People tend to think of self-esteem almost as if it is a product you can buy. Perhaps it is because of all the advertising which shows people smiling and feeling good when they use the products. Or, they think of it as a condition, like needing more iron in their diet or getting more rest.
Self-esteem is the result or outcome of one’s relationship with one’s self. It is a by-product of how a person treats him or herself.
Children are not born having a relationship with self. It starts with their relationship with others. Parents do things to them and with them. Babies and toddlers respond and react to the ways in which they are handled and cared for. Over time they develop a relationship with self from how they are treated by others. The quality of those interactions is a major factor in determining the quality of relationship a child develops with himself.
Children are not born loving themselves. They learn they are loveable (or not) by the experiences of being loved by those that look after them. At first, love comes externally. If they feel loveable, over time children internalize the love they experience and in this way they learn to love themselves.
Billy knew he was loved. As a baby, his mother’s eyes lit-up when she saw him. She talked to him a lot. She was always affectionate with him and took very good care of him.
His father smiled at him frequently. He spent time with him: playing roughhousing, sports and games. He taught him many things about the world and the way it worked. If Billy had any questions or problems, he knew he could always go to either parent. They stood up for him whenever they thought he needed support and gave him constant guidance. His parents did not have much money, yet they created a safe fun environment.
Billy felt loved, valued, understood, protected, and accepted. He felt cherished, just because he existed. He felt he belonged in his family. He felt good about himself, confident in himself and his abilities. To him, the world was an amazing place.
Sammy was not sure if he was loved or not. He had a sad mother. She took care of him, but she rarely smiled at him. She often did not look at him directly as she cared for him. She was impatient, yelling a lot. She was seldom affectionate, and she seemed to resent the time she spent with him. She read a lot. Sometimes she was okay, even telling him she loved him. But Sammy did not feel loved.
Dad was away half the time, and when he was home he was tired and distracted. He did not have time or energy for Sammy. When he heard his parents arguing, it was always about him. He felt like it was his fault, that he was bad, but he wasn’t sure how. The family had money, and it seemed to Sammy that money is what mattered, not him.
Sammy did not feel loved or valued. He felt he was a burden on his mother and father. He tried to be as good as he could to please his parents, but it rarely worked. He didn’t really feel he belonged to this family, more like he was visiting and it would soon end. He did not feel good about himself. He was unsure of how to be and how to act. The world was a scary place that he had to figure out on his own.
Each child comes to conclusions about themselves from their experiences of interactions with parents and others in their childhood. These conclusions may be accurate or inaccurate. Children do not even realize they come to conclusions; they are just living their lives. Some adults report specific memories of decisions they deliberately made as a young child. But most of the time, these conclusions are made without realizing it, get buried in the subconscious and operate out of awareness.
When a child has felt loved, valued and connected to the significant people in his life, he is more likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have high self- esteem. Conversely, when a child experiences lack of love and belonging, he is less likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have low self-esteem.
With care and concern,
Fighting and goofing around are distracting to the driver. It is also dangerous for the drivers to be upset and yelling at their passengers. The best thing to do is develop a strategy for safe driving.
When my kids were young, we spent a lot of time driving from one activity to another. We lived several miles from most activities so there was lots of time spent in the car. When they would fight or noisily goof around, I found it distracting. Yelling didn’t work, and besides I hated yelling and nagging at them.
I decided to stop trying to make them stop. I developing a strategy. I told them it was not safe for me to drive when there is fighting going on. I told them I would pull over to the side of the road as soon as it was safe to do so and wait until they stopped. They didn’t believe me, but I knew they wouldn’t until I followed through on what I had said I’d do.
So I began to do it. At first it happened quite a lot. I kept my word – I pulled over as soon as it was safe to do so and waited until they quieted down. In the beginning it seemed like a game to them. I was careful to keep my body language neutral and matter-of-fact, no eye rolling, no heavy sighs, no tense clipped speech. One time, they took a particularly long time to quiet down. So instead of “losing it” I stepped out of the vehicle and stood beside it. I never left the boys alone in the vehicle. When they finally quieted down, I got back in the car and without saying a word, started driving again. They didn’t like just sitting in the car and not getting where they were going whether it was school, soccer or home. So they started quieting down sooner. Eventually, when they realized I was slowing down to pull off to the side of the road, they would quickly quiet down. Without saying a word, I would pull back onto the road and speed up.
