhealthy self-esteem affects people from every walk of life. People with low self-esteem tend to: • Pressure people and become overbearing. • Be devastated by simple mistakes. • Have few resources. • Provoke domestic and social violence. • Concentrate on their failures, weaknesses, and setbacks. • Put themselves down either in a joking fashion or seriously. Give Me All You’ve Got It is interesting to note that people with unhealthy self-esteem are prone to engage in obsessive activities such as overeating, overdrinking, or binge drinking. They tend to develop addictions to legal and illegal mood-altering substances at a greater rate than people with healthy self-esteem. Perhaps this phenomenon has something to do with searching for peace outside the body. When you feel that you have no control over what is happening in your mind and soul, you try other outlets to ease the pain and erase the hurt. Does unhealthy self-esteem cause drug addiction and alcoholism? There is no proof of this and the answer is probably no, but when you are in pain, you search for what brings relief. You search for what helps you forget. You search for what helps you escape. Once again, the beast of unhealthy self-esteem has ramifications that reach further than most people care to admit. As you can see, poor self-esteem left unattended can have devastating and far-reaching effects on the person who suffers and the society in which they live. Can possessing a healthy self-esteem erase all of the bad things that happen in your life and all of the negative aspects of your personality? No. But left unattended, unhealthy, low self-esteem can take over your life as quickly and completely as kudzu in a vegetable garden. Chapter 3 Influences on Self-Esteem How did I get to this place in my life? you may ask yourself from time to time. What made me who I am? Why am I afraid of X and yet Y doesn’t bother me at all? Why do I get so upset at A, when B has never caused me to think twice? Why do I feel the way I do about myself and my abilities? The Past Matters You may catch yourself saying, “I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision to like or dislike something, to be comfortable around some things and uncomfortable around others. I don’t ever remember saying to myself, I’m going to have positive, healthy self-esteem or negative, unhealthy self-esteem.” So, how does it all happen? Who and what are the greatest influences on how you think, feel, and act? How do you get to the places in your life that are sometimes wonderfully familiar and sometimes stunningly alien? In the movie Out of Africa, the main character narrates, “He gave me a compass to steer by, because he knew, as I did not, that the world was made round so that we could not see too far down the road.” Depending on whom you ask, the concept of the future, of seeing “down the road,” is paramount. Some, however, feel it is not nearly as important as seeing the past more clearly. Some people truly want to know where they are going, and others simply want to know from where they came. In your quest for healthy self-esteem, it can be vitally important to “look back” in order to understand some of the habits, customs, and yes, quirks that are with you today. Your Family There are countless influences on your life as you grow and mature. Your parents, certainly, make impressions, but influences also come from other people in the home, such as siblings, grandparents, cousins, and so on. Some parents are keenly aware that they are shaping your future, while others don’t have a clue that what they say and do leave indelible marks on your soul forever. Even small things like gestures, vocal tone, smiles, frowns, and silence influence your development. You often don’t even realize all the little things that have influence on you. As children learn, they pick up cues from their parents about how to act and feel. A study was conducted where children played with toys while their mothers watched. If the mother smiled at the child as he or she played, the child played with the toy longer than if the mother frowned. Also, when given the opportunity to play with the toy again at a later time, the children who had seen their mother frown earlier tended to shy away from the toy even when the mothers remained neutral during the later play period. Children are deeply influenced by what they see and hear. Those who are exposed to and witness moral behavior, caring and loving parents, generosity, support, and compassion have a propensity to be more tuned in to the feelings and well-being of others. In later years, these same influences can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. You begin to rely on the approval of others, either verbally or nonverbally, to tell or show you how to act or react. You may do this unconsciously and not even know that you are being “controlled” by something that stems back to your infancy. This can negatively affect your self-esteem as you internalize feelings you pick up from external cues. During infancy, you also begin to experience attachment. This is important to you and the development of your self-esteem because the degree to which you feel attachments to special people in your early life affects the way you relate to people for the rest of your life. As a child, your identity and self-esteem are tied not only to what you hear from your parents and family members, but also to what you see and feel. Perhaps your family has the greatest influence in the development of your self-esteem and in the way you develop over a lifetime. People who come from a family structure that is not supportive, unresponsive to needs, lacking in communication, and detached from everyday emotion tend to develop unhealthy characteristics such as: • Grave insecurities • Victim mentality • Lack of respect for self and others • Irresponsibility • Uncaring and unable to give or receive love • Feelings of loneliness, fear, and immense anxiety • Unsure of their own true identity • Untrusting of other people • The need to control and sometimes manipulate It is unfair to blame every problem or give credit for every success to your family members. However, it is important to understand their influence on your development so that you can better determine the validity of your own feelings. Your Friends As you move from the sole influence of your parents, you begin to be influenced by the friends you have. If you think back, your self-esteem has been prejudiced by your friendly relationships from childhood to the present moment. They play a vital and crucial role in your life, your beliefs, and most importantly, in your actions. A Source of Development During your developing years, one of the most important attributes of friendship is proximity. This has two definitions: that you are close enough geographically to keep the relationship alive, and that you have beliefs, interests, and desires that are closely related. If you scrutinize the friends you have had in the past and the friends that currently surround you, you may begin to see a pattern — they