Self-Esteem - Critical summary review - Matthew McKay

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Self-Esteem - critical summary review

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Self Help & Motivation

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: 

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 978-1626253933

Publisher: New Harbinger Publications

Critical summary review

What do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror? Perhaps your first thought is negative: ‘’Boy, do I look fat.’’ You might also praise yourself by thinking something like: ‘’I look good in this suit.’’ Whatever you tell yourself, the picture in the mirror remains the same - only your thoughts change. However insignificant it may seem, negative comments, such as the one above, clobber your self-esteem, causing damage to your mental health and relationships, leading to low academic and job performance, and sometimes even addiction. Using proven methods of cognitive behavioral therapy ‘’Self-Esteem’’ will help you change the way you interpret life, and replace negative self-statements with positive ones that lead to high self-esteem, hence a better life with more opportunities. So, get ready to see a different, more accurate reflection next time you look at yourself in the mirror! 

Self-esteem sets us apart from animals

Do you know what sets humans apart from animals? Unlike animals, people have, in the authors’ words, ‘’the ability to form an identity and then attach a value to it.’’ Simply said, you can define who you are and then decide whether you like or dislike yourself. And this is where problems arise - it is one thing to dislike colors, noises, shapes, or sensations. However, disliking the parts of yourself can cause you many hardships - you may take fewer social, academic, and career risks because of low self-esteem. When you reject some aspects of yourself, you limit your abilities to express and open yourself to others, hear criticism, and solve problems. Perhaps you will develop various mechanisms for keeping yourself from judgments and self-rejection - you will blame others, get angry at them or bury yourself in perfectionist work. Low self-esteem pushes some people into drug and alcohol abuse, too. 

The topic of self-esteem raises so-called chicken-and-egg questions among researchers. Does self-esteem grow out of life’s circumstances, or the other way around? Which comes first? The truth is, the answer to these questions does not give a complete picture of the nature of self-esteem because it is only indirectly related to your circumstances. Think about it - if external circumstances determine self-esteem, then building your self-esteem would improve them and vice versa, which, you have to admit, is a bit unlikely. 

Let’s say you sit with a friend and watch the news when you comment on the right-wing rebels. However, your friend corrects you saying their orientation is not right but left. After his remark, you can say to yourself: ‘’Oh, yeah, I’ve got to keep that straight next time,’’ or: “I really sound stupid.’’ Of course, the first sentence would not do much damage to your self-esteem. The second one, however, would have the opposite effect on it. So, in both cases, it was not about the circumstances but your interpretation of the event. For this reason, if you want to stop rejecting and begin accepting yourself, you should work on changing how you interpret life.

Pathological critic

A 29-year-old entomologist, a recent Ph.D. graduate, was applying for a faculty position. During interviews, he observed the dress and manner of the interviewing committee, speculating about their personality types and reactions to him. He carefully thought about the best possible answer to their questions. Nevertheless, all his thoughts and actions were followed by continuous shameful remarks from his inside voice telling him he was a fraud who knows nothing. ‘’Even if you get the job,’’ the voice would say, ‘’you’ll only lose it when your incompetence starts to show. You’re not fooling anybody.”

Everyone has a critical inner voice. However, the voice of people with low self-esteem is the one that attacks and judges, as the example above illustrates. To describe our negative inner voice, psychologist Eugene Sagan created the term ‘’pathological critic,’’ which, if you think about it, is perfect since its dominant trait is unreasonableness. The critic blames you for everything that goes wrong. He compares your abilities and achievements with those of other people only to conclude they are far better than yours. Critic’s voice screams how you are bad if you violate the rules you set up, and how you are nothing unless you are perfect. He calls you names, exaggerates your weaknesses, and emphasizes you always say or do stupid things. In the authors’ words, ‘’the critic is a kind of psychological jackal who, with every attack, weakens and breaks down any good feelings you have about yourself.’’

Although we refer to the critic as ‘’he,’’ his voice can sound female. He may sound like your mother, father, or your own speaking voice. No matter the sound, his words are incredibly toxic, especially since he is always with you and will stay with you unless you learn to quiet him down and replace with a reasonable, non-judgemental and supporting inner voice.

Don’t believe in what your critic tells you

‘’The first and most important thing you need to know about your critic,’’ the authors write, ‘’is that no matter how distorted and false his attacks may be, he is almost always believed.’’ When your critic calls you dumb, fat, lazy, or boring, you believe him just as you would believe in some proven facts. The entomologist from the previous section found his critic's words to be natural, reasonable, and true. After all, he was used to hearing that voice for years. Consequently, he started speaking monotonously during the interview while perspiring and stammering. It obviously should not be that way - ‘’the attacks of the critic aren’t part of the normal process of noticing what you feel and do.’’

Your critic will occasionally use short words or images to attack you or remind you of your failures. For instance, he may scream ‘’lazy’’ at you to bring back memories of the many times your parents complained about your laziness. A legal secretary realized her critic often used the word ‘’screw-up’’ to denote her incompetence or irresponsibility. Furthermore, he might compare you with your ‘’shoulds’’, that is, the values and rules you grew up with. He says, “A real man supports his family,” and calls you a loser when you lose your job. He might also tell you you will be a failure if you get a divorce or that you are selfish if you are a parent who craves some nights off.