Somewhere along the way, it became a non-issue, without anyone discussing it. Being noisy in the car just seemed to hardly happen at all.
This was accomplished without me yelling, getting upset, reasoning, pleading, nagging, threatening, guilt-tripping, being impatient or getting angry. Having a strategy really helped me remain calm. I felt in control of the situation in a way that was positive for the boys.
It may take some time for the plan to take effect so be prepared to be patient. The plan may even have to be tweaked a bit.
The same strategy used with an angry negative delivery could turn into a power struggle. This could make the dynamics between all persons involved worse.
When getting along with others, there are times when things do not go well. You address the person(s) involved with the hope and expectation of coming to a mutually satisfying resolution. Lots of time this works. An example is choosing a designated driver when drinking and driving is involved.
However, sometimes it does not work, or works for a while and then reverts back. When the situation is ongoing, a different approach is needed. Developing strategies is one way to address the situation.
The goal of the strategy is to change the relationship in a way that enhances the relationship (win-win).
The strategy is to provide a reasonable consequence that motivates positive change.
The person(s) developing the strategy choose behaviours that are congruent with who she or he is.
Consistency is imperative to success. You need to be consistent (in this case leave after 30 minutes) in carrying out the strategy to avoid giving mixed messages to the other person.
NOTE: How the strategy is carried out is critical to its effectiveness. The delivery and the intent needs to be in a warmly matter-of-fact attitude with the genuine goal of enhancing the relationship(s). If it is carried out with anger or a negative “I’ll show you.” attitude, the consequence intended turns into punishment. This will backfire and likely destroy relationships.
Occasional lateness is not a problem. Life is life and sometimes tardiness cannot be helped or people just mess up. The problem occurs when someone is consistently late and will not respond positively to complaints about it. Usually they dismiss or discount the complaints with accusations of over-reacting and over sensitivity.
Cynthia’s friend Rhonda is chronically late. Cynthia decides how long she is willing to wait past the agreed upon time without getting resentful. She decides on 30 minutes. For example, if they agree to meet at 6:30 pm, Cynthia is willing to wait until 7:00 pm without being resentful. After that, if Rhonda has still not come, she is going to carry out her Plan B for the evening.
The next time Cynthia and Rhonda agree to meet up, Cynthia tells her in a friendly manor that she is OK with waiting up to 30 minutes longer than the time they agree on. If Rhonda arrives within that time frame Cynthia expresses her appreciation. If Rhonda is longer than 30 minutes, Cynthia leaves and carries out her plans on her own. Cynthia is to carry on her relationship with Rhonda as usual. She is not to complain or explain to Rhonda. If Rhonda asks her what happened, Cynthia is to say in a friendly manner she waited the 30 minutes,and then left because she was not sure Rhonda would come. If Rhonda is angry, Cynthia is not to get caught up in her anger. Cynthia can again express that their relationship is important to her. Cynthia has let Rhonda know she will act on her word. Cynthia no longer feels powerless; she is no longer resentful.
How Rhonda responds or reacts lets Cynthia know if Rhonda values their relationship as much as she does. If Rhonda values their relationship and wants to be sure she meets up with Cynthia, she will be there within the 30-minute window, maybe even on time. If Rhonda continues to be too late, Cynthia will realize that Rhonda does not value their relationship. She may choose not to be friends any more.
With care and concern,
It is OK to want to be right. It is OK to like to be right. It is a problem to need to be right.
Cynthia was upset. She was disappointed in her friend, Rhonda, because last night for the umpteenth time, Rhonda had kept her waiting for over an hour before finally showing up. Cynthia called her friend, Brenda, to talk about her frustration and hurt. She told Brenda that she has talked to Rhonda about her always being late but it has made no difference. Each time Rhonda would accuse Cynthia of over-reacting and making a big deal over nothing. Rhonda believed she was doing nothing wrong. Cynthia felt disrespected. Brenda suggested that she stop trying to explain and reason with Rhonda and change what she is doing. But Cynthia said she believed that talking things through was the right thing to do so she saw no reason to change since she was doing nothing wrong. Brenda agreed that talking things through was the right thing to do, however, that was clearly not working for Cynthia. Brenda asked Cynthia if she had a need to be right? Cynthia said, “No, but I have a need to be respected”. Brenda suggested that instead of talking to Rhonda, Cynthia develop a strategy for the next time they meet. Together, Brenda and Cynthia developed a strategy with Cynthia standing up for herself while maintaining and enhancing the relationship. Example of strategy:http://decisionquiz.com/blog/2013/01/28/strategies-on-positively-influencing-others-tardiness-by-changing-your-own-behaviour/
How do you know if you do not have a need to be right?
