What are the risks of striving to raise self-esteem

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The psychologist and mindfulness instructor Martín Reynoso analyzes the questions about the importance that is given to this concept.

In today’s world the word self esteem it has an omnipresent presence: together with some Freudian concepts such as the Oedipus complex, the ego, the neurosis and some others, it has managed to jump the wall of the “psi” and has been installed in popular culture.

It was originally coined by William James, the father of psychology, at the end of the 19th century who, in his work The Principles of Psychology, studied the unfolding of our “global I” into a “knowing-I” and a “known-I. ». According to James, from this split, of which we are all aware to a greater or lesser degree, self-esteem is born.

The concept was intensely developed since then, with its use declining in the age of behavioral psychology, but then humanism brought it back to the table. The interesting thing about the word self-esteem is that it helped to give importance to internal subjective experience of people observing how they see themselves, if they feel comfortable or not in the living space in which they move, and in this way it helped us, health professionals, to enter the depths of feeling human, especially children or people with difficulties expressing their emotions.

Of course, the concept always encountered difficulties in scientifically validating its use: how to classify self-esteem, in normal, high or low only? it is measurable In quantitative terms, being such a personal and intimate experience?

Currently, and especially from the new cognitive therapies and mindfulness, its use is questioned and it is advised to look for more assertive concepts. In addition, the value of developing self-esteem as a healthy goal for people is questioned. Let’s see why.

When the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatzo was asked what the equivalent of self-esteem is in his Tibetan language, he did not understand the question: What does that mean? He inquired. Having explained the term, he asked again, “And why should anyone train to love yourself more? It’s like straining to do something natural. “

This is the problem with the concept of self-esteem, as much as some advocates deny it: that carries with it the burden of social success. Feeling self-esteem implies valuing oneself according to the achievements of socially valued objectives. The more achievement, the more self-esteem I have.

The American psychologist Albert Ellis, creator of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, has on numerous occasions described the philosophy of self-esteem as essentially self-defeating and destructive since it considers that, although the propensity and tendency of the human being towards the ego is innate, the philosophy of self-esteem appears in a definitive analysis as unreal, illogical and destructive for the individual and for society, providing more harm than good. He questions the foundations and usefulness of the ego force, and affirms that the concept of self-esteem is based on arbitrary defining premises, and on an over-generalized thinking, perfectionist and ostentatious. ​

Ellis adds that although human beings have a strong tendency (we would say that this tendency is learned socially) to evaluate or judge themselves, they don’t have to and they behave irrationally when they do; they could simply accept their existence “as I exist, I prefer to stay alive and while I am, I prefer to be happy.”

According to Ellis, the healthier alternative is to use the concept of “autoaceptación unconditionally “.

Actually, it’s not that we need to learn to love ourselves. It is something that we could naturally do if so many conditioning did not appear in our lives, if we could realize that the “assessment we make of ourselves” is not necessarily who we are: it is only one perception in light of our personal achievements in a social setting that can be demanding, all-consuming, and mostly in comparison to others.

Clearly, we do not live in a bubble to abstract from everything that happens around us, we cannot do without what others do and in the comparison there may be some learning. But we need to limit that continuous action of thinking how should we be based on what others are, how to act based on what others do. We live comparing ourselves. In one way or another, that is a betrayal of our most personal and intimate search, it is to look at ourselves in the mirror of another.

In mindfulness we talk about connect deeply with us and if we observe ourselves (me as an observer), do it with kindness, with deep affection and without losing sight of our process, our path and being authentic.

In the recognition of our integral humanity, perfect in its imperfections, vital and sacred, there is the way of re-discovering the affection for ourselves. There is nothing to gain, there is no goal to achieve. Only be.

*Martin Reynoso is a psychologist, director of Train Your Brain Argentina and author of “Mindfulness, scientific meditation”.

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