All About Motivation-Base

What I began to see in those earliest days of private-world activity was that I had to be ruthless in dealing with the motivation-base for following and serving Jesus Christ. I’m not sure I’d ever given the root motivations in my life the attention they needed. My days in college and seminary, and even the first years in the pastorate ministry, had been colored with a sense of idealism, even glamour, about ministry.

The pastor’s life, I thought with a mixture of naivete and unbounded enthusiasm, would be one of changing history, building a great church, making a difference in everyone’s life, preaching with fervor to people eager

to hear, and enjoying a revered position as everyone’s spiritual director and mentor. And if that’s what the pastor’s life was, then I wanted in. But why did I want in? Few questions ascend in importance above that one. But only a sharp dose of reality — usually painful reality — will force us to look deeply at our motivations. The story of Simon the magician in Acts 8 is instructive. When this man saw Peter and others act in the power of the Holy Spirit, he was prepared to pay good money to have that ability.

I see a little of Simon’s spirit in me. While I wouldn’t be so brash as to pay money for the giftedness that makes ministry possible, at times I’ve succumbed to the temptation of paying for greater popularity and effectiveness by jeopardizing my health, sacrificing relationships, and otherwise burning myself out. I suspect that possibility exists in each of us. Peter instantly challenged Simon’s motivation-base:


Another story about two planes that collided above our home when I was 2 years old, showering our backyard with debris that should have killed me but didn’t. Or a third story about my near drowning at age 3 and being rescued at the last second by someone who pulled me out of the water by my hair. These stories, often retold, had a powerful effect upon my sense of direction. “God has protected you fora purpose,” was the message mediated to me. “Find out what that intention is, and don’t defy it.”

I want to be respectful about the notion of God’s special call-ing. But perhaps you can see why these experiences could become twisted into another process.

Obeying God is one thing

Trying to please a mother, or wanting a father to be proud of you, is another. These motivations can get interwoven in the soul early in life. Then they get woven into the fabric of a sense of call, and it is very difficult to separate the two.

I came to see the obvious: approval from a parent or significant other can never navigate us through the often stormy waters of ministry. If we are driven by the need to hear the “well done” from human beings, even parents, we get maneuvered into something like an addiction.

A certain amount of approval needed this year will, like a drug, need to be increased next year. We wind up needing more and more approval as time passes to keep up the same drive. And since people’s approval inevitably comes and goes, in-creases and evaporates, motivation through approval becomes a yo-yo of emotions.

What Fuels Your Growth?

It was a Saturday morning almost twenty-five years ago. and Iliad officiated in the burial of two homeless men during the past week. In both cases, I fell, they liveshadbeen momingless and wasted. I was overwhelmed with the sadness and emptiness of the experience

Combined with several nights of inadequate sleep. no recent spiritual refreshment, and lots of nonstop ministry activity, their deaths left me in a state of emotional overload.

When I came to the breakfast table that morning, I had no clue I was on the brink of a crisis. Life had not yet prepared me for the fact that everyone has a breaking point. There at the table my point came, triggered by one innocent comment.

“You haven’t spent much time with the children lately,” said my wife, Gail. She was correct. I hadn’t. She had kindly avoided noting that I hadn’t spent adequate time with her, either. And I hadn’t done any better with my heavenly Father. Add to this that work was piling up, my sermon for the next day was unprepared, and I needed to make several hospital calls. I felt like a baseball player who just bobbled the ball and the electronic scoreboard behind him begins to flash

Suddenly I was engulfed with a sense of futility, and I began to cry. I lost control and wept steadily for four hours. That had never happened before. It was one of a limited number of “breaking experiences” in my life, which — more than any of the so-called successes — have been most responsible for whatever growth to-ward quality of soul I can claim.

What happened that day forced me to face up to something I’d either ignored or wasn’t smart enough to realize: I had been engaging in ministry — supposedly in the name of Jesus — largely based on natural giftedness — my ability with words, my social skills, and my desire and energy to work for long periods of time.

That Saturday morning I saw the first unavoidable results of a soul that lacked quality. Priorities were askew; key relationships were being neglected; spiritual life was a joke; work was out of control. And — I mean no silliness — ministry had ceased to be fun.
When the tears dried and I had time to assess what had happened, I saw that if I was going to persevere in ministry, I was going to have to tap deeper motivations and wellsprings of strength. Quality of soul became the first priority. That was probably the first time I became interested in what I would later call the ordering of my private world.