However powerful or independent he seems, your pathological critic does not have a will of his own. You are only so used to listening to him and believing him because he has been with you since your early childhood - ‘’his voice is the voice of a disapproving parent, the punishing, forbidding voice that shaped your behavior as a child.’’ The authors say that the volume and viciousness of his attacks directly relate to punishing events from your childhood. If they were mild, the adult critic attacks rarely. On the contrary, ‘’if you were given very strong messages about your wrongness or badness as a child, then the adult critic will come gunning for you every chance he gets,’’ they write.

Disarming your critic

     Distinguishing your critic’s voice from others in your inner monologue is the first step to gaining control over him. As this can be challenging, you can begin by increasing your awareness in problematic situations, such as meeting strangers or people you find sexually attractive, conversations with disapproving parents, interactions with authority figures, and situations in which you risk making a mistake or being rejected.

Once you get to know your pathological critic better, you will recognize his patterns of attack. Maybe its primary function is guilt atonement or desensitizing you to the fear of rejection. Then, you are ready to disarm him and fight back. According to the authors, this involves three steps: unmasking his purpose, talking back, and making him useless. 

Unmasking the critic means exposing his secret agenda. Does he want you to live by the rules you grew up with? Sometimes, for instance, the inner voice tells people disgusting things to make them achieve more and more and maybe feel better about themselves. When you discover his ulterior motive, you will feel less vulnerable to him. 

    Think about the price you pay for critic’s attacks. Does it make you afraid of people? Maybe it prevents you from trying new things for fear you might screw up. A thirty-two-year-old sales representative realized his negative inner voice cuts his income by making him afraid to be assertive with potential clients because they might reject him. One way to talk back to the critic is by saying how much you lose by listening to him. Another way is using positive affirmations that replace the negative voice with a positive awareness of your worth. Here are examples of some of them: 

  • I am worthwhile because I breathe and feel and am aware.
  • I feel pain, I love, and I try to survive. I am a good person.

The last step in disarming the critic is making him useless. You will achieve this by replacing your unhealthy coping strategies with constructive ones. For example, if the critic solves your fear of failure by telling you that you “can’t do it,” therefore making you give up, your healthier strategy would be to redefine the meaning of your mistakes. Or, if your critic helps you control your guilt by punishing you, the better way of coping would be to determine whether your guilt comes from violating a healthy or unhealthy value.

Accurate self-assessment

People with low self-esteem do not see themselves objectively - their reflection in the mirror is distorted because they exaggerate their weaknesses and minimize their strengths. This results in a strong feeling of inadequacy since they compare themselves with others whom they see far more accurately. If you want to raise self-esteem, you must discard such a wrong perception and learn to recognize and value yourself for who you are. 

Creating a more accurate picture of oneself begins with ‘’self-concept inventory.’’ First, consider the following areas: physical appearance, how you relate to others, personality, how other people see you, performance at school or on a job, the performance of the daily tasks of life, mental functioning, and sexuality. Next, write down as many words or phrases as you can think of to describe yourself in those areas. When you finish with the inventory, put a plus by items that represent strengths or things you like about yourself and a minus by items that you consider weaknesses or would like to change. 

Now, look again at how you formulated your weaknesses. Did you use pejorative language? Go through the list and replace all the words with negative connotations with non-pejorative, more accurate and specific ones. Let’s say you wrote you “screw up paperwork,” or that you ‘’hate being alone.” The more accurate description of these would be ‘’occasionally forget to fill in items on my order forms,” and ‘’nervous and restless being alone in the house after eight or nine o’clock.” The same goes for your physical traits. Instead of writing that, for example, you have ''a big fat belly,'' and ''buckteeth'' you could write ''32-inch waist,'' and ''prominent front teeth.'' Finally, find exceptions or corresponding strengths for the items that make you particularly vulnerable. For example, instead of writing that you have trouble asking what you want, you can write: “I’m reasonably assertive with coworkers, with my friends Barbara and Julie, and the kids. But not my husband or other close friends.”

Finally, look at the qualities you have. Try to think of others that you haven’t mentioned. Then, choose a method to celebrate your strengths regularly - daily affirmations and reminder signs are great for that. It is crucial not to forget your qualities since keeping them in mind will empower you to talk back to the critic whenever he is trying to undermine your value.

Final Notes

The human tendency to engage in negative self-evaluation can cause enormous pain, and living with it is not only something we don’t deserve but something that gradually narrows our sense of freedom. Therefore, it is time for us to stop being our harshest critics and embrace and celebrate all the virtues we have. ''Self-Esteem'' can absolutely assist us in that.

12min Tip

You won’t benefit from this microbook just from reading it. If you want to build up your self-esteem, try doing the exercises it suggests. McKay and Fanning say they are the best, easiest and only way to raise self-esteem.

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Who wrote the book?

Dr. McKay cofounded the Haight Ashbury Psychological Services agency in 1979 and served as its Clinical Director for 25 years. This independent, low-fee clinic serves approximately 150 adult patients per week and trains 16 graduate students each year. Dr. McKay's current activities... (Read more)

Patrick Fanning is a professional writer in the mental health field, an... (Read more)

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