DEFINITION

Self-confidence is not synonymous with ¬†Self-esteem and is more an affective sense of accepting one’s self or self-worth. Self-confidence is the expectation of success, but is not related to the value of the activity. Persons with high self-esteem, reared under conditions of acceptance, clear definition of rules, and respect, appear to be personally effective, poised, and competent individuals who are capable of independent and creative actions. Prevailing levels of anxiety appears to be low, and their ability to deal with anxiety appears to be better than others. Their social relationships are generally good and being relatively unaffected or distracted by personal difficulties, they gravitate to positions of influence and authority.2

Persons with medium self-esteem appear to be relatively similar to those with high self-esteem, with the exception they are more likely to become dependent upon others being uncertain of their worth and inclined to be unsure of their performance relative to others.2

Low self-esteem people, reared under circumstances of rejection, uncertainty and disrespect, have come to believe they are powerless and without resource or recourse. They feel isolated, unlovable, incapable of expressing and defending themselves, and too weak to confront and overcome their deficiencies. Too immobilized to take action, they tend to withdraw and become overtly passive and compliant while suffering the pangs of anxiety and the symptoms that accompany its chronic occurrence.2

A self-fulfilling prophecy evolves as persons with high self-esteem, conditioned and fortified by favorable treatment and by performance they believe to be successful, appear far more likely to expect successes in their social and academic encounters than are individuals with low self-esteem who come to expect rejection, disrespect and failure.

HOW ARE THESE CONDITIONS CREATED?

Parents can imbue self-esteem by:

  • nearly total acceptance of the child
  • clearly defined and enforced limits
  • high expectations for performance
  • respect and latitude for individual actions within the defined limits

Parents of high self-esteem children are concerned and attentive toward them; the structure of their worlds is appropriate with relatively great freedom. Low self-esteem is associated with the experience of rejection, disrespect, chaotic environments where the individual cannot determine what to expect. Application of consequences appear arbitrary and illogical.

So our view of ourselves is determined by how others value us, right?

Well, not exactly. How can so many successful competent people be plagued by chronic low self-esteem? If the world approves of them why don’t they? In the absolute sense people experience more success than failure in life, but still fail to acquire a prevailing sense of self-appreciation.1 How can some people coming from abusive environments become so confident? Or how does someone with loving parents seem so discontented with themselves? Perhaps external factors are not solely the determining factor.

Perhaps interpersonal & intrapsychic feedback systems play a role.1

Everyone will experience interpersonal rejection. Our response style to the rejection is the key. We will always be unacceptable to groups or people dependent upon contributions, goals or values.

  • To the extent the person copes with it, an increase in the development of realistic personal identity will result
  • To the degree avoidance is favored, an increase in one’s tendency to try and gain the approval of others by impression management ~ that is pretending to be what we believe is most acceptable to others

Self-evaluative processes are a psychological reality for most people. Self-evaluations form a continuous feedback loop about our sense of adequacy. The mere volume and weight of this feedback far surpasses the feedback we receive from external sources

This permits people to retain a negative self-view despite the approval from others.

CAN THERAPY ALTER THIS?

Self Esteem is the result of coping1

Coping is candid and realistic facing up to threatening situations.Any time we face something, attempt a challenge regardless of the outcome our esteem is increased. Conversely, any avoidance results in lowered self esteem. Alfred Adler promoted self-acceptance (the courage to be imperfect). Existentialists like Rollo May emphasize the “courage to be”; authenticity or willingness to express individuality in spite of the inevitable pressures exerted by others to change or deny. Psychological risk taking is the risk of being known and the chance of disapproval for what is disclosed. Authenticity, personal risk taking and discomfort are inescapable aspects of having high self-esteem.

Avoidance is the process of escaping perceived uncomfortable situations1

Conflict avoidance reduces discomfort immediately, but leaves the distorted perception that one is incapable of facing or dealing with the situation. This defensive maneuver is based on a process of denial, distortion and self-deception as a means of averting fear and anxiety.

Self-Esteem = successes/pretensions. Our self-love can be increased by either increasing the numerator (successes) or by decreasing the denominator (the pretensions we aspire to).

In spite of the possible laudatory judgements of significant people in one’s life, the individual’s self-evaluations regarding their choosing to avoid difficult situations leaves them with an unacceptable balance.

High self-esteem stems from achievement and acceptance.

Steps to Reconstruction of one’s Self-Esteem1

Avoidance

  • Recall a situation you typically avoid
  • Describe how all parties behave in the event
  • Choose 3 adjectives that describe how you feel about yourself and behavior in the situation

Coping

  • Repeat the same imagery while relaxing
  • Respond as the kind of person you would like to be
  • What adjectives best describe how you feel about yourself and conduct

Results

  • In the avoidance image, people usually find self-criticism or derision
  • Coping images frequently reflect strength and adequacy
  • When avoidance is the optimal response, evaluate the accuracy of your judgements

Change

  • Risk of exposure to feared psychological events; psychological anguish induced in treatment is the first sign of willingness to change – in the direction of coping
  • Personal Responsibility is necessary. If I want a different life, different sense of self-worth what do I have to do differently?

1 Self-Esteem ~ Paradoxes & Innovations in Clinical Theory & Practice – Bednar, Wells, Peterson
2 The Antecedents of Self-Esteem – Coopersmith
3 Your Child’s Self-Esteem – Dorothy Corkille Briggs