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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #41: 

Struggling With A Basic Need: Self Esteem

alphabetical listing: A to K 

  alphabetical listing, continued: L to Z
Contrast Worldview Themes #41 and #35A --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!

apathy -- characterized by a person’s lack of feeling, indifference, lack of interest, or general unresponsiveness to a situation where a much greater response would normally be expected.

assertive coping mechanisms--strategies that psychologically healthy individuals use to constructively deal with anxiety and stress. They include: 1) changing the environment or situation, 2) changing one's behavior, and 3) when 1) and 2) fail or are impossible, learning to mentally manage the stress and minimize its internal effects.

attitude--a characteristic evaluative orientation and / or response tendency toward something previously experienced or encountered.  The associated evaluation can be positive (like), negative (dislike), or neutral  (no opinion.)  Beyond this evaluation--which may or may not be directly communicated--observing the particular response allows more about the underlying attitude to be inferred. Attitudes form based on inputs from three domains: 1) cognitive (thoughts, beliefs), 2) affective (emotions, feelings), and 3) conative (volition, action tendency or disposition).

attitude change, factors in--generally people's attitudes change for various reasons, including 1) as a result of  learning, 2) in response to reasoned persuasion directed at them, 3) in response to an emotional appeal directed at them, and 4) to relieve tension by reducing or eliminating a perceived inconsistency or cognitive dissonance.  A corollary of this is that attitude change is less likely to occur when such consistency is already present.

central conflict -- the conflict between one’s real self and one’s idealized self (according to one theory of personality)

character disorder -- a general label for people who continually engage in maladaptive, inflexible behavior that suggests the self image of a powerless individual who feels up against external forces beyond his or her control. Such people restrict their opportunities for personal growth, often fail to take personal responsibility, and sometimes manage to alienate or provoke those they come in contact with.

cognitive dissonance--refers to the inner tension or perceived incompatibility that one feels from holding conflicting beliefs or behaving in a way that compromises one's deeply held beliefs or values

conscience--a sense of 1) what is morally / ethically right or wrong, and 2) which actions a) will produce more pleasure and happiness vs. more pain and suffering, b) will be praised vs. blamed, c)  potentially promise benefits vs. involve risks and potential liabilities.  When conscientious behavior and actual behavior diverge, guilt and feelings of remorse can result. H.L. Mencken referred to it as "the inner voice that tells us that somebody might be watching." Some connect conscience with religion: it has been termed "God's voice."  Others make no such connection.

defense mechanisms--protective psychological coping strategies by which a person maintains that anxiety producing frustrations or conflicts either don't exist or are not important. Rationalization--convincing oneself that a once desired, but unattainable goal is actually undesirable-- is a particularly common one. Unlike the effective assertive coping mechanisms that psychologically healthy individuals use to deal with stress and anxiety, many defense mechanisms happen unconsciously and are less effective--often serving as "stopgaps" in emergencies. Their frequent use signals mental problems. Thus an adult who often fantasizes, regresses or projects (their own unpleasant thoughts / 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.

depression -- a psychological mood state characterized by a decrease in activity and involvement along with feeling sad, inadequate, despondent, and pessimistic.

dreams--a series of thoughts, images or feelings --particularly of anxiety or aggression--that one experiences during sleep. While dreams have a long history--the Bible provides accounts of  several seemingly prophetic ones--researchers are unsure as to how to explain them.  Various scientific explanations have been offered: that dreams allow the brain to consolidate memories, consider thoughts / memories / feelings  that would otherwise be repressed, aid creative thinking, anticipate future contingencies, etc. Vitalists postulate that dreams are one way spirits communicate. 

dysfunctional family--a family characterized by chronic turmoil, inappropriate behavior, conflict and frequent failure of parents to meet their parental responsibilities in a healthy fashion--resulting in children not knowing what to expect, their needs often going unmet, and, in some cases, being abused (verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually). Family dysfunction can typically be traced to parental alcoholism / substance abuse, their emotional / mental problems, or inappropriate parenting style (too dogmatic, authoritarian, controlling, distant, etc.). While the problem behavior originates with parents, children growing up in such unhealthy environments typically develop their own emotional problems, which increasingly affect family dynamics.

emotional intelligence--a term first described by Mayer and Salovey in 1990, and popularized by Daniel Goleman in a 1995 book. Of interest to both psychological researchers, and the general public, its meaning is still evolving. According to Mayer, etal in a 2008 Annual Review of Psychology article, emotional intelligence concerns the ability to carry out accurate reasoning about emotions and the ability to use emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought."  Goleman's latest conception of emotional intelligence sees four abilities as contributing to it: the ability to 1) be aware of one's own emotions, 2) control those emotions, 3) sense, comprehend, and respond to other's emotions, and 4) help other's emotions develop in the context of a relationship.  Some feel that EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is as important as IQ in predicting a student's future success.  The last decade has seen many schools mount efforts to help students build emotional intelligence. 