are like you. You seldom have friends who are diabolically juxtaposed to your own beliefs and values. Sure, you have friends who do different things, have different religions, and espouse different ideas, but at the core, your friends, more often than not, are much like you. As you grow older, your friends become your primary source of support and guidance. This changes when you become involved in intimate love relationships, but for many years, your friends are your supporters, aids, and champions. Here’s to the Life Friends help shape your self-esteem and friends aid in good health and long life. In California, over 7,000 people were studied over a nine-year period. The people who had the best health, lived longer, avoided disease more often, and dealt with life’s difficulties better were the people with strong social support. Divorced men are more likely to suffer from heart disease, cancer, strokes, stress, and hypertension than married men. They are also more likely to commit suicide and die earlier than men with close relationships. Conversely, people who were isolated did not enjoy these benefits. When you are in caring relationships, you are not lonely, and the less lonely you are, the longer you live and the better you feel about yourself. On the other hand, when you see others in caring, loving friendships and you do not have them, your self-esteem and health suffer. This can affect you over the course of your life. If you do not have the relationships that you see others enjoying, you may negate your own beliefs and values so that you can “fit in” to a group and be socially accepted. This, too, is detrimental to your self-esteem. Countless people are in “friendships” to combat loneliness only to find that the relationships are abusive, controlling, and unhealthy. These people are called toxic or contaminated. They infect the way you act, think, and feel. They bring poison into your life and it takes a great deal of work to cleanse yourself of the debris. It also takes time for your self-esteem to heal because of these relationships. Your Teachers Teachers are among your earliest influences, along with parents and childhood friends. For many, you spent more time with your teachers than you spent with your family. Not only did they have monumental influence over your acquisition of knowledge, but over your self-esteem as well. “For eager teachers seized my youth, pruned my faith and trimmed my fire. Showed me the high, white star of truth, there bade me gaze and there aspire.” — Matthew Arnold You remember the great teachers who nurtured you, encouraged you, challenged you, and led you to understand the world in healthy terms. Their names come to you immediately. If only they all could have been this way. Conversely, you also remember the teachers who embarrassed you, humiliated you, and made you feel as if you did not deserve life. Whether you knew it then or not, they were shaping many of the beliefs about yourself that you carry with you to this day. Television, Movies, and Music As if you did not have enough influencing your self-esteem, along comes America’s pastimes — television, videos, movies, and music. What does the Roadrunner, Andy and Opie, Superman, The Bridges of Madison County, Tom Cruise, and Sade have to do with your self-esteem? Much! It is estimated that children watch over forty hours of television a week and adults watch over twenty hours per week. Cable radio, DVDs, and CDs bring pleasure by the hours to children and adults alike. You see and hear things twenty-four hours a day, from spy dramas to emergency room reality shows, from love stories to murders, from family comedies to prison dramas, from rap to soul, from Glen Campbell to Snoop Dog. So many mixed messages can blur the line between reality and fiction. Countless people inadvertently compare their lives to the lives of television, movie, and music personae. You sometimes catch yourself saying, “Why can’t my partner be more like X?” “Why can’t my life be as good as Y?” “Why can’t I be a Wichita Lineman?” These questions begin to play a role in how you see yourself and how you function in the world. Subconsciously, you begin to ask yourself, by way of comparison, “If Johnboy Walton can have parents who are so loving and supportive, why can’t I?” “If Will can have a great friend like Grace, why can’t I?” “Why can’t I be as sexy-in-the-city as Carrie Bradshaw?” Why can’t I build my own home like Bob Vila?” and “Why oh why can’t I wiggle my nose and make my mother-in-law disappear!!?” Over the years, these comparisons begin to impair your judgment and wear away your self-esteem. Are we shaped more by our genetics or our environment? Psychologists still argue this point. Some say that our genetic makeup is the number one attribute to our personality. Others say that our environment is most important. It is called the “nature-nurture” controversy. It is suggested that our genes play a major role in our development, but our changing scenery plays a role in how our lives progress. Letting Go of Old Ways You call it spring-cleaning. You clean your closets, your pantries, and your garage. You scour your linens, shampoo your carpets, and scrub your windows. You like things to be clean. But when it comes to cleaning the cobwebs and badly blemished mirrors of your own mind, you are less likely to do so. You allow dirty self-criticism, stained images, and soiled decisions to linger for years and years, sometimes until it is nearly impossible to clear them away. Healthy self-esteem enjoys a home that is cleaned of our polluted past decisions and actions. Why is it so hard to move beyond what you have thought about yourself for years? Why is it so hard to believe that you can, and have, changed? The primary reason is repetition. You have heard the same old song in your mind for so long that you have come to believe the lyrics about yourself. Sometimes, you even catch yourself (you negative self-talk) remembering things that you said about yourself in high school. How can that be? How can you still remember what you thought about yourself twenty-five years ago and you have trouble remembering what you ate for dinner last night? Again, repetition is the answer. The truth is, you have never let go of your past negative self-talk. You have given it safe harbor in the back of your mind and it knows exactly when to appear. “The voice” appears when you are afraid. It appears when you are sad, depressed, and lonely. It stalks you when you have faced a challenge unsuccessfully. It comes around like an old acquaintance that you’d just as soon never see again. But, because you never had the courage to tell it to leave, it continues to come back and remind you of all the negative things you believe about yourself. This voice makes it difficult to move past decisions that you made long ago. This voice embodies what Robert Frost wrote almost 100 years ago: “And nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.” Given the chance to survive, this voice is incapacitating. “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.” — Anais