“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
– Winnie the Pooh ?
October 2021, Volume 2
The G.T.Health Letter
~Adding a dose of mental health awareness to our community~
Mental Health Spotlight – Private Regard & Self-Esteem
Xtra Scoop of the Week – Self Affirmations
Weekly Testimonial – Self-Esteem Q&A
Mental Health Spotlight – Private Regard & Self-Esteem
What are private regard and self-esteem?
Private regard and self-esteemboth refer to how we perceive and value ourselves. High private regard and self-esteem occur when we are confident in and comfortable with ourselves; regardless of public regard(how society views us), we have a strong sense of who we are. However, these days it is very easy to have your self-esteem damaged by internal and external forces. For example, through social media we are exposed to others whose lives we envy; if we didn’t have Instagram and Tiktok and Twitter, we would only compare ourselves to the people we encounter personally, who are usually fairly similar to us. But social media allows us to cast our net far; we begin experiencing relativedeprivation, or the feeling that others have better lives than us because they have better things, even if our things are objectively good. I could have a brand new, beautiful Honda, but if I see someone on Instagram with their new Lamborghini I’m going to feel bad about that Honda even if it is, say, my dream car.
What are the causes and effects of low self-esteem?
Most people develop low self-esteem based on experiences they have that either introduce or confirm negative thoughts about their identity. Any form of prejudice, therefore, is a major cause of low self-esteem; feeling different because of your ethnicity, culture, gender, or passions can lead to feelings of isolation, otherness, and inadequacy among your peers. Experiences that confirm negative assumptions have the same effect. For example, people with major depression can believe they are worthless or bad; if they fail a math test, they might use this as evidence to confirm their suspicions of stupidity or laziness, even if one test is not a good indicator of character. Experiencing stereotype threat, or the distracting and ominous reminder of a stereotype, can also lower self-esteem; if a girl is told right before a math test that girls are bad at math, she will do worse on the test because she is consumed by this belief, and when her score comes back she will feel that the stereotype is true and she is bad. Yet another relevant factor is rumination, or the obsessive over-analysis of negative events; if you do badly on a math test, and it becomes all you can think about, you will become more and more likely to base your self-worth off that one test. Since our thoughts tint the way we view the world and ourselves, replaying negative experiences can actually convince us that we are only as good as those negative experiences; in other words, by ruminating about your bad grade you might convince yourself that you are stupid, and that the grade represents a flaw in your overall character, not just a bad day.
What are some psychological studies about self-esteem and private regard?
Two very interesting studies that give some perspective on self-esteem are by Schindler et al. (2021) and Wolf et al. (2021). The latter researchers studied the age at which the liking gap emerges (it was found to be between 4 and 5); the liking gap refers to the fact that people assume they view others more positively than others view them. Basically, we have a negativity bias, and we automatically believe that we look bad to others. The fact that this gap emerges in such young children is especially significant, since it means we begin assuming others don’t like us before we even start the first grade. The researchers also found that the gap increases with age, so that old children are even more negative (Wolf et al. 2021). Schindler et al. add another interesting layer to this with a brain-scan study that measures people’s reactions to the assessments of them made by others. Most significantly, they found that people were most surprised by evaluations in which their partner rated them more positively than they rated themselves (2021). For example, if I said my intelligence was a 4, I would be more surprised if my partner called it a 6 than if they called it a 2. This speaks to the intensity of the liking gap; we really are not expecting others to perceive us positively. A slightly more positive study by Ratner et al. (2013) found some really positive protective effects of high private regard; even if public regard (perceived discrimination, etc) was low and stress was high, participants with high private regard and pride actually had better immune function and thus were better able to cope with their negative environment.
How can you help someone with low self-esteem? The best way to help a friend or family member experiencing self-hate is to both be a good listener and be a good debater. Listening to someone’s troubles makes them feel worthy of speaking about their emotions and thoughts; after listening, however, it’s good to try and correct some of those thoughts. We can think about this as if we are engaging in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), or therapy which tries to correct negative thoughts by exposing the way in which a person is distorting their interpretation of events. This type of therapy is quite good for depression, which is largely centered around distortions and rumination. For example, if I get a bad grade and use it as evidence that I am a bad, stupid student, you might tell me that I am overgeneralizing; I am using one event to define my entire life. If you can convince me that my brain is just trying to mess with me, I might be able to try and develop a more positive outlook, and catch myself whenever I start overgeneralizing again.