Other watershed experiences have come since then — some
even more difficult to face — but this was the one that pressed me to ask the questions of motivation (what was driving me?) and maintenance (what would keep me going?). That morning at the breakfast table caused me to get serious about issues of the spirit that I’d put on the shelf for too long. In the weeks that followed, I searched my inner world.

It became a re-building effort, a reconstruction of my base for serving God in the church. But sometimes when you begin to rebuild, you have to first clear away some rubble. Habits, motives, illusions, ambitions, and forms of pride have to be named and renounced. This activity is called repentance. I suspect it’s the most powerful exercise of the inner spirit that God has given us.

It’s God’s weapon against deceit, which, in turn, is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the Evil One. I wish I could say the personal cleanup that stemmed from the Saturday morning catharsis occurred in a short time and never had to be re-addressed. But I’d speak as a fool. All that really happened was that I went on full alert to what might be the core problem of most men and women who have a heart to serve God.

It was that experience that initiated my own discipline of journaling, which I’ve maintained to this day. I began to discover the benefit of recording the thoughts and insights I felt God com-mending to my soul.

Making Time for Friends

The pastors I know feel pulled in too many directions. How can anyone fulfill the impossible job description of spiritual director, preacher, counselor, administrator, fundraiser and raconteur at women’s association teas?

There just doesn’t seem to be enough time. Something must give — and what usually gives is the pastor’s personal life. Developing a friendship almost seems, well, selfish. But if the risks in not having friends are greater than the risks in having them, we have little choice.

For the sake of personal health and for the sake of the ministry itself, I schedule occasions for friendships to develop.

Weekly breakfasts or lunches.

For years I have been committed to having breakfast with Ken Regan every Wednesday at 6:30 A.M.

We meet that early because neither of us can afford to get to our offices any later. One hour a week doesn’t seem like much, but over a period of years it adds up.

Denominational meetings.

Denominational meetings would send me into a Twilight Zone of mental aberration, making me a danger to myself and others — if it wasn’t for Woody Garvin. My mood changes the moment I see him enter the monthly Presbytery meeting.

We reward ourselves for enduring the tedium of these meetings by having dinner together. Others may think were being dubby, exclusive, but we’ve nurtured a good friendship because of it.
And the annual trip to our General Assembly becomes a rich opportunity for spending time with Woody. By rooming together, we not only save our churches’ money, we give ourselves plenty of time to talk.

Study leaves.

Study leaves can be another opportunity for scheduling time with a friend Last year Woody and I went to the Lyman Beecher lectures at Yale Divinity School. The content of the convocation was worthwhile; the best part of the week, however, was the time we spent together, the conversations and adventures shared.

Friendship with Whom?

Finding time for deeriva ter friendships may be easier than finding someone compatible for friendship. Here are the groups from which I have met Mends:

Other shepherds

Blessed is the pastor who has another pastor as a good friend. When United Airlines Hight 232 crashed just short of the landing strip in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989, 120 people were killed. Passenger Jerry Schemmel is involved with a support group organized to help the 184 survivors cope with the lingering emotional trauma.

Wire services quoted him as saying. “For me, talking to other survivors is probably the most valuable thing, as far as therapy…

You 0111 talk to counselors, your wife, your family, but when you sit down in front of another person who went through the same thing you did, you know that person relates exactly to what you’re talking about.”

Other pastors know exactly what we’re going through: they’ve had troubles with the staff, known the exhilaration of Sunday morning, and written unsent letters of resignation after board meetings. We speak the common language of shared experience.

social learning and environmental rewards


Factors It should now be clear that we do not consider psychological factors external to the individual to be an adequate basis for understanding the origins of self-esteem. A broader conceptual foundation is needed. How-ever, it would make little sense to deny or minimize the important role these social learning influences play in shaping our self-image. This is particularly true during early childhood, when the organism is so teachable and the shaping power of the social environment is so obvious. However, a theoretical position emphasizing only learning factors, which are external to the individual, does not seem to adequately account for the development of self-esteem.