Nin For healthy self-esteem, you must move toward a state of self-forgiveness. You must move toward eradicating the negative voice that lives in you. You must work on the optimistic part of your soul that says, “Look only at the goodness you have. Look only at the joy you give. Look only at the work you do. Look only at the love you share. For once, look only at the harvest and not the loss.” Chapter 4 Déjà View: Seeing Yourself Through Clear Glasses It can be hard to take an honest look at yourself. So much of what we believe about ourselves is tied up in how others perceive us. But it’s important to learn how to see yourself for who you really are, and not to let anyone convince you otherwise. The Pitfalls of Comparisons Why does everyone dread reunions? Few people ever express elation and joy over going to reunions. Why? The answer to why reunions are not at the top of the entertainment list is found in one word — comparison. Comparing your life and accomplishments to the lives and accomplishments of others is sometimes an uneasy task. Somewhere deep inside, you dread to see what Penelope “Most Likely to Have a Perfect Life Running a Major Computer Firm in New York City While Living in the Hamptons with Kent Randolph Windsor IX in a 16,753 Square Foot English Tudor with Jacuzzi and Maid” Madrigal has been up to. Self-comparison is the age-old, hellish self-esteem question of “Will I measure up?” “Am I as good as Penelope?” “Why can’t I . . .” Self-comparison involves two seemingly simple but highly complex words: worth and uniqueness. “Ninety percent of the world’s woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. Most of us go almost all the way through life as complete strangers to ourselves.” — Sydney Harris Self-Worth Comparing yourself to others can be one of the most detrimental and fundamental roadblocks to healthy self-esteem. When you compare yourself to other people, you are, in essence, questioning your own worth. You are either consciously or subconsciously saying to yourself: • “I’m not as _____________ as he or she is.” • “I don’t have the same _____________ as he or she has.” • “I’m not as good at _____________ as he or she is.” • “I’ve never had _____________ like he or she had.” • “I don’t look like _____________ .” If you make these statements aloud, you begin to hear a lack of self-respect. You are questioning your own value as a human being and as a deserving person in the world. Imagine what this is doing to your self-esteem. Comparisons like these can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. The more you say something, the more you believe something; the more you trust that something is right, the more likely it is that it will happen, positively or negatively. When you continue to question your worth with statements such as the previous ones, you begin to believe those statements, and in time, you live out what you believe. The problem with worth is that there is no universal definition for it. For some, worth means money. For others, worth means possessions, children, marriage, talent, virtue, honesty, love, respect, or education. Worth is extraordinarily different for everyone. Counting your worth is as difficult as trying to count money when you have dollars, yens, pesos, euros, and pounds all on the counter together. Which is more valuable at the moment? Which one will suit you best on your journey? Just as it is useless to try to buy corn in Iowa with yen, it is useless to have possessions on a sinking ship. It all depends on the journey. The most important thing that you can do for your self-esteem is to understand that worth is something that is subjective at best, and it must be viewed in its social or individual context. You are the only person on earth who can define your worth. To let another person do it is self-esteem suicide. Your Uniqueness If you try to place a value (worth) on your life based on other people, you are denying your uniqueness, your rareness. You are saying to yourself, It is of no importance to have qualities that belong exclusively to me. You are saying to yourself, I am not a miracle. I am not a marvel. I have no specific purpose for being here. Think of the tragedy in those statements. Think about your life at this very moment. What is your miracle? What have you done that no other human on earth could have done? You may say, “Nothing.” Wrong! “I’ve never invented a vaccine to cure polio,” you might say. “I’ve never painted a canvas that will hang in a museum.” “I’ve never saved a life on the operating table.” This may be true, but maybe those things are not your purpose. Those things are not your rareness. They are not your gifts. How does self-concept develop? We look to others to answer the question, “How am I doing?” We search for their verbal and nonverbal reactions to our actions, our words, and our behaviors. The reactions that we get shape our behaviors and judgments. Your Miracle Your miracle might be that on a rainy day last winter, you answered the phone and on the other end of the line was an old friend in pain who needed your ear. You were the only person on earth to whom he or she wanted to speak. Your miracle is that you listened and eased your friend’s pain. A life breathed easier because of you. Your miracle might be that last Wednesday you left work early and went home to do a few badly needed house repairs, but instead, you chose to have a tea party with your daughter. No other human on earth could have done what you did last Wednesday. If you insist on measuring yourself against others, at least measure yourself correctly. Rocket Boys The movie October Sky is based on the autobiographical novel Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam Jr. He grew up in the very rural backwoods coal-mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia. His father and his father’s father were miners and he was expected to be a miner as well. Homer was not doing very well in school, so it came as a complete and total shock to his family when, upon seeing the Russian orbiter Sputnik, he announced that he was going to be a rocket engineer. The year was 1957. Can you imagine telling your parents that you were going to be a rocket engineer in 1957 when the rocket and space program in the United States was in its infancy? Can you imagine believing that you could be a part of something that most people were sure had no future at all? By 1960, Homer and his friends had won the National Science Fair for their project “A Study of Amateur Rocketry Techniques.” In three short years, he and his friends went from a sure future in mining to National Science Fair winners. Homer went on to the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and eventually became a NASA engineer at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. How did Homer Hickam know what his miracle was? How did he find his unique talent that helped change the face of America? How can someone from such humble beginnings see themselves as a major player on the world stage? How can someone like Homer, whose