Back in 2007 I wrote an essay on the origins, function and value of self-esteem as part of my masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP). At the time I experienced some frustration with the narrowness of the academic approach and although useful background learning I prefer the more open approach I can use now on my courses and via this blog.
Last week I described low self-esteem and a more neutral level of self-esteem, this week I want to look more toward healthy self-esteem.
Self esteem could be described as the inner picture we hold of ourselves and includes our perceived personal strengths and limitations. How we feel about ourselves affects the way we relate to others, what we think we can achieve in life and the important choices we make in our lives.
Many popular books on the subject suggest that healthy self-esteem is the ability to accept and value yourself. Other writers talk about the importance of loving yourself. All of these ideas have value however from my perspective it felt like there was something missing.
A definition I prefer is the idea of valuing and accepting your own worth as a human being and at the same time valuing and accepting the worth of others.
For me this provides the balance and avoids a lop sided relationship with the world. If we only value our own worth we are unlikely to respect and appreciate others. As a species we are a social animal and in order to function to our highest potential we need to relate to others and connect.
A model used in Transactional Analysis provides a framework to explore this further, it is often known as the OKay Corral. There are four positions one healthy and three less than healthy.
I’m OK, You’re OK – This is the healthy option, recognising that everyone has a right to live in the world, all have value and all have the right to meet their own needs. This view encourages mutual respect and joint problem solving.
As children we are seldom able to recognise this position so are more likely to pick one of the others as our favoured view of the world.
I’m not OK, You’re OK – As a child this position makes sense because everyone else seems to know more and have more skills. This is a normal part of development, unfortunately some people get stuck in this position assuming that there is a basic fault within themselves. If this view persists and is perhaps reinforced by feedback from others the person will grow up with feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem. This person may spend time, particularly on bad days acting like a victim in search of a rescuer. This person will find it hard to believe that anyone really likes them or would want to spend time with them so they tend to withdraw into themselves.
I’m not OK, You’re not OK – This life position develops in a similar way to the one above, except that the child decides that others are no better than themselves. They notice when they fail and make mistakes, when they are unkind. This belief is reinforced if parents and caregivers are stressed and so behave inconsistently toward the child and are unreasonable and uncaring in their manner.
When the child grows up they may revert to this position when they are themselves under stress. They will find it hard to trust others or even themselves. There is a general feeling of hopelessness and an expectation that not only will they fail but so will others. There is a tendency towards cynicism and suspicion that others are only nice for a reason. This is also a life position of low self esteem.
I’m OK, You’re not OK – From this position the child has decided that all the problems they have experienced are merely temporary and when they get older everything will be okay. They decide they are in fact better than everyone else. They reinforce this belief by developing a competitive nature, strive to be the best as often as they can. Every time they succeed in winning a race or coming top of the class they use this as evidence that they are better than their peers.
As an adult they continue to remind themselves that others are inadequate, often appearing arrogant and conceited. They seem to actively pick up on other people’s failings. This is also a position of low self esteem because the individual can only feel good enough if others are perceived as not being good enough.
Some would argue that this position has high self-esteem however in my opinion this more about needing others to be seen as less than in order to feel good about oneself.
Reading this you might assume that we choose a position and stay there when the reality may be that we experience all four positions to varying degrees depending on the context. However we are likely to have a preferred position based on our experience and upbringing. Preferred only in the sense that it is familiar.
When writing my academic paper I explored the origins of self-esteem according to academics. The following extract provides a flavour of this view point:
“The origin of self-esteem can most easily be explained by childhood influences. High self-esteem in children is likely to be present when parents provide a supportive environment by accepting both the child’s strengths and limitations (Carr 2005).
Also necessary for high self-esteem are explicit and high standards that are actively supported by the parents and are attainable by the child. The parenting style needs to be consistently authoritarian coupled with an approach that is warm and respectful to the child. Parents who provide verbal advice to children and who role model effective strategies for dealing with life’s challenges are also associated with high self-esteem in their children (Carr 2005).
A relationship has also been proposed between high socio-economic status and higher self-esteem and then poverty with lower self-esteem (Carr 2005). Low self-esteem is the likely consequence where the parents are permissive, inconsistent, authoritarian and at the same time rejecting and abusive (Carr 2005). An avoidant parenting coping style has also been associated with low self-esteem (Carr 2005).”
I wonder how many of you would disagree with some of these academic perspectives? Do let me know what you think.
So where do we get healthy self esteem if we feel we don’t have it?
So now I return to my preferred definition:
Value and accept your own worth as a human being and at the same time value and accept the worth of others.
Step one is accepting that you are “good enough” exactly the way you are even if there are things about your life and the way you experience it that you would like to change.
Step two reach out and find others who can help you discover your own value and worth, we all need company on this journey.
Step three, begin recognising the value of those around you even those who appear to be in your way!
In the coming weeks I intend to expand on these ideas further. There is also still time to join us on our next Your Brilliant You! This workshop is a one day workshop based on my MSc research into how NLP improves self-esteem for details or to download my free MP3 taster session click on the link below