emotions -- another one of those difficult to define terms. Here are three definitions: 1) a catch all term for subjectively experienced states dominated by feelings; 2) the affective or feeling aspect of human consciousness; 3) ancient survival mechanisms to protect us from danger that have evolved to also include (as Steven Pinker puts it) "mechanisms that set the brain’s highest level goals."  

fear--a strong, primary emotion associated with unpleasant anticipation of danger and pain.

guilt -- an emotional state produced by knowing that one has committed a breach of conduct or violated moral standards. If one accepts society’ s version of acceptable behavior, the punishment guilt produces is self administered.

happiness and suffering -- Dostoevsky wrote, “Without suffering, happiness cannot be understood”. In equating Hell with “the suffering of being unable to love”, he again links these two concepts in an extreme sense, with love representing some extreme state of happiness, Hell a place of extreme suffering.

harm avoidance -- cautious anticipation of difficulty in certain situations results in people characterized by this to plan carefully, pessimistically worry, be shy, socially inhibited and sometimes avoid strangers. At times, such people lack energy to cope with situations that produce anxiety, so they passively retreat or hide from them altogether.

inferiority complex-- originally the term referred to a physical deformity, difference or inadequacy that led to more general feelings of inferiority. In common usage today, the term refers to any sense of difference or inadequacy that has become magnified or generalized to assume a significant place in a person’s mind

insecurity -- lacking confidence and assuredness, feeling uncertain and unsure -- perhaps even unprotected and unsafe. Feelings of anxiety often accompany feelings of insecurity.

introspection -- the process of looking inside one’s mind, recalling events, memories, sensory experiences, etc, and after this mental examination, perhaps reflecting on the experience, and formulating action. This only gives an illusion of free will, behaviorists and determinists would argue.


  mind / body connection --Wholistic health practitioners have long recognized this important connection, now increasingly traditional, reductionist practitioners of western medicine are realizing it as well. If the contents of one’s mind are unhealthy (anxiety-ridden, negative, full of blame, etc) it can literally make the body sick, or get in the way of its getting well. Similarly, psychological health, reducing stress, being upbeat, feeling loved, etc. can be linked to maintaining or regaining physical health. To underscore the importance of feeling loved / not being lonely, Dr. Dean Ornish writes, "I'm not aware of any other factor in medicine -- not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery -- that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death."

narcissism -- an exaggerated sense of self love or heightened emotional investment in one’s self , detracting from one’s appreciation of or emotional investment in others . It has been suggested that this masks deep feelings of unworthiness and emptiness -- unacknowledged, but unconsciously lurking. Critics of individual excess in the consumer culture have linked the psychology behind it to narcissism.

needs, Maslow's hierarchy of--American psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) ranked needs from most basic to highest as follows: 1) physiological: air, water, food, shelter, sleep, sex; 2) safety: security / not feeling threatened; 3) belongingness and love; 4) self esteem and esteem by others  5) growth needs: both cognitive and  esthetic leading to self actualization. Maslow stressed lower needs had to be satisfied first (e.g. a starving person isn't concerned with esthetics), and that higher needs are more uniquely human. The scheme can be represented using a pyramid.

needs vs. wants--the former are something that you have to have, the latter are something you would like to have.  If you haven't guessed, needs are more basic, things like air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink, shelter, and other things-- including other people and non-material things they can provide, and other intangibles.  As an example of what might be in this last category are needs that involve feelings such as  "the need to feel valued".  How do you decide if something is really a need or merely a want?  One way is to ask yourself the question, "Can I survive without this?" 

neurosis --a type of emotional disturbance characterized by high levels of stress and anxiety, depression, low self-confidence, and/or emotional instability. While all humans at some time may exhibit symptoms of neurosis, and it can take different forms, those chronically plagued with such symptoms whose suffering interferes with their normal functioning are such to have a neurotic disorder and are labeled neurotic.  Many neurotics are emotionally needy (see neurotic needs). German / American psychologist Karen Horney (1885-1952), who developed a theory of neurosis that is still highly regarded, felt that its origin could be traced to parental indifference. 

neurotic disorder vs. character disorder--in dealing with problems, many neurotics often assume they are at fault -- an orientation based on a self image plagued with feelings of inferiority and guilt over past (believed to be) wrong choices. Unlike those suffering from character disorders, who accept little or no responsibility for problems (preferring to blame them on external factors beyond their control), neurotics tend to accept too much responsibility (or blame themselves).