father offered little to no support for his dreams, amass the courage to believe that he was worthy and capable? Sometimes it takes just one other person, like Homer’s teacher, to help you see your miracle. More often than not, however, it will come from what you believe about yourself and from what you allow to become a part of your psyche. Believing What Others Say Phil was completing graduate school and one of his last professors was Dr. Bill Wright. Dr. Wright was the first openly gay professor Phil had ever had. He was a highly regarded faculty member, a writer, a speaker, an activist, and a scholar in curriculum design and gay studies. Phil listened over the semesters as students in various study groups discussed Dr. Wright’s sexual orientation. Most had no problem, but some people made disparaging remarks. While in a workshop one day, someone asked him about his sexuality. Dr. Wright made the following statement: “What you think about me is none of my business.” Let me give that to you again. What you think about me is none of my business. Profound. When you think about Dr. Wright’s statement, you realize just how brave that statement is and how much self-esteem one has to have to ever think it, much less say it out loud. He went on to discuss the fact that the students present did not know him as a private citizen, as a son, a brother, a partner, an uncle, or a friend. When you think about it, how many people know us in every capacity? Dr. Wright’s statement is prophetic. He was right. Others’ opinions of you are none of your business, because they don’t really know you. “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.” — Bruce Barton If you can get past others’ opinions, you can have the level of self-esteem that Dr. Wright has. So often, it is too easy to become consumed by what others think, what will be said, and what might “get out” about you; you become paralyzed by other people’s opinions. You’re letting others’ opinions influence your actions, your beliefs, your behaviors, and most importantly, those opinions affect how you see yourself. Has there ever been a time in your life when you chose to do or not do something simply because of what people thought of you? When you succumb to this type of behavior, you can’t help but damage your self-esteem. When you seek the approval of others to this degree, you suffer, and your psyche suffers. A Dream Terminated When Samuel was in the tenth grade, he was interested in the medical field. One day while driving by the local hospital, Samuel stopped to ask about volunteer work. The volunteer coordinator was enthusiastic about his interest because as she put it, “We can always use volunteers, but we especially need men to assist with lifting and turning patients.” He was excited about this opportunity. It was one of the very first things in which he had ever had any real interest. When Samuel went to school and told a few people that he was going to volunteer at the hospital, everyone began calling him a candy striper, a term used exclusively for female volunteers. “Men don’t volunteer as candy stripers,” he heard time and time again, even from some of his teachers. He heard it so often and was so worried about what people were saying that he called the volunteer coordinator and withdrew his name. Years later, Samuel still wonders what that volunteer work might have led to. Could it have changed the course of his life? Could it have given him a sense of belonging and purpose much earlier? He’ll never know, because he was too afraid of what others thought of him. This fear damaged his self-esteem in more ways than can be listed on this page. If only Samuel had heard Dr. Wright’s statement early in his life. Truth versus Opinion: Testing Your Beliefs When you have a belief, you are essentially saying that you think something is true and accurate. A belief is the act of having confidence in something. As you work toward healthier self-esteem and begin to evaluate your beliefs, you will need to determine if they are truths or opinions. Opinions are unproven statements that are held as truths but can’t be proved or substantiated. Truths are statements that can be proved scientifically. Some beliefs are rational; some are irrational. Rational beliefs are logical, and at some point can be proved. They are based on more than innuendo. An irrational belief is a belief that is based on unreliable, unreasonable, illogical, and incorrect information. Think for a moment about some of your beliefs. Do you believe that you are a nice and friendly person or a person who is rude and insensitive? Do you believe that you have capabilities and talents, or do you believe that you are not good at many things? Do you believe that you are nice looking, or do you believe that you are unattractive? Do you believe that you have worth as a human being, or do you believe that you are worthless? You need to look at your belief system to determine if what you hold as true really is true or if you have just convinced yourself of it over the years. Perhaps others convinced you of the belief and you never bothered to prove them wrong. Myrtle was a wonderful woman, a kind and giving soul who worked hard to be a productive citizen, a supportive mother, and a loving grandmother. She had always wanted to drive a car so that she would not be so dependent on her children. However, if you ever asked Myrtle why she did not get her driver’s license, she would tell you in an instant that she was not smart enough to drive. “I’m just plain stupid when it comes to cars. I’d never pass the test.” To change an irrational belief, you must first fully understand what the belief is and why you came to believe it in the first place. Then, you must work steadily to unlearn this belief through disputing this belief with yourself. Make a list and confront yourself with the real facts about the matter. One day, Myrtle made the comment to some friends about driving her mother to the grocery store in her teens. When queried further, Myrtle revealed that she had her driver’s license when she was younger. After she got married, her husband continually told her that she was a bad driver. Then, her friends and children chimed in over the years until she finally let her license expire and stopped driving. She firmly believed that she was an awful driver because she had heard it so often from family members. This is a perfect example of how others’ beliefs can cloud your own judgment and play a major role in what you believe about yourself. Handling Criticism and Praise Most people enjoy praise and appreciate helpful, constructive criticism. Few, if any, enjoy condemnation and harsh, vindictive criticism. Unfortunately, both influence your self-esteem. There are those who would say, “Ignore the criticism and bask in the praise.” This is not a healthy attitude. You either have to accept both praise and criticism as a learning tool or reject both as un-useful to your life. If you only accept the praise, then you are cheating yourself out of valuable lessons that can be learned from