from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #41


     Newborn infants are totally dependent on others to meet their needs.  As they growand experience the world, develop a sense of self, of others, of social structure, etc.a self concept forms as part of their worldview. Ideally they emerge as adults who have learned how to meet their own needs.  What are those needs?  American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) ranked them in hierarchal fashion, from most basic to highest, as follows:

1) physiological: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, sex; 

2) safety: feeling secure,  not feeling threatened;

3) belongingness and love;

4) self esteem and esteem by others;

5) growth needs: both cognitive and  aesthetic leading to self 


     In considering those "Struggling With a Basic Need: Sustenance" (theme #24), we recognize people whose lives center around meeting needs in Maslow's first and second categories.  Here we look at those struggling to meet higher needs: those related to self esteem. 

     Whereas self concept includes understanding and appreciating  uniqueness without evaluative judgment, self esteem measures personal worth or worthiness generally based on a mixture of reasoned belief and emotion.  To some extent—social psychologists say it is large—your self esteem is based on your internally incorporating other people's evaluations of you.   One can fear peers' negative evaluations and live a life of conformity to avoid them.  Or one can internalize the negativity and magnify its importance.

     Consider one account (from an NMHIC booklet) of where this can lead: "You may be giving yourself negative messages about yourself.  Many people do.  These are messages that you learned when you were young.  You learned from many different sources including other children, your teachers, family members, caregivers, even from the media, and from prejudice and stigma in our society.  Once you have learned them, you may have repeated these negative messages over and over to yourself, especially when you were not feeling well or when you were having a hard time.  You may have come to believe them.  You may have even worsened the problem by making up some negative messages or thoughts of your own.  These negative thoughts or messages make you feel bad about yourself and lower your self-esteem."  Figures #41a and #41b provide lists of things you can do to counter this negativity and raise your self esteem.

    Life is full of stress and needs temporally or permanently going unmet.   Such occurrences are sources of anxiety. Psychologically healthy individuals use assertive coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety.  They include: 1) changing the environment or situation, 2) changing one's behavior, and, when these fail or are impossible, 3) learning to mentally


Such  manage the stress and minimize its internal effects. 

Thos       Those with mental problems, including low self esteem, are often unable to do any of these—especially the last one.  Instead they turn (sometimes unconsciously) to various defense mechanisms, which are typically less effective and often serve as stopgaps in "emergencies."  Their frequent use signals mental problems.  Thus an adult who often fantasizes, regresses or projects (his or her own unpleasant thoughts and motives onto others) may be emotionally immature; one who often represses unpleasant thoughts or redirects strong feelings to a safer target (displacement) may be neurotic.

Such       Such people suffer from a neurotic disorder or neurosis: an emotional disturbance characterized by high levels of stress and anxiety, depression, low self-confidence, and/or emotional instability.  Neurotics tend to be emotionally needy.  Maslow characterizes their needs as neurotic needs when they do not promote health or growth if they are satisfied.  Karen Horney (1885-1952) studied them in developing a theory of neurosis.  She viewed neurotic needs as representing overused (often irrational or inappropriate) strategies for coping with basic anxiety caused by interpersonal relationships.  She identified ten such needs— including needs for affection and approval, power, prestige, personal admiration and achievement, perfection and unassailability, etc.  While these are based on things that all humans need, in neurotics the need is distorted and too intense.  If the need is unmet, or it appears that it will not be met in the future, this can be the source of great anxiety.

     Many people with unmet needs operate in crisis mode as if some emergency exists.  While their anxiety and inability to relax suggests the crisis is real, in fact the emergency is often self-created.  In contrast, if truly basic needs are unmet—perhaps one is hungry and food is not available—a real emergency exists in a life and death sense.

     Why make this contrast? For two reasons—offered here in the form of advice for those in the affluent world struggling with unmet needs, and annually spending $billions on psychotherapy:  

1) Life is not an emergency—Relax! 

2) It is human nature to compare one's situation to someone else's.  A question to ask  is, "Would I rather be in my shoes, or in those of someone who struggles to meet basic needs?"  (Their worldview is dominated by theme #24.)  This leads to being grateful for what you have, rather than depressed by what you lack! 


     Finally, if the gap between your idealized behavior and actual behavior is large—if you don't practice what you preach—or if you ignore your conscience, the resulting guilt and hypocrisy can damage self esteem.  (See the negative feedback model in Figure #29b, and definitions in Figure #36a.)  In the long run, this can matter more than the opinion of others!


 Figure #41a

Raising Self Esteem—Things To Do Everyday

1) Pay attention to your own needs and wants.                          2) Take very good care of yourself.                                            3) Take time to do things you enjoy.                                          4) Get something done that you have been putting off.              5) Do things that make use of your own special talents and abilities.                                                                                       6) Dress in clothes that make you feel good about yourself.      7) Give yourself rewards.                                                           8) Spend time with people who treat you well.                          9) Make your living space a place that honors the person you are.                                                                      10) Display items that you find attractive.                                   11) Make your meals a special time.                               12) Learn something new or improve your skills.                     13) Do something nice for another person.

Note: Figures #41a and #41b above and at the right have been adapted from the booklet Building Self Esteem—A Self Help Guide from the National Mental Health Information Center (NMHIC).


Figure #41b

You can work on changing your negative thoughts to positive ones by:                         

1) Replacing the negative thought with the positive one every time you realize you are thinking the negative thought.                  (See examples below.)                                                    

2) Repeating your positive thought over and over to yourself, out loud whenever you get a chance and even sharing them with another person if possible.                                        

3) Writing them over and over.                                 

4) Making signs that say the positive thought, hanging them in places where you would see them oftenlike on your refrigerator door or on the mirror in your bathroomand repeating the thought to yourself several times when you see it.


Negative Thought

 I am not worth anything.

 I have never accomplished anything.  

I always make mistakes.

 I am a jerk.

 I don't deserve a good life.

 I am stupid.

Positive Thought

 I am a valuable person.

 I have accomplished many things.

 I do many things well.

 I am a great person.

 I deserve to be happy and healthy.

 I am smart.


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