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Understanding Self Esteem

Self esteem describes the overall sense of self-worth or personal value in a person. It can involve different beliefs about the self, such as the measuring one's appearance, beliefs, emotions or behaviors. Sometimes self esteem is viewed as self image, self worth, self respect or the value of one’s self. It can be understood from the standpoint of an essential need we have for normal, healthy development, something that comes from learned values and beliefs and generally has strong ties to our thinking, emotions and behaviors. Your self-image is how you evaluate your own life, feel about your job, relationships, where you’re going in life, and how you see yourself among other things.

How do you really feel about yourself? Do you compare yourself positively with others, or tend to evaluate yourself as superior/inferior to others? Do you have a harsh, negative opinion of yourself? How do you know when your self-esteem is healthy?

Healthy self esteem is generally seen as a realistic self appraisal: I am equal to others, I have good qualities, I can do things as well as most people, I can be proud of myself, I am comfortable around successful people, I can evaluate myself honestly. A non realistic self appraisal would fall into the pride category-I am superior to others. Thoughts or feelings of inferiority when measured against others would signify low self esteem, an unrealistic appraisal of one’s self. A sign of maturity is the ability to give to others and to meet other’s needs. But we can only give to others when we have a balanced acceptance of ourselves.

Some of the ways to personally assess self esteem would be:

  • You can appropriately express yourself.
  • There is no fear of being rejected by others.
  • You can make a final decision regarding you own well being.
  • You take a positive attitude about yourself.
  • You can forgive others and yourself for mistakes.
  • You can accept yourself.
  • On the whole, you are satisfied with yourself.
  • You feel you have a number of good qualities.
  • You can accept criticism graciously.

Good exercises in evaluating ourselves in the area of self esteem can be helpful to personal growth. What are you good at? Make a list of your accomplishments and personal strengths. How do you see yourself? Write down positive characteristics and traits you possess. What do you like to do? Plan time to take action on those things. Do something new, a hobby, recreation, a new event. What would you like to change about yourself or about your life? Make some goals and steps to reach them a little at a time. The person with positive self worth generally gets more of their needs and wants met, and lives a more satisfied and full life!


Understanding Forgiveness

If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.” - Mother Theresa
"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." - Mahatma Gandhi

What better time of the year than the Christmas season to ponder forgiveness? After all, humanity’s forgiveness is the reason or result for the coming of Christ. Unfortunately, many coming together with family or in a business setting will have great difficulty attempting to portray the spirit of the holidays to those with which they have been at odds all year long. Why should I forgive when the other person is the one who has inflicted pain and hurt on me? Failure to forgive leads to feelings and emotions of a combination of anger, resentment, bitterness, hatred, fear and hostility. It only hurts me; and who wants to live like that?

What is it?

Webster’s defines forgiveness as: to give up resentment; stop being angry with; pardon; give up all claim to punish; overlook; cancel a debt. Many think of forgiveness as something someone else should initiate-the one who has done the harm. In reality, taking the step to forgive those who have harmed us puts us in the position to choose to control our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. When we forgive, we do it for ourselves, not necessarily the other person (although when we forgive others it many times makes a dramatic effect on them too). It frees us to live a fulfilled, unrestricted life! Larry James says that not forgiving someone is like taking poison ourselves (continuing to suffer for what they did or did not do to you) and expecting them to die! He says forgiving is a gift you give yourself, dares you to imagine a better future and gives you the confidence to survive pain and even grow personally from it. Our pain, rejection and hurt will only begin to heal when we begin to forgive. Peace of mind and forgiveness go together!

What it is not!

Forgiveness is not condoning the wrong or hurtful act. We do not approve, excuse or justify what has happened. It is not denying it happened or pretending it never happened, nor forgetting about it. It also does not mean the pain has gone away. We don’t have to pretend we are not hurt or that we are not taking the offense seriously. Anne Bercht says “to truly forgive we must be aware of an important distinction: Forgiveness is not reconciliation with the person. Reconciliation is different. Forgiveness is one person’s moral response to another person’s injustice.”

Healthy Relationships

In his book Forgiving the Devil, Terry Hargrave attributes the work of forgiveness as one of salvage and restoration. He says pain comes from a violation of love and trust, and forgiveness is about reestablishing that love and trust in a relationship. Salvage is the use of forgiveness to gain insight into how to keep the damage done in the past from continuing to affect one’s life, now and in the future. It means understanding the circumstances of the abused, and abuser, so that one does not carry the burden of pain alone. Salvage can also help us to learn how to make future relationships more loving and trustworthy. Salvage does not restore love and trust to a damaged relationship, but helps us to recognize the interactions that were damaging and preventing them from happening again. Restoration, as opposed to salvage, requires the person who has been wronged in the relationship to put themselves in a position where love and trust can be rebuilt again by the person who perpetuated the hurt. In this, the victim and victimizer work together to restore love and trust and make the relationship functional again. The victimizer takes responsibility for their actions; the victim gives them the opportunity to compensate them, and actively forgives.

