Many categories of self have common characteristics, and there is value in exploring them. By understanding their distinctiveness, we may gain a clearer picture of how each of us fits into the world.
Self-Esteem Also known as self-worth, a person’s self-esteem is forged during the first seven or eight years of life. By then the mind has created the critical faculty (also known as the critical factor) to filter incoming messages, thus protecting the impressionable and immature subconscious. Until that is in place, absolutely everything a child hears, sees, and experiences will fashion a core belief that could be a lifetime guide.
If, during this critical period, a child consistently hears, “You are so disorganized, you’ll never amount to anything,” or similar judgmental put-downs, there is a strong possibility that the person will experience self-sabotage in later life. In transactional analysis, the core belief is known as the parent and it relentlessly directs behavior. Low self-esteem is created in an atmosphere of conditional love, and subsequently reinforced through negative self-talk. Unfortunately, contrary evidence is usually disregarded.
Some people endeavor to bolster their self-esteem through external elements, like marriage, alliance with others, and even the accumulation of money, titles, and degrees. While surrounding oneself with positive people has its benefits, it is problematic to define the self through external trappings.
Although it is a good thing to be proud of accomplishments, it is essential for people to make a clear distinction between their identities and their accomplishments.
All other “selves” emanate from self-esteem, that is, they take cues from the quality of the self-esteem. A fragile self-esteem will spawn weakness. A sound self-esteem, built in an environment of unconditional love, will sponsor resilient self-identities.
Self-awareness is the ability to reflect on our thought processes. We can become aware of many signals received from our bodies. We are not our feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and moods. These are simply processes that we experience and are not a “part” of our essence. We are able to objectively scrutinize the way we see ourselves. This social mirror of our place within humankind allows us to evaluate the roles of nature and nurture in our own attitudes and behaviors.
Self-acceptance is the coming to terms with who we are right now, just as we are, with all our faults, weaknesses, and errors, as well as our assets and strengths. It is important to appreciate that the negatives belong to us; they are not us. Recognition of shortcomings is a healthy first step in personal growth. The actual self is necessarily imperfect and dynamically striving for improvement. It is always a work-in-progress. Blatantly professing to be perfect produces great mental strain.
Self-honesty is being in touch with one’s own basic human instincts for justice and fairness for self and others. It means being aware of rationalizations used to counter our conscience and other internal signals. It means ridding oneself of the need to appraise self-worth in external terms. It also means assessing one’s strengths and weaknesses realistically.
Self-image is a custom-built collage fabricated from how we think others see us. We tend to draw conclusions about ourselves based on how we are treated. Psychologists generally agree that people underrate themselves. An inner sense of mastery and competence is developed only when we focus on our inner core of personal vitality and creativity rather than on seemingly negative evidence.
Negative feedback can be constructive in helping us get back on course; however, when we obsess about what others think, we relentlessly and consciously monitor every act, word, and manner. This creates inhibited, self-conscious perfectionists.
Traditionally, when employees demonstrated loyalty and hard work, they had an expectation of job security, regular pay increases, and promotions. Now, in many work locations, uncertainty and stress prevail. Habitual feelings of injustice lead to the victim mode of resentment and self-pity, thus lowering self-image and self-esteem.
Self-mastery is the knowledge about how to manage oneself on a daily basis so as to maximize accomplishment. Remember the old saying, “By failing to plan, people plan to fail.” Setting goals that are specific, timely, achievable, measurable, accountable, and realistic, and which demand just a slight stretch, have the likelihood of being reached, if combined with passion and action.
One constant in life is change. How we manage change depends on our experience and mind-set. An unpleasant encounter may subconsciously program us to either shy away from, or preferably, relish a new challenge. It all depends on how we perceive the original event. Some of my clients are “stuck” in their jobs, their relationships, or their lives in general. By remaining in their comfort zone, they are denying themselves opportunities to live at their full capacity. Self-mastery is knowing when to learn new skills or take on new responsibilities, when to hold on to beliefs that serve you, and when to let go of beliefs that do not serve you.
Self-efficacy is the context-specific assessment of belief in our personal capabilities to organize and execute what is required so as to achieve the intended goal. It is concerned not with the skills we have, but rather with our control over our own level of functioning. People with high self-efficacy choose more demanding tasks. They set higher goals, put in more effort, and persist longer than those who are low in self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy grows through personal and vicarious experience, discipline, and valid feedback. Although usually considered in a single context, there may also be a generalized effect reflecting a person’s abilities across a broad array of difficult or novel situations. For instance, if someone is loved by a supportive family on the home front, then that person will display a greater confidence on the job. This will be reflected by peer and management feedback, which will, in turn, show up on the home front, perpetuating the cycle.
Self-confidence is an external manifestation of the health of self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-mastery. Although it reflects the strength of these selves, it can be purposefully overridden to become a facade that we deliberately create for external scrutiny. I had a client who was a television actor. He once told me that actors often don’t know where their next job is coming from. They may seem to possess a great deal of self-confidence, but often it hides a shaky self-esteem.
If it is merely bravado, it is shallow. On the other hand, the technique of “act-as-if” can have a positive effect on the subconscious, since it cannot differentiate between something real and something vividly imagined.
Self-love is the regard you have for your own happiness. It parallels unconditional love inasmuch as, no matter what you do, you nurture yourself by giving yourself permission to take pleasure in whatever life has to offer. In the therapy of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), we use the phrase, “I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”
Self-actualization is the realization of one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp and appreciation of this world.
There were three brick-layers at work.
Each of them was asked in turn, “What are you doing?”
The first brick-layer answered, “I’m laying bricks.”
The second answered, “My job… to support my family.”
And the third bricklayer smiled and said, “Me? Why, I’m building the world’s most magnificent cathedral.”
International speaker, Dr. Brian E. Walsh is the author of the bestseller Unleashing Your Brilliance and has also co-authored with John Gray and Jack Canfield the self-help book, 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life: Volume 2.
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