Think of rules as guidelines that are flexible and not carved in stone.
With care and concern,
Many people want to do the right thing. Perhaps even more people focus on trying not to do the wrong thing.
The problem is, it is not always easy to know what the right thing is. People disagree on what is right and what is wrong. What is right in one culture is wrong in another culture. For example in some cultures it is considered disrespectful to be late and in others it is considered rude to be on time. What is right for one person may not not be right for another. Times change. What is right at one point in time may not be right at another point in time. Frequently, we get new information that teaches us what we used to think was right is now proven to be wrong.
Also, being in the right is not always a good thing. For example, if you’re on the highway and get injured or killed in an accident, it does you no good if you are in the right and the other driver is in the wrong.
If you’re not going to think in terms of what is right and what is wrong, then how do you think?
Instead of asking if this is right or wrong, ask different questions,
Is this productive or not productive?
Is this healthy or unhealthy?
Is this helpful or unhelpful?
Will this make me happy or unhappy?
Is what I’m doing working or not working?
Is this constructive or not constructive?
Will this make things better or make things worse?
Is this respectful or disrespectful?
By asking different questions, it becomes clearer what to do or not do.
With care and concern,
Yesterday I had my regular bi-weekly full body massage. I knew it would feel good but knowing it would feel good and the experience of feeling good are two different things. It’s like, “Aaaaaaah that’s what I’ve been missing.”, but didn’t know it.
I often need massage because I have some injury from tennis, looking after my grandson or some other activity. But the best massages are when I’m fully fit and healthy. After several years my massage therapist knows my body better than I do. It’s nice having someone know your body so well. He knows where I carry my tension and works it out of my body when I didn’t even know it was there. He knows where I’ve had injuries and makes extra focus on those areas.
I enjoy deep tissue massage. Not everybody does. I like the strong pressure on my skin and muscles even when it sometimes hurts. The lighter massage feels pleasant but it does not impact me the way deep tissue does.
Yesterday, as my massage therapist was working on my lower leg, I was reminded of the experience of making passionate love in the past. I did not feel sexually aroused. The strong pressure on my skin and muscles made me feel – it is difficult to put into words – alive, present, impacted and loved. I did not feel loved by my massage therapist – of course we have a good report– it was the pressure he was applying that reminded me of feeling loved during passionate love-making in the past when I was touched that intensely. It felt good to remember.
During massage I find it difficult to stay focused on the part of my body being touched. I can do it for short times and then my mind goes off to the future or the past. Then I’m brought back to the present by the wonderful pressure on my skin and muscles. I stay with the sensations for awhile. It’s difficult to stay in the moment, but oh so satisfying when I do. I experience a pleasant kind of grogginess at the end of the session. I move slowly.
Humans need to touch and be touched. That’s why we love children and pets because they seek us out for touch and we get our need to touch and be touched by caring for them and playing with them. Couples frequently massage each others’ backs, feet and, of course, other parts. When my sons were teens, giving them occasional back rubs was a way I connected with them and expressed love without them thinking I was being soppy.
It is important to have regular massage treatments if you are not in a current relationship. Skin hunger can build up over time. Without intending to, people who are deprived often act out sexually (especially when alcohol and drugs are involved) and have regrets afterward.
In our current North American life style we often are too much in our heads – thinking thinking thinking – which disconnects us from our bodies. Massage helps us keep connected to our bodies and helps us remain balanced between mind and body in a healthy way.
With care and concern,
As I mentioned in my last post, I attended Dr. Marta Helliesen’s workshop on Sex, Brain and Gestalt Therapy. In the workshop she explained the physiology of male sexual arousal – the pressure of blood flow to the genitals produces an erection. Then she asked if anyone knew the physiology of female sexual arousal. Silence. I knew but felt too shy to say so. No one else answered. I wonder how many others knew but were too shy to speak up.