constructive criticism. Constructive criticism is advice that is useful, practical, and valid. It is criticism that is backed up with facts, experience, and knowledge. An example of constructive criticism is when someone says, “Your presentation was well written and verbally sound. However, next time, try using a PowerPoint graph slide to show the audience how much growth the company has experienced.” An example of harsh, vindictive criticism is, “I don’t know who told you that you were a speaker or who let you make the address, but you embarrassed us all.” There is nothing to be learned or gained from the latter. But It Hurts Why must you accept constructive criticism? Because if you only accept praise, you stunt your growth and you become complacent with mediocrity. This does nothing to help you build healthy self-esteem. A person with truly healthy self-esteem welcomes the constructive criticism as much as the praise, because together, they are a part of our learning process. “I forgive myself for having believed for so long that I was never good enough to have, get, or be what I wanted.” — Ceanne DeRohan You have to be very careful, however, not to overlook the praise and wallow in the criticism. So many people with unhealthy self-esteem have taken this route. You can receive 100 accolades and one criticism and you go home thinking about the one piece of criticism. You let it overwhelm you. You let it consume your thoughts and actions. The best way to deal with constructive criticism is to own it and learn from it. If it is vindictive criticism, ignore it and move on. Depending on the circumstance, you have to choose which is most appropriate. How Do I Know It’s Right? If your supervisor constructively criticizes your work, ask yourself, is his or her criticism valid and truthful? Look inside your heart and mind and answer that question truthfully. It is only when you refuse to answer that question truthfully that you run into problems. Did you do your best work? Did you follow procedure? Did you get it in on time? Was it formatted correctly? Were there any mistakes? You must own your truth here. If the truth is that you did not do your very best and you were constructively criticized for it, then accept it, learn from it, and move on. There is nothing more that can be done with it. It is finished. On the other hand, if you are criticized for your work and you know in the deepest reaches of your being that you did exactly what was expected, met the deadlines, formatted the document correctly, met all of the other specifications, and your boss is just being vindictive, then the only alternative is to ignore the criticism and move on. Dwelling on it will only damage your self-esteem. There seems to be as many influences on our self-esteem as there are stars in the heavens. From parents to friends, from music to teachers, from criticism to past mistakes and glories, all play a major part in who you are today and how you choose to live your life. These influences are like a closet full of clothing. When you approach the closet to decide your daily apparel, you have a choice. You can either choose a ragged, torn, damaged, dirty outfit tired from the wear, or you can choose a crisp, starched, brightly colored outfit ready for a new day. You can’t choose or change your past, but you can choose what you allow to influence your decisions, your thoughts, and your actions. You can choose chains or wings. This is the essence of healthy self-esteem. Choice! Chapter 5 It’s Who You Are The far-reaching effects of healthy or unhealthy self-esteem are astronomical. Even those with healthy self-esteem pay little attention to the fact that how you see yourself and how you treat yourself is the road map to how you see and treat others. Your level of self-esteem mirrors the goings and comings of your personal life such as your behavior and relationships. How You Behave Your behavior toward yourself is paramount in determining your behavior toward those you love, those with whom you work, those with whom you study, and those with whom you play. Your self-esteem is a driving factor in how you behave — yet so few people make that connection. You may think that your behavior is an innate trait that can’t be changed or altered. This is an incorrect assumption. Behavior, all behavior, is learned. You learned your behavior through the environment in which you were raised and the environment in which you continue to live and work. Behavior is changeable, but it takes a great deal of time and effort to change an ingrained behavior. Any behavior that is reinforced time and time again usually becomes a part of your personality, and once imbedded there, it is difficult to change. Many psychologists feel that behavior is most commonly learned from modeling. This term refers to the fact that “what you see is what you do.” Your parents may have had good communication techniques — you saw how they talked through any disagreements without accusing or blaming the other. So you learned how to model your behavior after them to handle disagreements in a healthy manner. If you work in an environment where a strong work ethic is highly valued and rewarded, you will model your behavior to fit that environment. Conversely, if you were reared in a home where manners, respect, and good behavior did not matter, your behavior, more than likely, models this environment. They Made Me Do It Have you ever blamed your behavior on another person? Have you ever used the line, “She/he made me do it?” It sounds childish, but many adults still use the line to explain away their poor behavioral patterns. How often do you read stories in the paper about adults refusing to accept responsibility for their behaviors? “They served me hot coffee, and I burned myself.” “They allowed me to gamble my money away, and I’m broke now.” “They served me biggie French fries, and I gained fifty-eight pounds” This behavioral pattern is a clear and present sign of no personal responsibility based in unhealthy self-esteem. It is the people who have so little faith in their own abilities, competencies, and actions who continue to blame others for all that happens — including things that happen under their watch and by their hands. Unhealthy self-esteem can have devastating results on the way you behave toward yourself and toward others. Changing Behaviors — Changing Your Life If you are interested in changing some of your negative or unhealthy behaviors, keep the following tips in mind: • Make a list of the behaviors you wish to change. • Talk to your friends and family about these behaviors. • Think about why the behavior is unhealthy. • Make a list of how the behavior can (or has) cost you. • Make a list of how the behavior has affected others in your life. • Make a list of alternative behaviors or actions. • Use one of the alternative behaviors on a daily basis. • Seek professional counseling to assist you with the change. According to a survey in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the categories that bring most people joy are: autonomy (the