What is Self Esteem in Psychology and Self Acceptance Enhancing Exercises
August 6, 2020 by Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh Self Acceptance Enhancing Exercises, What is Self Esteem In Psychology 0 comments
Will I Ever Measure Up?
Do you need to be approved of by others? Do you want to be successful in life? If you
have a heartbeat, the answer is probably yes. But there is a distinct difference between simply
valuing the approval of other people and basing your value on the approval of others. Like most
things in life, the devil is in the details. When we get those details confused, we find ourselves
anxious, distressed, and frustrated. It is our thoughts that cause our feelings, and if we
repeatedly tell ourselves we are not good enough, we are going to experience feelings of
worthlessness! Understanding unconditional self-acceptance can help us to establish a healthy
balance between what we want, and what we need. This post is about understanding how your
thoughts and words drastically affect the way you relate to yourself, and how you can sow the
seeds of unconditional self-acceptance. Unconditional self-acceptance is a dedicated choice to
accept that you are a human being with such uniqueness and complexity that you simply
cannot be given an overall total rating. Accepting this belief paves the way for interior peace
Where does your worth come from? One of the common answers to this question is
that your sense of worth is based on the confidence you have in your ability to accomplish goals
and maintain relationships. We call this self-esteem. Albert Ellis, one of the great American
Psychologists (and a native of Pittsburgh!) actually believed that the idea of self-esteem was
problematic. He once said in a lecture, “Self-esteem is the greatest sickness known to man or
woman because it’s conditional.” If that wasn’t enough, he wrote a whole book called “The
Myth of Self-Esteem,” arguing this point! Self-esteem is too fragile to carry us safely though the
difficulties of life. Self-esteem is based on measuring up to some standard. What happens
when you fall short? What if you have trouble maintaining relationships? Does that mean you
are unworthy? We are all humans here, so it’s only a matter of time before we fall short of our
goals in one way or another! Placing your value in self-esteem is like going out on a big lake in a
paddle boat. As long as the sun is out and the weather is nice, you are in a good place. But as
soon as the conditions change, you find yourself vulnerable, powerless, and unfit to weather
the storm! Self-esteem places human value on a condition, but human value has to be put in
something unconditional. You can’t rate yourself on some measurement or condition. The more
you try the more anxious and distressed you will become! Unconditional self-acceptance is a
refusal to rate your whole self on some measurement, it’s a choice to accept yourself as a
human, even when you don’t like the way you feel, or the things you do. It is simply a
commitment to accept yourself with no if’s, and’s, or but’s. Understanding how and why we try
to rate ourselves can help us to stop this habit that causes us distress.
Don’t throw the Baby out with the Bathwater
We are not taught to value ourselves; we are taught to evaluate ourselves. Placing
generalized ratings on ourselves and others is a lesson taught to us throughout childhood. As
we become socialized, we are told that whether we are good or bad is determined by our
behavior. In school children learn to think, “If I behave well, I am a good kid.” But, “If I behave
badly, I am a bad kid.” This thought develops into the belief,
“It is okay to make judgement about people based on their behavior.” We use this same logic to evaluate ourselves when we
succeed or fail to meet some standard. “If I behave well, I am a good person.” “If I act badly, I
am a bad person.” This kind of thinking is dysfunctional, illogical, and irrational. It is a common
mental mistake that all humans are vulnerable to make. You are not your behavior; you are so
much more. Stop throwing the baby out with the bath water! Stop throwing yourself out
because of your behavior. Humans are so remarkably complex that it is impossible to assign
someone, including yourself, a global rating. Think about one of the behaviors that make it
hard to accept yourself sometimes. Now ask yourself these questions:
Is my HEART that behavior?
Is my MIND that behavior?
Is my BODY that behavior?
Is my SOUL that behavior?
Are ALL my SENSES that behavior?
Are ALL my SENSATIONS that behavior?
Are ALL my THOUGHTS that behavior?
Are ALL my FEELINGS that behavior?
Are ALL my BEHAVIORS that behavior?
Are ALL my MEMORIES that behavior?