We see no necessity to rely solely on factors external to the organism to understand the origins of self-esteem for either children or adults. There is ample evidence in the child development literature for the power of functionally autonomous reinforcement (Bandura, 1986). Anyone who has watched an infant take those first precarious steps across a room without falling cannot help but notice that the child does not need external reinforcement from parents to recognize and to be pleased with this accomplishment.

The parents’ pleasure in their child is equally obvious, but it is not the only source of reinforcement for the child. Thus, as we will suggest, any meaningful theory of self-esteem must take into account the individual’s self-talk and self-thoughts spoken of in the early writings on the concept of the self Aside from having rather incomplete formulations of self-esteem, the traditional social learning approaches are also not much help to those unfortunate souls chronically plagued with low self-esteem.

Even if we grant that these socially transmitted self-images might be more true than false, the reliance on external factors to understand the origins of self-esteem suffers from more serious concerns. If individuals must depend upon the affirmation from others in order to overcome low self-esteem, then part of a clinician’s job is to teach the client to be a consummate performer, sensitive to the demands of the audience in order to win plaudits and “atta boys” from others. In our opinion, such a task is as im-possible as it is undesirable. Finally, common sense and clinical experience have led us to believe that high or low levels of personal self-esteem can be the result of events that have nothing to do with the way in which we are thought of by significant others. Children who are so lucky as to have affirming, affectionate, and loving parents should have unquestioning self-confidence.

Conversely, children whose parents were harsh and critical should inexorably be victims who gradually internalize the criticisms as the given definition of them-selves. Yet our clinical experience has taught us that this is not always the case. Some individuals coming from abusive and traumatic childhoods are remarkably intact, productive, and self-confident. Others, who come from apparently nurturing, supportive environments, may or may not be equally productive but suffer from debilitating self-doubt and low self-esteem.

These observations suggest that more is involved in the development of high or low levels of self-esteem than just external social learning factors. In summary, we consider the excessive reliance on external factors in understanding the origins of self-esteem to be ill-advised for the following reasons:

1. It does not accommodate the common observation that self-esteem does not necessarily vary as a (unction of numerous external factors such as loving parents, achieving positions of power and status, quality peer relationships, success in intimate relation-ships, or economic success.

2. It cannot explain the conspicuous absence of high levels of self-esteem in the general population, which probably includes many people who were raised in appropriately loving and nurturing social environments.

3. It denies the role of internal determinants of human behavior and psychological development, which common sense and simple introspection suggest to be valid considerations.

4. It is based on the implicit assumption that the development of self-esteem is a function of a favorable social environment that can be defined and that exerts uniform learning effects on different types of individuals.

All about personal self-appreciation

This is an intriguing paradox. Many of the traditional approaches to understanding the origins of self-esteem tend to emphasize social and interpersonal learning. Basically, these views suggest that individuals gradually acquire beliefs about themselves that are a reflection of the way they are treated by their social environment
(Bandura, 1986). In essence, people come to view and value them-selves in much the same way they are viewed and valued by others. Of course, there are exceptions to this general orientation.

Two notable ones include Rollo May’s (1953) emphasis on personal awareness and self-alienation, and Carl Rogers’s (1961) emphasis on self-congruence and perceptual accuracy. But even in these orientations, an unfavorable social environment is a crucial consideration. In both cases, it is the level of emotional acceptance in the social environment that fosters the conditions under which individuals become more or less self-accepting and self-congruent. We will review the contribution of all of these theoretical approaches in considerable detail in the next chapter.

For now, we only wish to emphasize that, according to these views, individuals with an abundance of approval and affection from their social environment, particularly from “significant others,” are more likely to have high levels of self-esteem than are those corning from less favorable social learning environments. Sullivan (1962) was the first to formalize this view in his classic text Schizophrenia as a Human Process. One of his primary propositions was that the self-concept is made up largely of the reflected appraisals of significant others. With these considerations in mind, the depth of the paradox becomes more apparent. Even the most successful people do not seem to develop any enduring immunity to problems of low self – esteem.

Yet, most of our theoretical speculations suggest this should be otherwise. We need not limit our definition of success to business, finance, and high-status positions for this general statement to have a wide range of applicability. On the whole, it seems reasonable to suggest that a rigorous and objective assessment of the major life events of most people almost always shows that the absolute number of life successes exceeds the number of failures.

