Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending a webinar event held by our friends at the Psychology and Health Forum. The webinar titled 'The Neuroscience of Self and Self Acceptance Brain-Based Strategies for Addressing Entrenched Guilt and Shame' by Dr Tim Worden introduced a number of concepts to me. The most intriguing and valuable was to separate our sense of self from our evaluation of self and how this will lead to self acceptance rather than self esteem; that self esteem is a myth.
Self esteem is a myth? This concept blew my mind a bit, how can self esteem be made up when we talk about having low self esteem by being shy or nervous, and high self esteem, being seen as confident and believing in yourself? I found these answers by separating the idea of a sense of self, and an evaluation of self.
Now if we look at self esteem and what that means, it is a critique of our worth. It means when we have low or negative self esteem, that we are not enough, or that we are flawed. It is an evaluation of ourselves, compared to what we think we should be. If we're constantly evaluating ourselves as compared with external examples or societal forces of what should be, then we are constantly placing value on something outside of us, and we may never truly accept ourselves.
If we are to place worth on who we are, then we are enabling ourselves to feel shame, to feel 'not good enough', and to not accept ourselves. However, if we focus instead on our sense of self, on our own ideas of who we are, on our self concept, rather than self worth, then we can accept ourselves, our mistakes, flaws and all.
Evaluation of self is to place a worthiness score (self esteem) on who we are. It enables entrenched shame, and pessimism. Sense of self is to be aware of who we are, our values, our strengths and our weaknesses. To accept them and allow ourselves to move forward.
In therapy and across the board of mental health, especially within teenagers and high schools, 'self esteem' is referred to regularly. Learning from this webinar, as a therpist I can begin to practice in a way that encourages self acceptance rather than self evaluation. These concepts open up the door into numerous ways we can begin to decrease ideas of worthiness and increase acceptance and a foward thinking.
True North Expeditions, Inc. provides adventure therapy programs and services for children and teenagers in Australia. Based in Adelaide, the TNE team writes about child and adolescent psychology, family dynamics and how adventure therapy programs can connect with struggling adolescents.