Nurture Your Health Self-Perception

Some people capitalize on their strengths. Others are besieged by their weaknesses in the way they view and present themselves. A balanced self-view, in which we are aware of our strengths and weaknesses and vocalize them factually when needed, can best serve us and others.

Relating to an individual who is either routinely self-deprecating or overvaluing him/herself is challenging and gravely interferes with healthy, sincere interpersonal interactions. Both “braggarts” and “self-detractors” unwittingly place the listener in a compromised emotional state and damages respectful, authentic human connectedness.

Healthy beings are aware of their shortcomings and may occasionally state their lack of skill, knowledge or expertise in a factual or humbled way. For example, while entertaining a new guest they may say, “I am sorry that my home is not very tidy I struggle with being orderly.” Or, in viewing another’s challenge in calculating say, “I am sorry about not being helpful, but math is not my strong suit.” This allows for honest, cooperative and well intentioned messages to aid the listener in better assessing his/her options. Conversely, lamenting about one’s shortcomings out of context, such as, “I am useless when it comes to calculating anything”, not only places others in an awkward position but may also prompt them to assume a parental or therapeutic stance to reassure the speaker as they are concomitantly tasked with handling a challenging situation. All humans have their strengths and weaknesses and no one is expected to be universally gifted in all skills necessary for effective living. Those who delve into feeling shame about their perceived ineptness harm themselves and make others uncomfortable.

Dr. Alen J. Salerian, Medical Director of Washington D.C. Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic, stated, “Shame is a complex emotional response that all humans acquire during early development. It is a normal feeling about ourselves and our behavior not necessarily a symptom of an illness or pathology. In many situations, it’s abnormal if we don’t experience it.”

Some parents believe that shame is an effective way to teach children to act properly. Sadly, this erroneous stance only embarrasses the child and may cause him/her to feel inferior or unworthy. Conversely, praising the youngster and stating that his/her behavior is unbecoming to a kind and loving child, helps children understand the rules of conduct while preserving their positive self-view.

The same dynamic works for adults in their inner-dialogue. Being vigilant about our inner, self- respectful assessment of our words and actions can help us lovingly correct our errors, heighten our compassion and treat others as we wish to be treated.

To maintain a healthy self-view:

  • Be honest about your behavioral and verbal self-assessments.
  • Apologize to others or to yourself for rude, critical, unkind or shaming words.
  • Be a kind caring person with youngsters, peers, elders and yourself.
  • Speak to others the way you would like to be addressed if the situation were reversed.
  • Reprimand and affirm yourself and others’ actions, words and essence with respect and kindness.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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