In the course of a lifetime, most people manage to stay employed most of the time; have relationships in which they share both emotional and physical intimacy at least some of the time; provide support, sustenance, and direction for growing children or others they have responsibility for; keep their bills paid most of the time; and stay out of serious entanglements with the law. With just a moment’s reflection, it becomes obvious that many of these life achievements are significant ones, requiring persistence, maturity, self-control, complex judgments, and the ability to endure short-term frustrations while long-term goals are pursued. Certainly there are exceptions to this general characterization, but, on the whole, the majority of people do seem to endure the trials of life relatively well yet (a Ito acquire a realistic sense of self appreciation for their accomplishments.

The question then is why, with 40 to 50 years of reasonably successful and responsible life experience completed, do so many people fail to acquire an enduring and realistic sense of self-appreciation? While some individuals do seem to have an easier time of it than do others, in an absolute sense, most people do experience more success in their lives than failure. In spite of this, many people fail to acquire a sense of meaningful and enduring personal self appreciation that is proportional to their major successes in life.

In some cases, it is probably fair to suggest that just the opposite is true. Self-doubts, a sense of personal inadequacy, and, in some cases, self-hatred prevail where self-approval would normally be expected. Without minimizing the difficulties of life all of us are required to contend with, it would seem more reason-able to find substantial numbers of people at midlife with a heightened sense of self-appreciation and approval.

This would seem to be a more natural result of enduring and, perhaps, thriving in a society that can be competitive and hazardous at best. It seems paradoxical that such common and fundamental successes at life’s primary tasks are not weighted more heavily in the equation that accounts for self-perceptions and self-approval.


All about Self-Esteem and Success

A Major Paradox From a commonsense point of view, trying to understand the origins of self-esteem involves several paradoxes and contradictions. One of the most intriguing is why so many successful, competent people seem to be plagued with problems of chronic low self-esteem.

We will use several classic examples to illustrate this point. The first is a statement from a 70-year-old man reflecting on his lifetime effort to better the world he lived in:
My whole life has been a succession of disappointments. I can scarcely recollect a single instance of success in any-thing that I ever undertook. (Kennedy. 1956, p. 35)
The origins of this statement are not to be found in a life dominated by failure, nor was this person an object of pity and scorn to his contemporaries—nothing could be further from the truth.

The writer was John Quincy Adams, who served with distinction as the sixth president of the United States, a senator, a congress-man, a minister to major European countries, and a vital participant in many of the early and crucial events influencing the development of the nation. One cannot help but wonder how any person so entitled to an abiding sense of personal satisfaction after a distinguished life could be so plagued with self-disappointment.

Somewhere behind the external achievements there must have been an internal filtering device that denied the successes and hoarded the failures, and then served them to John Quincy Adams as the fruits of his life’s work. The theme of this illustration is not limited to the elite. It is common to many segments of our society. Our other examples are far more typical and therefore more compelling. They seem to represent a ubiquitous psychological treadmill that can be as common to the talented high producer as it is to the typical outpatient clientele of middle-class America.

A young college graduate came to the startling realization that his low level of personal self-esteem was a major determinant in creating his current problems, and that it had shaped many of his other important life experiences. He wrote:
For the past several years, I have felt that my life was meaning-less. This was an ironic state of affairs considering all that I had accomplished. Friends and relatives were always lauding me for my good looks and intelligence.

1 was the first person on either side of my family to graduate from college, doing so with honors. I had a good job with an important accounting firm. I had plenty of dates. By all outward appearances, my life was very fulfilling. Yet 1 was miserable and felt increasingly depressed. -Six months of psychotherapy had helped me to catch an occasional glimpse of the underlying cause of my unhappiness. It always seemed to involve low self-esteem or my disapproval of myself. Somehow, it seemed like I really did have a low opinion of myself. but 1 found that idea confusing because of all of the success in my life. Finally, I was able to put my finger on the problem.

Intervention Component Issues

In therapy as in life, there is always too much information being communicated from moment to moment to use it all. The therapist must deliberately choose the point of entry, the strategic portions of the event flow on which to apply change techniques. We have already suggested that the most important task for the therapist in treating self-esteem difficulties in the family is to assist the par-ents in resolving their personal self-esteem problems.

Now we turn to two final considerations, one in which the task is little more than helping parents recognize the implications of the choices in the parenting dimensions, and another that transposes some of the verbal concepts of the model for parents.

