Self Improvement — 20 February 2011
What others think of you does not define you

How other people view us is important to our survival and well-being. Yet, we must consider these perceptions carefully and assess their merits prior to internalizing them, particularly if they could negatively impact our self-view.

Humans are not born with a sense of self-esteem. It is acquired from childhood on through the input of parents and other significant adults and through observations of our learned competencies and relationships with our peers.

Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the “Harvard Mental Health Letter,” describes the acquisition of positive regard, “It’s more likely that self-esteem will come as a result of accurate self-understanding, appreciation of one’s genuine skills, and the satisfaction of helping others.”

Yet, in every step of self-assessment of our skills and competence we do rely upon the input of teachers, supervisors and experts to attain a higher level of performance. This precludes autonomous self-assessment and requires the input of others.

We also must consider the view of others in order to stay socially and emotionally connected for our health and survival. Professor Beverly H. Brummett of Duke University writes, “Social isolation has been shown repeatedly to prospectively predict mortality and serious morbidity. The magnitude of risk associated with social isolation is comparable with that of cigarette smoking and other major biomedical and psychosocial risk factors.”

She adds, “Isolation from others is anxiety arousing or stressful in and of itself, producing physiological arousal and changes, which if prolonged, can produce serious morbidity or mortality; and, conversely that affiliation or contact with others reduces or modulates physiological arousal, both, in general and in the presence of stress and other threats to health.”

In relationships, the positive regard of a mate is essential to the maintenance of emotional equilibrium. The social feedback we receive from friends and family is also crucial in sustaining our safety and security.

At the same time, the opinions of others do not define us. For example, if a neighbor does not highly regard your intelligence, you have not lost any IQ points. If someone disapproves of your style or presentation you have not lost your flair for uniqueness. Every negative input must be honestly, (not defensively) assessed to determine its validity and any need for change.

In assessing negative input from others:

• Realize that good self-esteem and social connectedness are essential to your survival and health.
• Accept that negative reactions may be helpful in improving your behavior, performance and connection with others.
• Listen openly to feedback and check whether there may be even a slight merit to their view that is worth heeding.
• Respond to criticism/judgmental feedback graciously by complementing the speaker for his/her well-intentioned comments.
• Avoid owning input that contradicts your nature or former positive feedback from others. One person’s view does not a reality make.
• Remind yourself that no person’s view can define you as anything other than a desirable, lovable and worthy being.

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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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