How Well Do You Know Your SELF? An Exploration of What's Inside
Many categories of self have common characteristics,
and there is value in exploring them. By understanding their distinctiveness, we
may gain a clearer picture of how each of us fits into the world.
Self-Esteem Also known as self-worth, a person's self-esteem is forged
during the first seven or eight years of life. By then the mind has created the
critical faculty (also known as the critical factor) to filter incoming
messages, thus protecting the impressionable and immature subconscious. Until
that is in place, absolutely everything a child hears, sees, and experiences
will fashion a core belief that could be a lifetime guide.
If, during this critical period, a child consistently hears, "You are so
disorganized, you'll never amount to anything," or similar judgmental put-downs,
there is a strong possibility that the person will experience self-sabotage in
later life. In transactional analysis, the core belief is known as the parent
and it relentlessly directs behavior. Low self-esteem is created in an
atmosphere of conditional love, and subsequently reinforced through negative
self-talk. Unfortunately, contrary evidence is usually disregarded.
Some people endeavor to bolster their self-esteem through external elements,
like marriage, alliance with others, and even the accumulation of money, titles,
and degrees. While surrounding oneself with positive people has its benefits, it
is problematic to define the self through external trappings.
Although it is a good thing to be proud of accomplishments, it is essential for
people to make a clear distinction between their identities and their
All other "selves" emanate from self-esteem, that is, they take cues from the
quality of the self-esteem. A fragile self-esteem will spawn weakness. A sound
self-esteem, built in an environment of unconditional love, will sponsor
Self-awareness is the ability to reflect on our thought processes. We can
become aware of many signals received from our bodies. We are not our feelings,
thoughts, behaviors, and moods. These are simply processes that we experience
and are not a "part" of our essence. We are able to objectively scrutinize the
way we see ourselves. This social mirror of our place within humankind allows us
to evaluate the roles of nature and nurture in our own attitudes and behaviors.
Self-acceptance is the coming to terms with who we are right now, just as
we are – with all our faults, weaknesses, and errors, as well as our assets and
strengths. It is important to appreciate that the negatives belong to us – they
are not us. Recognition of shortcomings is a healthy first step in personal
growth. The actual self is necessarily imperfect and dynamically striving for
improvement. It is always a work-in-progress. Blatantly professing to be perfect
produces great mental strain.
Self-honesty is being in touch with one’s own basic human instincts for
justice and fairness for self and others. It means being aware of
rationalizations used to counter our conscience and other internal signals. It
means ridding oneself of the need to appraise self-worth in external terms. It
also means assessing one’s strengths and weaknesses realistically.
Self-image is a custom-built collage fabricated from how we think others
see us. We tend to draw conclusions about ourselves based on how we are treated.
Psychologists generally agree that people underrate themselves. An inner sense
of mastery and competence is developed only when we focus on our inner core of
personal vitality and creativity rather than on seemingly negative evidence.
Negative feedback can be constructive in helping us get back on course; however,
when we obsess about what others think, we relentlessly and consciously monitor
every act, word, and manner. This creates inhibited, self-conscious
Traditionally, when employees demonstrated loyalty and hard work, they had an
expectation of job security, regular pay increases, and promotions. Now, in many
work locations, uncertainty and stress prevail. Habitual feelings of injustice
lead to the victim mode of resentment and self-pity, thus lowering self-image
Self-mastery is the knowledge about how to manage oneself on a daily
basis so as to maximize accomplishment. Remember the old saying, “By failing to
plan, people plan to fail.” Setting goals that are specific, timely, achievable,
measurable, accountable, and realistic, and which demand just a slight stretch,
have the likelihood of being reached, if combined with passion and action.
One constant in life is change. How we manage change depends on our experience
and mind-set. An unpleasant encounter may subconsciously program us to either
shy away from, or preferably, relish a new challenge. It all depends on how we
perceive the original event. Some of my clients are “stuck” in their jobs, their
relationships, or their lives in general. By remaining in their comfort zone,
they are denying themselves opportunities to live at their full capacity.
Self-mastery is knowing when to learn new skills or take on new
responsibilities, when to hold on to beliefs that serve you, and when to let go
of beliefs that do not serve you.
Self-efficacy is the context-specific assessment of belief in our
personal capabilities to organize and execute what is required so as to achieve
the intended goal. It is concerned not with the skills we have, but rather with
our control over our own level of functioning. People with high self-efficacy
choose more demanding tasks. They set higher goals, put in more effort, and
persist longer than those who are low in self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy grows through personal and vicarious experience, discipline, and
valid feedback. Although usually considered in a single context, there may also
be a generalized effect reflecting a person’s abilities across a broad array of
difficult or novel situations. For instance, if someone is loved by a supportive
family on the home front, then that person will display a greater confidence on
the job. This will be reflected by peer and management feedback, which will, in
turn, show up on the home front, perpetuating the cycle.
Self-confidence is an external manifestation of the health of
self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-mastery. Although it reflects the strength
of these selves, it can be purposefully overridden to become a façade that we
deliberately create for external scrutiny. I had a client who was a television
actor. He once told me that actors often don’t know where their next job is
coming from. They may seem to possess a great deal of self-confidence, but often
it hides a shaky self-esteem.
If it is merely bravado, it is shallow. On the other hand, the technique of
"act-as-if" can have a positive effect on the subconscious, since it cannot
differentiate between something real and something vividly imagined.
Self-love is the regard you have for your own happiness. It parallels
unconditional love inasmuch as, no matter what you do, you nurture yourself by
giving yourself permission to take pleasure in whatever life has to offer. In
the therapy of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), we use the phrase, "I deeply
and completely love and accept myself."
Self-actualization is the realization of one's full potential through
creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp and appreciation of this
There were three brick-layers at work.
Each of them was asked in turn – "What are you doing?"
The first brick-layer answered, "I'm laying bricks."
The second answered, "My job... to support my family."
And the third bricklayer smiled and said, "Me? Why, I'm building the
world's most magnificent cathedral."