neurotic needs--according to Abraham Maslow these are needs that do not promote health or growth if they are satisfied; to Karen Horney  they represent overused, often irrational or inappropriate strategies used to cope with the problem of basic anxiety caused by interpersonal relationships. From her clinical experience, Horney 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.  

non-verbal communication--communication that occurs without words where messages (both intended and unintended) are sent using eye contact, facial expressions, voice quality or emotional content, gestures, body language, posture, dress, hairstyle, body adornment, etc. While such communication can (either intentionally or unintentionally) transmit information, more importantly it can transmit feelings and attitudes.

personal responsibility, accepting -- Before an individual can overcome some personal difficulty or solve a personal problem, he or she needs to acknowledge that the difficulty or problem exists, by saying something like, “This problem is mine and I must solve it”. In this context, taking personal responsibility means that you don’t ignore difficulties or problems, expect others to solve them for you, or shift the blame to others. In a family or social context, taking personal responsibility can mean voluntarily limiting your choices or restraining yourself for the good of the family, tribe, village, community or whatever. Richard Critchfield refers to this as “the freedom to choose self responsibility”.

positive thinking, the power of -- This phrase is the title of a 1952 best-selling book by Christian preacher and author Norman Vincent Peale. The basic idea behind his book--and behind similar routes to empowerment advocated by various New Age enthusiasts-- is that repeating good thoughts brings good things, while continually dwelling on negative thoughts can bring bad things. In short, people create their own reality by their thoughts.  Many, Peale included, consider thoughts to be things.  Some New Agers don't stop there, but connect whatever they are promoting with the mysteries of quantum physics in claiming that all matter is condensed thought.  For others, similar positive thinking / visualization techniques--and belief that God wants you to have abundant wealth--serve as the basis for teaching others how to get rich.  Coupling such "ask, believe, and receive" recipes with the idea that "you can control the world by what you think" methods provides the essence of numerous books about how to obtain wealth and power.

practice what you preach -- a proverbial admonition that urges you to do yourself what you advise others to do, or more generally to behave according to your otherwise enunciated beliefs and values.  If the gulf between the reality of your behavior and your ideals is great then you may be criticized (by yourself or others) for being a hypocrite, and  your self esteem and / or effectiveness at motivating others may suffer. 

psychosis--an extreme mental state in which a person has lost touch with reality /suffers from insanity and is incapable of independently functioning in society  

psychotherapy--the treatment (typically by a trained professional therapist) of an individual's mental illness, behavior disorder or other psychological condition typically involving establishment of a trusting, personal relationship between therapist and patient, and employing various techniques. In this way the therapist can help the patient more realistically see his or her problems and provide insight / instruction that enables better coping with them.

self actualization -- the ultimate personal development state as studied by Maslow and other psychologists. Self actualized people, according to Maslow have achieved, “the full use and exploitation of talent, capacities, potentialities, etc.” They are self confident but also possess humility that allows them to listen carefully to others and admit their ignorance. They see life more clearly than others partly due to a better understanding of themselves. With this superior perception comes a better sense of right and wrong. Among their attributes, Maslow includes “honesty and naturalness, the transcendence of selfish and personal motivations, the giving up of lower desires in favor of higher ones.” Such people feel a strong bond or kinship with the rest of humanity. They typically seek important and meaningful work.

self concept-- the part of one's worldview that includes an organized mental framework of conceptual schemes--each consisting of concepts a person needs to understand himself or herself. It provides a structure of knowledge upon which explanations of one's behavior can be based along with future behavioral plans and expectations. This personal conception is a synthesized whole (incorporating physical, mental, and social elements) that includes an appreciative sense of one's unique existence. It is based on the totality of one's experience and typically incorporates conceiving of self in both passive (as an inner witness to events) and active (as an inner agent or force) ways.

self esteem --the degree to which a person values himself or herself: one's self appraisal. It provides a measure of personal worth or worthiness.  

shame -- a state of mind characterized by belief that one has acted dishonorably or ridiculously and that other people are also aware of these actions.

stress scale--a scale gauging the relative stress of events occurring in one's life invented in 1967 by psychiatrists looking for a relationship between stress and illness in the medical records of thousands of patients.  The death of a spouse--assigned a stress value of 100--defines the top of the scale; getting married is judged 1/2 as stressful and rates a 50; changing schools is assigned a 20, etc.

suicide–the voluntary taking of one's own life.  Reasons for doing this include shame, guilt, depression, desperation, extreme emotional pressure or anxiety, physical pain,  knowledge that slow painful death is inevitable, financial difficulties, etc.  The WHO estimates 1 million people per yr end their lives this way; another 10-20 million attempt to do so.

unconscious memory -- a term that refers to those acts, events, and feelings that have been repressed. Such repressed memories along with wishes and even instincts are the source of unconscious conflict that Freudian psychoanalysis posited was the key to understanding and treating emotional problems.


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