feeling of independence), competence (the feeling of knowing that you are effective), relatedness (the feeling that you have positive relationships), and self-esteem (the feeling of self-worth). Finding Happiness Happiness. Now, there’s a word! Just the sound or sight of the word makes you feel a little better, unless you don’t have it and can’t find it. Happiness is perhaps the most sought after passion on earth. Some people find it in money, some find it in possessions, some find it in other people, and some find it in nature and the earth’s bounty. What brings you happiness? What Is Happiness Anyway? In the landmark book, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran discusses happiness and joy. He says that the same thing that brings you joy is the same thing that brings you pain. Think about that for a moment. If you love a person or thing and that person or thing brings you great happiness, it is the fear or actuality of losing that person or thing that brings you immense pain. So, he concludes that pain and joy are one in the same. The way that you feel about yourself largely determines the amount of joy and happiness that you let into your life. If you don’t feel worthy of happiness, you won’t allow any to come to you. If you constantly feel as if your happiness is a lost cause, you are going to stop looking for it and will not be able to recognize it when it is right before you. Often, people are confused by the notion that they deserve happiness and that it should come to them with no effort or action. Some people believe that happiness is their right, that they are entitled to happiness simply because they were born. As Benjamin Franklin once said, the U.S. Constitution offers you the pursuit of happiness, not the acquisition of it. “Happiness requires that we give up a worldly orientation — not worldly things, but a worldly attachment to things. We have to surrender all outcomes. We have to live here but appreciate the joke.” — Marianne Williamson Happiness is like love; it is intangible. It cannot be touched. You can’t put your fingers on it and hold it or caress it. You can’t put it in a box and store it for a later date. Sometimes, when you can’t see something, you tend to give it up. This can be the case with happiness. A certainty about happiness is that you know when you feel it and you know when you don’t. Unrealistic Expectations Unhappiness can come from several issues, the forerunner being unrealistic expectations. Setting your goals high and dreaming big are healthy, very healthy at times, but every dream and every hope has its limitation. Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself is the menu for a huge serving of unhappiness. Sonya wanted to be a nurse. She entered the community college to begin a two-year nursing program. She had her sights set on obtaining her nursing degree in two years, two and a half at the most. Sonya had never excelled in math or science, but she felt that her true calling was helping others. During registration, she took the math placement test and was devastated to find that she had placed in the lowest-level math course offered. She was stunned to find out that it would take her four semesters — two years — just to complete the math courses needed to upgrade her skills to even enter the nursing program. While her desire and dream to be a nurse was not unrealistic, her timeline was. She may very well be able to complete the math and science classes needed to become a nurse, but her unrealistic expectations that it would happen in two years brought her much unhappiness. Negative Thinking Negative thinking is another cause of persistent unhappiness. It is a by-product of unhealthy self-esteem. Negative thinking clouds the way you think about yourself, your life, and your possibilities for happiness. Nathan had suffered from unhealthy self-esteem for so long that he did not even realize that his every word, every thought, and most of his actions were negative. It was not until a coworker confronted him about his negative attitude that he even realized how it was affecting his life. Nathan began to talk with his acquaintances and family members and asked them if they saw this trait in him. When they agreed with the coworker, he began to listen to himself more carefully. He began to hear, for the first time, how negative his words were, how negative his thoughts were, and how all of this was tied to the way he felt about himself. Looking to Others Looking to others for happiness is the next major issue surrounding unhappiness. Just as other people can’t give you self-esteem, other people can’t bring you lasting happiness. Sure, others play a vital role in our esteem and happiness, but to rely on others for the delivery of either will result in ultimate unhappiness. “The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.” — Epictetus People who are unhappy often seek relief from friends, family, or strangers. You can find temporary relief, but lasting happiness comes from knowing that you are worthy of it, knowing that you like yourself, and knowing that you are making a difference in the world in some way. The problem with looking for happiness in others, or relying on others to give you happiness, is that when that person leaves, they take the happiness with them. You are then left with only one thing — who you are. And if you are not happy with who you are when you meet them, you won’t be happy when they leave. Find Yourself, Find Happiness In your pursuit of happiness, consider the following unusual tips that you may not have considered before: • Surround yourself with happy people. • Look for uncomplicated pleasures like a walk in the woods, a hayride, or window-shopping. • Read a book of poetry, uplifting quotes, or positive stories. • Give someone something (a flower, candy, a book, etc.). • Listen to your favorite music. • Go to a museum, library, gallery, or bookstore to expand your horizons. • Cook something you love . . . just for you. • Take a calculated risk that forces you to be brave. • Do something totally out of character for you. Forging Relationships Unhealthy self-esteem can do one of two things to your relationships. It can cheat you out of relationships that could greatly enhance the quality of your life, or it can place you in relationships that are abusive, unloving, damaging, and even deadly. First, if your self-image is damaged and unhealthy, you feel as if you don’t deserve to have a relationship (intimate, friendship, or otherwise) or that you would not be able to “convince” anyone to have a relationship with you. You see yourself as unworthy of attention and affection. This can result in a variety of emotional and physical problems. Second, if your self-esteem is unhealthy, you sometimes tend to “hook up” with people who are not good for you — toxic or contaminated people. These are people who do not care for you and your dreams or goals; they only want to be around you for what you can do for them, not for what they can give to you. Unhealthy self-esteem is one of the leading causes