• Blog
  • April 29th, 2012

Self-Esteem: We Wear it Like Our Skin

From my perspective, self-esteem is a very critical issue in emotional well-being. In thirty years of experience in residential treatment centers, psychiatric hospitals, schools, and 24 years in private practice, I have never encountered a situation, a person, a case, nor written treatment plan that did not include the improvement of self-esteem. It is a critical issue to our well-being. With every challenge that we meet in life, self-esteem becomes a factor, and it is shaken as we approach each challenge. The struggle with challenges and the completion of a challenge is an important concept in the process of building self-esteem. Of course, successfully meeting a challenge fosters confidence.

Obviously, everyone struggles with self-esteem from moment to moment, day to day, week to week, and month to month. The self-esteem is in a constant state of self-regulation moving up and down on a fluid basis. For some people, it moves on a continuum, going from high-highs to low-lows. For other people, that continuum is smaller and there is not a great fluctuation from highs to lows. However, the point is that everyone does struggle with self-esteem, and on an ongoing basis. It is something that is incorporated into our selves. We wear it like our skin.

There are three critical components in the development, maintenance, and restoration of self-esteem: 1) a sense of competency; 2) relationships with others, both peers and adults; and 3) receiving empathy from other people. Following, I will address these three components:

Sense of Competency. Mastering a task fosters competency. An A on a grade in school, scoring a goal in soccer, or loading the dishwasher and being told, “Well done!” —such accomplishments are stored in our emotional bank accounts and are useful when we inevitably experience failure, disappointment, or criticism. Gradually we develop a sense of being competent in the world.

Relationships with Others, Both Peers and Adults. How other people feel and think about us is critical. Being praised, acknowledged, and validated by others, in genuine ways, is invaluable to our sense of self and self-esteem. This external reinforcement needs to be incorporated by each individual in order to be taken in from the “outside” and gradually internalized. When I hear, “I don’t care what others think of me”, it is usually a warning sign of poor self-esteem and a defensive posture regarding relationships with others.

Receiving Empathy from Other People. Empathy is the balm or salve that soothes emotional wounds. Real and genuine empathy, the kind of empathy that hits the right note, helps us to restore and sustain our sense of self-esteem. Genuinely placing ourselves in the other person’s shoes, when they have experienced a hurt, failure, or disappointment, and reflecting their experience in a soothing manner, helps the other to restore self-esteem. The capacity to receive empathy gradually will lead to being able to provide it to others. There is a simple formula: Empathy from a parent to a child results in the child being able to provide empathy, resulting in a reduction in the child being angry, critical, or judgmental.

Maintaining our own self-esteem allows all of us to be more open, present, and giving — in the world, in our home with families, and in our work and social environments.

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My Services

In my private practice, I provide psychotherapy for individuals, couples, and families. I also provide parent consultation, assessment, parenting skills, and discipline techniques, as well as determining whether individual, group, or family therapy would be beneficial.

In addition, my co-facilitator Robert Rowland and I provide groups for adolescents and young adults.

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From Theory into Practice: Combining Experiential and Talk Group Psychotherapy for Adolescents

http://www.austinamft.org/2014/02/interview-with-mark-white-lcsw-lmft/ Mark White, LCSW, LMFT, is a seasoned group and family psychotherapist who has worked in private practice in the Austin area for over 25 years. He presented at the February meeting of the Austin Chapter of the Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy on both the theory of group psychotherapy with families, specifically adolescent boys, […]

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