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Self-esteem can be fleeting, but it's worth the pursuit

Self-esteem can be fleeting, but it's worth the pursuit

By Roger Stark, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Nov. 3, 2011 at 8:04 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — The great American psychologist Albert Ellis once said, “Self-esteem is the greatest sickness known to man or woman because it is conditional.” Indeed, the finding of a healthy self- esteem is the greatest mental health challenge many face in their lifetime.

Individual worth (and the self-esteem that is harvested from it) is not situational and should not be established by comparison, evaluation or an individual's last great or terrible accomplishment. Those are the conditional elements Ellis was referring to. They are often not within an individual’s control.

“Life happens,” as the street therapist would say, prompting many to throw up their hands and accept whatever fate they're dealt without fighting for a happier life. But experts say creating lasting self- esteem is possible and worth the effort to build. These experts offer guiding principles for those struggling to understand and foster their own sense of self-worth.

Self-esteem in a dog-eat-dog world
In a world that is quick to remind us of our faults, and even capitalize on them, we need to find ways to strengthen our self- esteem and to guard carefully the self-esteem of others. We can so easily damage another person's self-esteem, in this dog-eat-dog world. But instead of tearing others down, we can focus on building them up. In turn, this builds up our own personal feelings of worth.

CLICK HERE to read more from therapist and Studio 5 relationship expert Matt Townsend.

Russel Seigenberg, Ph.D., of Logan, suggests, “The ideal state is to have a sense of self-worth based upon the universal worth of mankind, an appreciation of our own strengths and progress and acceptance of our earnest efforts to walk a good walk in life.”

W. Tim Gallwey authored “The Inner Game of Tennis” outlining just how players could get their mental and emotional selves out of the way, freeing the player within to compete at the highest possible level.

He used the following metaphor: “When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but do not criticize it as 'rootless and stemless.' We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don't condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly right as it is.”

Gallwey wanted his clients to learn that in the big picture, their flaws did not define them or represent failure. He also wanted them to celebrate (and use and focus on) their strengths.

In his years of coaching, Gallwey observed that physical talent levels often did not dictate winning results on the court. He would say to his players, “Learn to trust yourself on the court. Find the state of 'relaxed concentration' that allows you to play at your best” and “Focus your mind to overcome nervousness and self-doubt.” His directions are not only valuable for tennis players, they are great life skills.

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In the rose metaphor, Gallwey takes the long-term, big-picture view, as does Seigenberg. He suggests human beings have value simply because they are human beings, whatever their stage of development. He describes it as “the universal worth of mankind.”

In the world of living things, humans are the pre-eminent species, combined with individual “strengths and progress.” each soul has unique value and ability to contribute to making his or her part of the world a better place. Their contribution would be missed if they were not there. If one chooses to earnestly make an effort to walk a good walk in life, individual worth is greatly enhanced. There is much to appreciate, celebrate and admire.

Even when the individual struggles, self-worth need not be diminished. An individual's worth remains constant. Mistakes and failures -- the stages where the human seedling is not particularly beautiful -- are part of being human, and often provide the greatest learning experiences. These are the moments of potential growth and nurturing. Painful as they can be, they serve to move the individual along the path of maturation. A child should not be shamed by his or her mistakes; they are often just benchmarks of growing up. So it is for adults.

Remember the rose. It is not very handsome as a scraggily root, but it is exactly as it should be.

In the process of recovering from addiction Roger Stark became a licensed addiction counselor and wrote the LDS recovery guide, “The Waterfall Concept, A Blueprint for Addiction Recovery.” He blogs at his recovery website, www.waterfallconcept

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