What are some systematic differences in private regard and self-esteem? Private regard and self-esteem differ systematically by age, culture, and gender. For example, studies find that private regard increases with age (likely because people care less about what others think and stop comparing themselves to others), and that males have higher self-esteem than females, which is likely because females ruminate much more, thus increasing their negative feelings (Bleidorn et al. 2016). In terms of cultural differences, it is also generally the case that East Asians report lower self-esteem than Americans/Westerners. One study found that the reason for this is not core differences in how positively these groups view themselves, but rather differences in how willing each group is to report high self-esteem (Cai et al. 2007). This could be because of the lack of individualist norms and the cultural unacceptability of bragging in East Asia, and could also be because there are such severe standards of perfection in East Asian cultures that people feel they don’t stack up even if they generally are fine with themselves. Overall, though, individual differences are so great that it is difficult to make broad statements about private regard; people who are disadvantaged in society generally feel worse, but everyone’s brain and interpretation of their experiences are unique regardless of their gender, culture, or anything else.
I am not my failures.
I am not my last name.
I am not my past.
I am not my grade.
I am not my nightmares.
I am not my wounds.
I am not my fears.
I am not my tears.
I am my successes.
I am the name I make.
I am my future.
I am my intelligence.
I am my dreams.
I am my healed scars.
I am my piece of mind.
I am my happiness.
Let’s talk about this poem. Firstly, these are all great affirmations you can use if they apply! They are wonderful reminders that you are not just the product of your experiences or your regrets.
But how do we stop these negative thoughts from entering our minds? How do we stop ourselves from identifying with negative labels: a failure, unintelligent, worthless? Unfortunately, it’s very hard to prevent negativity, which can arise automatically without our awareness. What we can do, however, is deny the voices trying to tell us these things.
You failed a test; you’re not smart. No; I didn’t study very hard because I was working on another project; my performance on this test says nothing about my worth as a student. You failed to figure out this instruction manual, just like you do with everything. No, I am a capable person and I can’t be defined by this manual.
And we can even make it more basic than this poem. I am not defined by negatives, I am not defined by positives: I just am. I am a human, who lives, breathes, and gets through ever day, and I am enough.
Xtra Scoop of the Week – Self Affirmations
What is an affirmation? An affirmation is a form of encouragement or emotional support. It is a powerful tool that can be used to boost self-esteem, even if progress seems slow. Our self-image is largely influenced by the experiences we have, the feedback we get from others, and most of all the thoughts we have about ourselves and our experiences. Even if we don’t believe them at first, associating our self-image with positive thoughts and words can actually increase the positivity that tints our autobiographical thoughts!
How do I do affirmations?
The best part about affirmations is their simplicity; many people will begin their day with between 5 and 20 affirmation statements directed out loud into a mirror. It is especially helpful if these statements target the things you dislike most about yourself. For example, I struggle with body image; I know I am healthy and work out often, but I still am not happy with my body. If I were to do some affirmations, I might say things like: “My body is able and takes care of me and I am grateful for it,” or “I am good enough.” Some of the most powerful statements are neutral; they are not hyped statements, like “I am better than everyone else,” but rather simple statements of acceptance of who you are now. You ARE good enough; it’s probably hard or embarrassing to convince yourself you’re the best, but with practice you can start believing that where you are is exactly where you should be, and any change should come from motivation within, not from shame.
Question of the Week – Self-Esteem
You ask, we answer!!! This week’s topic, of course, is self-esteem!
Q:How do I maintain high self-esteem in the age of social media, when there always seem to be better things than what I have?
A:Great question; I’ll answer it with an anecdote that connects back to self-affirmations! This is a technique you can use if speaking into a mirror to affirm sounds too embarrassing. So, I am addicted to Instagram, which is a platform where people can post staged and edited images of themselves and make their lives seem perfect or ideal. Social media like Instagram is a place where jealousy and feelings of relative deprivation (being upset with what you have because someone else has something better, even if what you have is still good) can run wild, which can hurt your own self-image. Therefore, I actively try to catch myself whenever I begin getting jealous on Instagram, and then correct those negative thoughts. Instead of saying “Oh, I wish I had that dress!” or “Why can’t I afford as beautiful a bookshelf as she has?” I try to say “Oh, good for her!” and keep scrolling. Acknowledging someone else’s life without comparing it to your own can really help your self-image; TRUST ME!
That’s All for This Week, Folks!
Next week’s topic: Dysphoria and Dysmorphia
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