You are not a behavior, you are a person. You can rate your behavior, but you can’t rate your
whole self. There is rule called the part-whole fallacy. The rule is, you can’t judge the whole of
something by just one of its parts. If you got a flat tire, would you total the whole car because
one tire was in need of repair? Of course not, but humans have a tendency to do just that, we
assign general value judgments based on one aspect of our humanity. It’s just not rational, and
when you think irrational thoughts it causes emotional distress! You have to learn how to stop
Unconditional Self-Acceptance and Self-Talk
Rational self-talk is the key to developing unconditional self-acceptance. If the interior
conversations you have with yourself is filled with self-defeating, dysfunctional thoughts it is no
wonder that you become distressed! Thoughts cause feelings. If we repeatedly tell ourselves
that we don’t measure up, we will feel and act as if that were true. When we plant seeds of
inferiority in our mind, we reap feelings of depression, anxiety, and self-hate. Feelings of
acceptance do not come from being accepted by others, but instead they come from the belief
that we accept ourselves. Unconditional Self-Acceptance is a belief based on reason. When we
hold this belief, we express it in our thoughts and these thoughts cultivate healthy emotions. It
is the repeated thought of unconditional self-acceptance that constructs a personal interior
climate of peace, self-understanding, personal strength, patience, and authentic self-love.
What does this self-talk look like? Rational thinking is flexible, non-extreme, helpful,
logical, and based on reality. It leads to healthy emotions. Irrational thought on the other hand
is rigid, extreme, illogical, prevents you from attaining your goals, and is not based on reality.
For example, if you bombed a presentation for work, a rational approach would be to say to
yourself, “I did very poorly on my presentation, and now I feel embarrassed. But my value does
come from my ability to present, or the approval of others.” This thought is true, it is based on
what happened and the emotion you feel would be appropriate. You will probably be sad, but
it won’t throw you into a depressive episode. Being irrational you might say, “I did such a bad
job on my presentation, I am worthless.” This type of thinking is self-defeating and will cause
unhealthy feelings of self-criticism and contempt.
We continually reteach ourselves the belief that our worth depends on other people’s
approval or our accomplishments by the things that we say to ourselves. When we think
irrationally, we become extreme. We may take a healthy desire to accomplish something and
amplify it to an extreme demand. We say things like, “I need to send all of my emails today,
and if I don’t then I am no good.” When our demands are not met, we punish ourselves! When
we look at other people we may think, “You must treat me well, and if you don’t you are
horrible person.” Or, we make global evaluations about the world saying, “I must succeed in
life, and if I don’t it is because the world is a terrible place.” Telling ourselves irrational and
rigid demands sets us up for failure and frustration. We take these demands seriously, and if
we don’t live up to them, we make global evaluations about ourselves, others, or the world.
The more we use the words of absolute demands, the more distress we cause ourselves.
Instead of extremes like ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘need’, and ‘have to’, try substituting more preferential
language like, ‘I’d like to’, ‘it would be preferable if’, ‘it would be helpful’, ‘it would be best if’, ‘ideally’,
Unconditionally accepting yourself makes all the difference! Next time you feel your mood
shifting or your anxiety mounting, pay attention to your thoughts. Rather than being rigid and
inflexible saying, “I need to send out all these emails today,” try instead being more rational
and say something like “I would really like to send out these emails today, but even if I don’t, I
as a person am ok.” Start repeating the simple phrase, “I am not my behavior.” Or maybe write
a note and stick it on your mirror that says, “My personal worth and value does not depend on
what I do, or the way people treat me. My worth and value is something that I hold within
It can be tempting to try to justify yourself, but you don’t have to. Unconditional self-
acceptance empowers us to be successful and to develop relationships in a healthy way that
encourages self-possession, honors our freedom, and affirms our dignity. Unconditional Self-
acceptance is a way of looking at ourselves that remembers, “I am not my behavior. I am an
unrepeatable, un-ratable, and dignified being. My value does not come from the approval of
others, or the things that I do. My value is inseparable from the fact that I exist. I chose to
accept myself unconditionally.”
Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral therapy focus on the way that
our thoughts affect our behavior. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other
emotional disturbance and feel this type of counseling would be a good fit for you, call us at
412-322-2129. We would love to set you up for a counseling session with one of our therapists
trained in Cognitive Behavioral therapy.
Dryden, W., DiGiuseppe, R., & Neenan, M. (2010). A primer on rational emotive behavior
therapy. Champaign, IL: Research Press.
Ellis, A. (2006). The myth of self-esteem: How rational emotive behavior therapy can change
your life forever. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Ellis, A., & Doyle, K. A. (2019). How to stubbornly refuse to make yourself miserable about
anything-yes, anything!London: Robinson.
I Am Not My Behavior. (n.d.). Retrieved August 02, 2020, from
By John Paul Dombrowski