“Bad feelings like depression, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, frustration, and anger are often caused by distorted thoughts. When you can put the lie to these distorted thoughts, you can change the way you feel.” – David D. Burns, M.D.
In his workbook, Ten Days to Self-Esteem, Dr. Burns writes about different ways people think about their own self-esteem. The list includes positive statements which seem like good things but which can become unhealthy when overused or misused.
The list from one exercise includes the following statements:
- I am worthwhile if I have close, loving relationships with others.
- I am worthwhile if I am attractive and in good physical condition.
- I am worthwhile if I treat other people in a fair, generous, and ethical way.
- I am worthwhile if I’m happy and like myself.
- I am worthwhile if I work hard and do the best I can to fulfill my potential.
- I am worthwhile if I contribute to society.
- I am worthwhile if I am talented or outstanding in at least one area.
You may find a few of the ideas listed to be similar to statements you make. You may also think that there is nothing wrong with thinking the way you do – especially if you are trying to be happy, generous, hardworking, and loving to others.
While each of those behaviors and or attributes are desirable, using them to feel worthy turns them all into counterfeits for self-acceptance. One theory about why we use specific positive thoughts/words to measure our worth is based on conditions we learned in childhood. A shift occurs in some families away from the unconditional love enjoyed in the first year of life to years of childhood where conditions must be met before love is given.
The first year of life is often the worst behavior year (babies fuss often) with the most acceptance (babies are loved anyway). Once conditions for love are introduced and reinforced – the child who enjoys receiving love begins to learn the “rules for love” in their family. These family rules for being loveable can become internalized and turn into a life script. Instead of fulfilling our worth they become our way to pursue the condition or counterfeits for love such as approval, success, status, and importance.
One Thing to Do: Write down the statements from the Self-esteem list which you have used. Then circle the first three words and cross out every word after that. Re-read the circled words over and over without adding conditions.
Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.