Dr. Hellisen explained to us that female arousal is similar to male sexual arousal. During arousal the blood flows to the genitals and vaginal area. The pressure of the blood flow to the area causes some of the plasma to seep through the walls of the vagina and tissue of the genitals, creating the moisture (nature lubricant) which facilitates intercourse. This process takes longer for women than it takes men to get an erection. She said women’s bodies can only do so much of this which is why it can be helpful to use commercial lubricants.
When I was talking to her at the end of the workshop I mentioned to her that I had known the answer but felt too shy to say so. She said that most people do not know this about female arousal. This surprises me that so many people do not know how the human female body functions. Humans do much better handling anything if they understand how it works. If men and women understood why it takes a women’s body more time to be ready for intercourse, they both may be more invested in foreplay. Men may also realize it’s to their benefit, as well as women’s, to take the time.
Sexual relations are such an important part of our lives and yet we still don’t educate our population about it. Is it because it’s hard to talk about or because we don’t want to show our ignorance? Maybe both?
With care and concern,
I just recently (June 2010) attended the AAGT (Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy) conference in Philadelphia. I attended an interesting and informative workshop, titled: Sex & Brain and Gestalt Therapy, given by Dr. Marta Helliesen, a sex therapist [and former neuroscientist] in New York. www.mkhelliesen.com.
I know that pornography is creating problems for both men and women in relationships in different ways. I know that some people who look at pornography develop difficulty relating to a partner, but I did not know what created the problem. Because I could not explain why it happened, I was often dismissed as ‘just a woman’ and ‘not understanding men’. Dr. Helliesen helped me understand how pornography can get in the way of normal sexual functioning with a partner.
People who look at pornography are primarily using their visual sense, in a heightened way. The brain has a need for novelty and through pornography, especially on the Internet, it is quick and easy to get new and more graphic pictures. This means that arousal and organism are quickly and easily achieved. During these times men are not using their other senses of smell, sound, taste and touch that are normally involved during sexual encounters with a partner. Without realizing it, they start to ‘turn off’ these senses and only focus on the visual. This creates difficulty when they are with a partner. They find it more difficult to experience arousal and orgasm through smell, taste, sound and touch. Because pornography so quickly arouses them and satisfies their interest and sexual urges, they become impatient with interactions with their partner.
It is possible, although difficult, for people to look at pornography and not shut down their other senses. They are still able to enjoy sexual arousal and orgasm with a partner. They are able to still find novelty in the nuances of touch, taste, sound and smell and experience pleasure in the time spent. They are able to connect emotionally to their partners and relate through sexual interaction.
Healthy sexual functioning and healthy sexual relationships are important to most people. It is helpful to know what can go wrong and why.
With care and concern,
Couples who interrupt each other a lot have difficulty understanding each other and solving problems. Often they end up arguing about who is right and who is wrong. The intent of the message to each other gets lost. Being right about the facts or circumstances may not do any good. [If you’re in an accident on the highway and you are killed, it does you no good to be right.]
Good communication happens when each listens to the other without correcting them and figures out what their partner is thinking, feeling, and doing/not doing, about what they are talking about. It really means putting yourself in your partner’s place and looking at the issue through their eyes. Your partner will appreciate that you’ve hear their point of view.
Normally at work, people figure out what’s at the heart of the problem before they try and fix it. They don’t want to waste time, resources and money. But in relationships, one or both partners usually jump to solutions before they know what the real problem is. Often your partner does not want a solution, he or she wants to bounce something off you or just connect with you. Other times they want to be understood and known by you on a deeper level. If they are bringing up a problem, figure out what is at the heart of the issue before you suggest solutions.
Be patient, slowing down may help resolve an issue faster.
Couples often analyze their partner’s feelings, opinions and behaviors. Examples: You’re just insecure. You’re just like your father. You’re just trying to get out of doing your part. The analysis may be right, but saying so can really hurt the relationship.
Keep your analysis to yourself. If there is good will in the relationship you will probably get the change you want. If you don’t get it, maintain good will yourself and figure out ways that you can change. Change in one partner impacts upon the other, who often responds to change with change. When you make changes you don’t have to wait for your partner to make them.
Start right now improving your communication. Don’t wait for your partner. Positive efforts are likely to pay off. You will be happier because you feel good about yourself.
With care and concern,
Dr. Bea Mackay