It’s a virtual cliche for modern patients in therapy to self-diagnose with “I need to work on my self-esteem.” It rarely turns out to be a correct diagnosis. I much prefer to focus on self-respect. Self-regard. A conscious and responsible self-acceptance. Because there are times when I have had sufficient self-respect to recognize that I do not hold my behavior, my tone/attitude or my words in high esteem. Enough self-respect to admit when these things do not deserve to be esteemed. The capacity and willingness to feel an authentic remorse, regret and disappointment in self is, ironically, a key ingredient to an eventual return to the only self-esteem worth having — a true celebration of a whole self discovered through the work of facing ourselves as we are. Here’s a dirty little secret: If you argue backward from the implications of their behavior and choices, people generally have terrific self-esteem! The default posture of human beings is to think pretty darn highly of themselves. I can hear it now: “Oh, you’re wrong, Steven! People are crippled with low opinions about themselves! They need affirmation. Validation. They need to hear they are loved and worthy and special!” No, actually, they don’t. Feel-good speeches tend to bounce off modern neurotics like bullets bounce off body armor. In fact, continuing in such speeches tends to become conscripted into the patient’s problems of fear (defensive obsession) and self-glorification. What people need is to tell the truth and then to live with integrity. Self-loathing is, ironically, a consequence of narcissism — not humility. We combine narcissism and self-loathing so brilliantly that both are invisible to us. In such moments, we become “the piece of (expletive) around which the entire world revolves.” — Steven Kalas

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http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=images+overpride&qpvt=images+overpride&FORM=IGRE#view=detail&id=4060DCE2749D39255A2713A069082880579E3800&selectedIndex=24

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http://www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/steven-kalas/living-integrity-responsibility-barometer-self-esteem

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I’ve enjoyed and admired the work of Nathaniel Brandon, especially for the reason you cite. Brandon’s approach is rational. He avoids the saccharine slide into feel good pabulum one-liners.

(Quick aside: Brandon’s book “The Psychology of Romantic Love” is a readable and useful contribution. I recommend it.)

My friends and colleagues know that I’m on alert when I hear the word self-esteem.

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I’m immediately suspicious. Much more often than not, perseverations about self-esteem are distractions to the work of living well. Crutches. Dodges. Red herrings. So much pop-cultural blah-blah-blah.

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13 Responses to It’s a virtual cliche for modern patients in therapy to self-diagnose with “I need to work on my self-esteem.” It rarely turns out to be a correct diagnosis. I much prefer to focus on self-respect. Self-regard. A conscious and responsible self-acceptance. Because there are times when I have had sufficient self-respect to recognize that I do not hold my behavior, my tone/attitude or my words in high esteem. Enough self-respect to admit when these things do not deserve to be esteemed. The capacity and willingness to feel an authentic remorse, regret and disappointment in self is, ironically, a key ingredient to an eventual return to the only self-esteem worth having — a true celebration of a whole self discovered through the work of facing ourselves as we are. Here’s a dirty little secret: If you argue backward from the implications of their behavior and choices, people generally have terrific self-esteem! The default posture of human beings is to think pretty darn highly of themselves. I can hear it now: “Oh, you’re wrong, Steven! People are crippled with low opinions about themselves! They need affirmation. Validation. They need to hear they are loved and worthy and special!” No, actually, they don’t. Feel-good speeches tend to bounce off modern neurotics like bullets bounce off body armor. In fact, continuing in such speeches tends to become conscripted into the patient’s problems of fear (defensive obsession) and self-glorification. What people need is to tell the truth and then to live with integrity. Self-loathing is, ironically, a consequence of narcissism — not humility. We combine narcissism and self-loathing so brilliantly that both are invisible to us. In such moments, we become “the piece of (expletive) around which the entire world revolves.” — Steven Kalas

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