Friday, February 23, 2007

Self-Worth… When is it Under-Valued and When is it Over the Top?

People who live a happy, successful and meaningful life typically have a healthy level of self esteem – also known as self-worth. If an individual has an undervalued level of self-worth, he or she may not take risks, maximize his or her potentials nor take "the road less taken.” On the other hand, if an individual has an over-evaluated sense of self-worth, he or she may over-reach, attempt unrealistic goals, and experience frequent failure and frustration. It can be very helpful to pay attention to information and feedback the world gives us – especially from family and friends.

In my recently released pop-psych book, Mom and Dad’s Pearls of Wisdom, I tell the story of the time when, as a teenager, my dad taught me a valuable lesson. I labeled it accordingly:

During the summers that I was playing fast-pitch softball in the beer leagues, I was usually the starting pitcher. One Thursday I learned that my good friend Peter would start as pitcher in that night’s game. Even though I would start at third base, the news infuriated me. Pitching was my passion.
The next morning when I was talking with my dad about the game, still burned up, I said, “Okay, so we won the game. But I’m a better pitcher than Pete, and he’s better at third. It just doesn’t make any sense to me!”
“Maybe Coach wanted to save your arm for the tournament this weekend.”
I begrudgingly considered it. “But on the mound, I’m worth a hell of a lot more than Pete. The last time we played that team I pitched a two-hitter!”
Dad began to laugh.
“Okay, what’s so funny, Pop?”
With a mountain of love in his heart, he said, “Son,
If I could buy you for what you’re really worth

and sell you for what you think you’re worth,

I could retire.

Although my mom and dad have been deceased for a number of years, my family and friends keep my self-worth where it needs to be – not too under-valued and not too over the top.

Question: Have you ever had a difficulty or unique learning opportunity with regard to your self-worth?



Misa Ramirez said...

Such an appropropriate column as my husband and I are struggling with trying to bolster our daughter's 'self-esteem' during this time in her young life. It's all about reading for her. She's having trouble and things aren't clicking for her. She's wound that up in her mind to mean that she's not as good as everyone else and has bona fide meltdown moments over what it's costing her. And she's only six. Finding the words to get through to a little girl is hard...we're still trying.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Misa,
Thanks for your complimentary and extensional thoughts.
We all know and appreciate the importance of self-esteem on behalf of children and it can tear us apart when we see it in less than desirable levels – I know, I have three (now adult) children and vividly remember those times. (One thing we know about children – they don’t come with an instruction manual.)
Sometimes it can be helpful if we can guide them into activities for which there is little chance of failure and opportunity for success and praise. For example, I never played soccer myself but when my children were around the age of your daughter they played soccer. All the children followed the ball around like a herd of cattle. But hey, it didn’t matter… the indices of failure were mostly obscure – it sure wasn’t like little league where when you strike out everyone sees you do it. Individual sports like bowling (with the bumpers up) also is good – knock down anything and you’re a success. I don’t know if any of these ideas will be helpful for your daughter… I just thought it might and thus…
Hang in there… having caring and loving parents is the most important thing, and in that regard she’s a lucky girl.

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

Well, it's hard to narrow down, but I guess I don't think of it as self-worth but being a good person to others. And that makes me feel good. =D

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Kelly,
In my experience, people with high self-worth are good to other people. And they feel good about it because they philosophically believe that being good to others is a good thing (and they believe that's what good people -- people of worth -- do).
I'm happy for you (and I am sure others around you are happy to be around you),

insideout said...

Man I hate the way you make me think when I visit your blog.. I dont think I can narrow an expierience down. Is that a bad thing?

When I was seventeen I was working at a horse farm in Ocala Fla and got myself fired, and found myself homeless. I was backed into a corner where I had to go home to mom and dad or go in the Army. Lesson I learned was that I considered life lessons beyond me and that I didnt need to worry about anything. Problem was I could not muster up the courage to face my dad and concede that I had failed as he said I would. I chose to emlist in the Army instead. That whole chain of events made me the man I am today. Maybe I answered my own question: most of the time I am overconfident and dont seek the help I know is out there for fear that they will think less of me..I/O

Cathryn Fox said...

This is a great discussion. My son is an exceptional athlete and my daughter doesn't enjoy sports AT ALL. She has cried on numerous occasions saying how hard it is to be his brother and live in his shadow. Around the school she isn't known as Allison she is known as Alex's little sister. Even by a few teachers. I've been trying to help her find "her" thing. Something her brother doesn't do, something she can call her own. So she has now found band, and dance and volleyball, all things her brother doesn't do. Now we all go and cheer her on, in the things she enjoys and excels at.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello I/O,

Who ever said narrowing an experience down was a good thing? The important thing is that we think. Behaviors and emotions can get us in trouble if they are not occasionally tempered with some good thinking – which you do. (You’re awful hard on yourself.)

What we think of ourself is our “self-concept.” What we think others think of us is our “self-others-concept.” This latter issue is important, but it is not the only issue – it sounds like when you were younger what your dad thought of you was possibly more important than what you thought of yourself. Today, nonetheless, you seem to have it figured out – “what others think of me is important, but I will not substitute it for what I think of myself.”

And for the record, and keep this in perspective – you’re doing great,


Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Catheryn,

Welcome… glad you stopped by – and thank you for your gracious compliment.

As you, I am excited for your daughter. One thing I repeatedly have seen throughout my personal and professional life is – children want to (and need) to feel special, especially in mom and dad’s eyes. I only can imagine what it might be like to try to grow in the shadow of someone else; and one of the challenges for mom and dad is to help him or her do that without having to move away from that other person. When my younger brother got to high school, I already was gone, playing college ball; my poor brother got what your daughter was getting, and unfortunately he not only turned to “things” I had not done, but they were bad things. It took years for him to turn it around and for he and I to reconnect. You’re daughter is fortunate… especially for having a mom and dad who helped her find her own way… and in a good way.

I hope to see you again, Catheryn, and please know that you have an open invitation,


DH said...

This reminds me of a title sitting on my bookshelf. "What you think of me is none of my business."
I tried to live for a long time seeking the approval of ohters. I thought that if others approved of me, then I must be okay. Now I know that I must approve of myself. In order to approve of myself, I had to start figuring out who I am. I'm not sure why or how that works, but the more I know about me, the better I feel about me. DH

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello DH,
As I had said to I/O, what we think of ourselves is our “self-concept.” What we think others think of us is our “self-others-concept.” It sounds like in your past there were times when what others thought of you was more important than what you thought of yourself. But, I here you saying, “What others think of me is important, but I will not substitute it for what I think of myself.” Good for you!