for people staying in abusive and deadly relationships. At least I have someone, you convince yourself. I’m not alone. People with healthy self-esteem would much rather be alone with themselves than be around a person who causes paramount emotional, physical, mental, and financial damage. They understand that toxic people are the fuel that feeds the fire of unhealthy self-esteem. Healthy Relationships A relationship is about moving from “I” to “we.” Any relationship, be it intimate, work, or friendship, is about understanding that you do not exist in the world alone. It is about choosing to share yourself with another person on levels that acquaintances and strangers never know. Truly healthy relationships are about bringing out the best in each other. That idea sounds so simple and you’ve probably heard it for years, but the truth is that it is one of the most important aspects of healthy relationships. At its deepest, it means that every time you are around the other person, you are bringing the best of you, the total sum of you, to that moment. This does not mean that you have to be happy and joyful around that person all the time. What it does mean is that whether you are in complete bliss or complete pain, you bring that emotion in total to the other person so that he or she can bask in your joy or help you through your pain. It means that you are willing to bring your total self into that relationship and help the other person do the same. “Help thy brother’s boat across and lo! Thine own has reached the shore.” — Hindu proverb Bringing out the best in others means that you support them and they support you. It means that you forego jealousy and competition and take pride in their successes. It means that you push them along to help them reach their potential as human beings, and it means that you get all of this back from them. Working Toward a Healthy Relationship As you begin to open up and give of yourself to another person in a love or friendly relationship, consider the following tips: • Be clear and direct in your communication. • Be forgiving and understanding. • Work hard to create a positive, constructive place for both of you. • Be willing to admit your mistakes and shortcomings. • Be constructive and supportive. • Have the courage to be warm and sensitive. • Don’t be afraid to talk about your differences. • Never be afraid or too strong to be held. Your Values and Spirituality Self-esteem helps determine what you value, and in turn, what you value determines how you act and what you protect. Your value system helps determine how you treat others. If you identify yourself as a kind, caring, compassionate person, this aura will surround you as you interact with others. If you see yourself as cold, calculating, and rude, this aura surrounds you and guides your treatment of others as well. What you value affects how you behave toward others. If you believe that education and learning are very important, you will react positively to your friend’s announcement that she is going back to school to get her master’s degree. You’ll give her support and help her deal with the changes that this brings to her life. But if you think school is a waste of time, hearing your friend’s news might cause you to react negatively — focusing on the money she’s giving up by quitting her job or how much less time she’ll have to spend with you now that she’ll have tests to study for. Closely tied to your value system is your own spirituality. Your self-esteem often plays a role in how you see yourself in the spiritual world. If you suffer from unhealthy self-esteem, you may feel that you do not deserve any rewards that spirituality can offer. But spirituality is about hope, and growing in your spiritual life can help you improve your self-esteem. Spirituality and religion play vital roles in the way you live. Both have been proved to affect your health by lowering your stress level, lowering your blood pressure, increasing your tolerance of others, increasing your levels of joy and happiness, decreasing your use of controlled substances, and accentuating your wellness in general. What is the difference between religion and spirituality? Religion is the belief in a supernatural power that is often tied to an organization such as Catholicism or Judaism. Spirituality tends to be more personal and individualized, not tied to one particular set of beliefs. A strong sense of spirituality can also affect you in the following ways: • A higher quality of life in general • A greater sense of peace, purpose, and belonging • A higher degree of hope and optimism • A sense of personal empowerment to help others • A more determined commitment to ethics and morality Achieving Your Aspirations Giving up on yourself is, in essence, giving up on your future — your dreams, your aspirations, your hopes, and your desire to move forward. Unhealthy self-esteem can cause you to lose sight of tomorrow. It can cause you to stop believing that things can, and will, get better. It can cause you to stop living even though you are still alive. Most everyone has to have something to which they look forward. It can be as simple as a good meal or as complex as obtaining a Ph.D. Unhealthy self-esteem, left unattended, can cost you this life-pleasure. It can convince you that you are not worthy of a future and that your dreams are not as important as the next person’s. Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to combat unhealthy self-esteem is to begin planning simple goals and working toward them with unfettered passion and fervor. Begin by letting your negative self-talk know that it is not in control and that you’ve had enough of just getting by. Goal setting is a powerful tool to begin anew. From happiness to home, work to wonder, spirituality to self-appreciation, unhealthy self-esteem can be a damaging force in your life. As you begin to work on each area, remember that you have the power to change any aspect of your life that you choose. You are worthy of happiness, spirituality, relationships, and aspirations. They are yours for the taking. Chapter 6 It’s Not Just a Job Beyond your personal life, self-esteem matters in your professional life as well. Three of the top ten characteristics that employers look for in employees are topnotch communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and creative-thinking skills. Each of these qualities is greatly influenced by your self-esteem. Change and Growth Your ability to change and adapt is directly tied to how you feel about yourself and how secure you are with your own abilities. In this fast-paced, ever-changing world of technology, change occurs so rapidly that you scarcely have time to learn one thing before it is outdated and the world has moved on. Employers are looking for people who are not afraid to change, grow, learn, and take risks. Employers are looking for people who have the courage to get up and get on. This attitude has a direct link to how secure you feel about yourself. Your professional life can be hampered or accentuated by your belief in