How do I go about forgiving?

There are two types of forgiveness according to Everett Worthington. Decisional Forgiveness is where a person simply chooses to forgive. Forgiveness involves declaring that one is not going to seek revenge or avoid the other person, but will do his or her best to get along in the future. Emotional Forgiveness moves positive emotions toward the offender such as empathy, sympathy, compassion, agape love etc. It involves a change of heart in which one replaces negative emotions of resentment, bitterness, hostility, anger, hatred and fear with more positive emotions toward the person.

Removing barriers in our own thoughts and emotions can sometimes be helpful to begin forgiveness work. Refusing to deal with our own emotions, not trying to trust again, not wanting to feel pain any more, not putting effort into forgiveness, and letting shame, guilt or fear get in the way, are all obstacles to the process of forgiveness. What would it take to remove those barriers? Try writing down the person’s name that has hurt you and then describe the experience, the pain, and emotions you have gone through or are currently experiencing. Don’t deny or minimize pain, but accept it and commit to dealing with it. Sometimes revealing the extent of the hurt and emotional feelings to the person who has offended you and verbalizing aloud that you forgive them can have a healing effect. For couples, remember the goal is for restoration of the relationship. Try to empathize with each other; reflect on your own capability to inflict hurt, recall times you have been forgiven. Take responsibility for your contributions to the problems in the relationship. These things help us to heal, find peace and anticipate positive results for future experiences together.

Forgiveness can be an ongoing process. We have a tendency to remember past offenses and take back up the hurt, pain and feelings of anger, bitterness or fear. Commit to renewing the process again as needed. When we initiate forgiveness, we are making a determined decision toward: our own health and well being; releasing feelings that hold us back from growing personally; healing, reconciliation, restoration and peace!


Understanding Change

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” -Reinhold Niebuhr
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” -Maria Robinson

It is said that change is inevitable, we change whether we like it or not, and change is the essence of life itself. Generally, change is difficult; whether it is for the better or not, it comes with problems and seems to have a domino effect on our lives. When things change in our life, other things are impacted and more change is created. We have all heard the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Why is it we are generally so resistant to change?

Ambiguity - when a reason for change is not clear; it has not been communicated and/or understood.
A Perceived Threat - the belief or idea the change will modify a current situation, position, power or relationship which will ultimately be damaging or negative.
Collaboration - we have not been involved in the change; we want to take some ownership and want to have a sense of power over the change in our lives.
Benefit / Reward - the outcome does not look as advantageous as the risk of changing; we want there to be more benefit than what it will cost.
Trust - not having faith in the outcome, or the person suggesting the change.

Sometimes even when the place we are, mentally, emotionally, or relationally is not healthy, we still feel more comfortable staying where we are than in making a change; even if the alternative would obviously be better for us. These are times when we can understand and go through the process of change in order to live more enjoyable lives and engage in more satisfying relationships.

How do People Change?1

  • They become interested in or concerned about the need for change.
  • They become convinced the change is in their best interests or will benefit them more than cost them.
  • They organize a plan of action they are committed to implementing.
  • They take the actions necessary to make the change and to sustain the change.

People Change When:2

  • They are convinced of the problem or the need for change-Motivated.
  • They are committed to making a change-Willing.
  • They feel they have the ability to make change-Able.

I believe there are three basic concepts for change: Awareness-gaining knowledge and insight; examination and evaluation of different aspects of our life. Acceptance-making a decision, believing in what you have learned and taking ownership of it. Application-downloading all of the above; using and making it practical; living it out. Without this last step the prior two mean very little and will be knowledge without wisdom.

What can People Change?

Themselves! Change begins with us. Just as we cannot change anyone else, only we can change our self. This may come in a variety of areas: our reality vs. expectations; assumptions, perceptions and the meaning we give to events and situations; worry, anxiousness and guilt; our fears; we can work on our self esteem and self worth; and probably the most important, we can alter our attitude. Most of us have the power in our lives to affect change:

  • Where we are - our current situation or environment (change where you are).
  • What we do - our effect on our environment, our influence, leadership, and actions.
  • Who we are - attitude, perceptions, coping skills, thoughts, behaviors, assumptions, knowledge, we can set boundaries in our life.

It is true that life changes all around us, all the time. The real question is will we resist it, or will we be open and have a positive attitude toward change? Let’s understand the need for change when it comes, be committed to it, and take the steps necessary to improve our satisfaction in life!

Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely.Unknown


1 DiClemente 2003
2 Ibid.

Understanding Other People

Our feelings and behaviors toward other people are strongly influenced by our thoughts and perceptions of them. It is not the actions of another person in and of itself that determines what we may feel about them, but the way we give meaning to their behavior. How do you view, or perceive other people?

We cannot completely know and get into the mind of other people; so we observe them-sometimes very closely and sometimes casually. We listen, study their behavior, examine their actions and reactions and remember things about them. We develop a set of summary conclusions and derive patterns about them so that we get a “psychological portrait” of people called schemas.1 We can take hundreds of these traits, patterns, conclusions and experiences of a person and organize them into categories which we label our “schema” of that person; a description of their personal qualities and behaviors. Some of our portraits of people are positive; but negative labels that we hold on to about people can have huge power and taint our view or perception of them. These negative conclusions, portraits, and patterns can become our only reality. We can let these become distorted to the point where “what you believe to be true is the only truth you can ever have.”2Why do we think the way that we do?

We have “levels” of thinking. Part of our brain focuses on text or information resulting in reasoning or deliberating, while another part may be having quick, evaluative thoughts called automatic thoughts. Automatic thoughts are words or images that go through our mind, are situation specific and are the shallowest thoughts we have. These spring up automatically and are usually rapid and brief. Generally, we are more aware of the emotions associated with the automatic thought than the thought itself. Where do automatic thoughts come from? Why do people interpret one person’s actions differently from someone else? Why might our perceptions of a person be different at various times? Beliefs!

Our most central beliefs are Core Beliefs. These understandings are fundamental and so deep to us that we rarely articulate them-even to ourselves. These ideas are regarded as “absolute truths” or “just the way things are.” They are global, rigid, and usually over generalized.3 Judith Beck says our core beliefs are created because as we develop from childhood we are continually trying to make sense of our environment- things we see, hear, experience- and we attempt to organize these into a coherent way. We do the same with other people. The schemas you use to explain and interpret what someone does, such as your partner, are the labels that describe and fix their identity for you, and influence every dimension of the relationship. What you feel, what you give, what you ask for, and how you communicate are tremendously affected by how you've labeled another person.4

We form schemas about personality traits (she’s cold, he’s lazy, they’re a manipulator), a person’s motivations and intentions (he is only nice when he wants something, she said that to make me look bad), feelings about you (she doesn’t like me, he is really just angry with me) and even judgments about ourselves (he thinks I'm incompetent, she thinks I’m uneducated). These are usually shaped and maintained by mind reading, assumptions and false interpretations. As time goes on and these lines of thinking develop more and more, the schema becomes believable and a truth; they can become built on conjecture and fantasies that are not real. Some theories indicate these perceptions are more than just interpretations, but also can change relationships themselves as in this example: “The person who fears being rejected becomes detached and withdrawn, and soon her few friends do the same: they withdraw from her because they are put off by her interpersonal aloofness. Her belief has contributed to the rejection she fears.”5 our own perceptions, labels and beliefs can actually become a “self fulfilling prophecy.”

When we have developed a pattern or portrait of someone that is negative, it is easily perpetuated. One way is called confirmatory bias (Meichenbaum 1988). This is the tendency to pay attention only to behaviors or communications that support the negative schema; we ignore and filter out anything that doesn't fit with the preconceived conclusions or patterns we have developed; favorable facts don't fit and are not remembered as clearly as the negative ones. Mental grooving (McKay & Fanning 1991) is another reason we perpetuate negative patterns of others. Many times our mind rolls the same thoughts over and over like a CD on repeat. We do this over and over when thinking of another person searching for memories or assumptions that will help us understand and respond. But our negative schemas are the assumptions we end up using to understand the other person which is full of assumptions and interpretations that are not completely true.

How do we think rightly and perceive others in the best possible light? We can remember our natural inclination toward developing negative patterns about others and guard against it. Look for alternative understandings for our perceptions-ask “Am I basing my perception on a feeling or a fact?” Is there other evidence that supports my belief about this person”? Give others the benefit of the doubt. Try to picture yourself in their shoes; show and exercise empathy. Communicate your thoughts and feelings to them in order to get clarification of their intentions and motives. Try to accept others as fallible human beings, who do make mistakes, but do not always act with malicious intent. Believe the best for and about others and be careful in judging others.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the [very] same things.” -Romans 2:1


1 “Couple Skills” 1994 by McKay, Fanning, Paleg
2 Ibid.
3 “Cognitive Therapy” by Judith Beck, 1995
4 “Couple Skills” 1994 by Mckay, Fanning, Paleg
5 “Integrated Psychotherapy” by McMinn & Campbell 2007

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