your abilities to change and grow. If an employer sees you as a person who adapts well, is accustomed to growth and new challenges, and as a person who is willing to help others grow and change, your possibilities for promotion, raises, and additional responsibilities can be increased. It Takes Courage Change is never easy. Even good or positive change can be difficult and trying. The hardest part about change is that when change occurs, everyone returns to the bottom of the ladder — and no one likes to be at the bottom. “The first step toward change is acceptance. Once you accept yourself, you open the door to change. That’s all you have to do. Change is not something you do, it’s something you allow.” — Will Garcia Take as an example the case of John, whose company recently installed a new computer database. John had been working on the old database for ten years. Jane was recently hired and works with John. John has more to lose with this change because he has more invested in the old system. He has farther to “fall” than Jane. At the beginning of the day, John is ahead of Jane in terms of seniority, experience, and time spent with the old system. At the end of the day, John and Jane are in the same place; they are working on a system that is one day old and their experience with the system is one day old. Change takes you to the beginning. Getting Secure on Unfamiliar Ground In your quest to become more comfortable with change, keep the following tips in mind: • Ask for help and assistance. • Become a part of the change. • Think about the end result. • Look at the change as a growth and learning possibility. • Keep the lines of communication open. • Keep an open mind toward the change and the people involved. • Ditch the “I can’t,” “Let someone else do it” attitudes. Problem-Solving Skills Your ability to solve problems is tied to your perception of yourself. If you perceive yourself as a person who has no solid answers, no useful information, and no practical experiences to share, your ability to solve problems effectively is going to be greatly reduced. Conversely, if you feel good about yourself and have a healthy self-esteem, you will be glad to share your ideas, your experiences, and your advice to change issues and solve simple and complex problems at work, at home, and in the community. Unhealthy self-esteem can interfere with your problem-solving abilities because of ineffective communication. People with unhealthy self-esteem sometimes need to have the spotlight shine on them alone. They need to know that they have something that no one else has in order to protect their importance. Because of this need, they withhold information that could be essential to the problem-solving process. They see it as necessary for their personal survival, when in essence, the withholding of that information may be costly to the company, the community, and them personally. Another problem with communication and self-esteem is that if you feel that your information is useless or arcane, you may not feel like you need to share it. In every problem-solving situation, there is information that is generally known, information that is known only by a few, and information that is known by you alone. Your information may be the key to the solution, but without your confidence to share it, it can’t be used. Going through a major life change can cause the same emotional reactions as going through a death. You may have to deal with stages of immobilization, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. It is normal and natural to experience these emotions when major change occurs. Critical and Creative Thinking Skills Critical and creative thinking are both life-altering tools. They both allow you to survive where others have failed. People with unhealthy self-esteem may have a hard time realizing that their ideas, suggestions, and proposals have merit, and they simply shut off the critical and creative parts of their existence. They begin to be followers instead of leaders. They tend to take the word of others instead of finding their own voice. They tend to walk on the path instead of tromping down grass and making their own road. In improving your self-esteem, you begin to see that your ideas, suggestions, and creative voice are as important as the next person’s. You begin to realize that the more creative and critical you are in your approach to life, the more your self-esteem improves, because you are charting your own course and not just walking in the shadows. Creative and critical thinking give you more alternatives. Critical Thinking at Work As the world continues to move from jobs that require labor and toil to intelligence and thinking, critical-thinking skills are becoming essential to the modern-day workplace. No longer can a person move into management and upper-level positions without this ability. Self-esteem plays a great role in the development of critical thinking. It takes a person confident in their abilities, their potential, and their competencies to master the skills for critical thinking. Critical thinking involves the ability to conduct research and do statistical analysis. It involves the ability to sort your emotions and use restraint when making judgments. It involves the ability to recognize fallacies or false arguments and make heads or tails of what is right and wrong. A person with unhealthy self-esteem would not be able to do these tasks because they would be filled with self-doubt and second-guess their every decision. Creative Thinking at Work Creative thinking is just as important as critical thinking because it moves humanity forward. Creative thinking involves a great deal of courage. It means that you are unafraid to try new things and implement new actions. Creative thinking requires that you be innovative and find new solutions to old problems. What is the difference between critical and creative thinking? Critical thinking is thinking that is based in reason, logic, and research. It is thinking that is used for formulating inferences, calculations, decisions, and solutions. Creative thinking is thinking that is directed toward new ideas, innovative techniques, novel strategies, and uncharted territories. Creative thinking means that you assert your individuality and that you are not afraid of criticism. Creative thinkers are not happy with being carbon copies of others. They have their own style. Creative thinking involves a great deal of curiosity and the desire to know more and know differently. Finally, creative thinking involves more persistence than most people can endure. It is only the people with healthy self-esteem who can manage these characteristics and take the company, and themselves, to new heights. Your Personal Economy Your ability to obtain employment, keep employment, and advance in your chosen field is a derivative of your self-esteem. If you have healthy self-esteem, you are going to be interested in and willing to re-educate yourself to keep up with the changing markets. You will be more willing to learn the skills necessary to