I. If parents must choose among parenting dimensions, the acceptance/bonding dimension is the most important.

Given that therapists will be working with families because something has gone wrong, they must frequently assist the family to restore or, perhaps, create for the first time the balance of the parenting dimensions discussed. We suggest that many parents come to therapy agitated because their control techniques are not working. Their predictable response to problems with children is to intensify their efforts, in effect to try harder to do what is already not working. Therapists must frequently assist parents to choose a more adaptive ordering of priorities among the dimensions, “picking their fights,” as it were.

While it is certainly true that occasionally parents may need to intensify their control of the child, we propose that most often the primary dimension to re-store is the sense of acceptance and belonging, which provides leverage for parental control. Parents certainly have had more experience than the child with the exigencies of life, and their relatively broader purview pro-vides perspective that the child does not possess. Their influence on the child as guides in developing self-esteem obtains as they continue to be accepted as credible authorities.

Yet the time comes in all children’s lives when the only reason they will continue to value their parents’ counsel or direction is that they cannot deny their parents’ commitment to them. Other parental means of exercising control, such as intimidation or guilt, diminish with the child’s developing maturity and frequently even become the sources of unreasoning opposition.

Adolescents especially are sensitive to disingenuousness, reacting immediately to the perception of being manipulated, even when they know it may be in their best interests. (Ironically, a son may express the effectiveness of Dad’s modeling by being as stubborn and willful as he is; Dad’s determination to control is vitiated by his very demand.)

Manipulation is anathema to a person engaged in defining the self as an individual. Thus even parents who perceive themselves as desiring their child’s success may find themselves shut out by dint of their overweening attempts to control. Again the importance of the personal authenticity of parents looms large.

Children who enjoy a strong sense of identification with and respect toward their parents will feel the pull of reciprocity to be considerate of their parents wishes, because the children recognize the parents’ desire to be responsive to legitimate concerns. Children can trust their parents’ motives for them, knowing that they are prized but acknowledged as separate entities.

Children will feel free to express concerns, doubts, or hopes when they know their parents will not attempt to force their solutions to problems on the children. Parents will find that their counsel, while it must compete with other sources as the child grows, maintains its favored position of trust. Just as importantly, they will find the child apt to forgive parental mistakes, recognizing their abiding concern in spite of occasional lapses.

2. As the child matures, parents can utilize the verbal concepts of the model.

Herein, the therapist can act somewhat like a behavioral coach. Earlier we discussed how important it is that the parents are authentic themselves. The degree of their congruence and self-es-teem will do much to encourage the child’s own efforts.The child, observing and identifying with the parents’ determination to face conflict situations, will be more apt to accept the anxiety inherent in such circumstances as unwanted but also unavoidable and therefore acceptable.

Parents must use their experiences and those of the child as they observe them to talk about the events, their feelings, and their perception of the outcome. Without preaching, they can use activities as they occur as in vivo experiments in self-esteem enhancement. Knowing that they serve as models for imitative learning, parents can augment the learning effect by verbalizing the process as it takes place. An example might be: The parent verbalizes the conflict situation.

“1 think there is a misunderstanding between me and Mrs. Jones, our neighbor. I need to talk to her about [situation].” Next the parent verbalizes the anxieties attendant on coping with the conflict. “But I don’t want to say anything about it. I might get mad and say something I would regret, or she might misunderstand me and the situation would get even worse. I wish she would just realize [solution]. I get nervous when I think about having to say something difficult to someone I don’t know well.” Now the parent verbalizes the consequences of avoiding the conflict and models the decision to confront instead. “But I know if I don’t say anything, probably nothing will improve. And I won’t feel good about myself, because I never feel good about me when I feel as though I’ve been too afraid to do what needs to be done. So I’m going to do my best to work this out with Mrs. Jones. It still may not work, but I’ll feel better for having tried.”

Of course, it is essential that the parent then proceed to confront the situation and report its consequences, emphasizing self-evaluative thoughts. “Well, I’m really glad I did that. [Describe the resolu-tion.] You know, whenever 1 face these situations instead of avoiding them, I feel good about myself. I feel as though I can handle the problems that occur.” Thus, children will become familiar with the concepts as well as their own self-evaluations, moving toward the quintessential question for the model:

“What must I do in this circumstance in order to approve of myself?” Recognizing the importance of facing and coping with difficult situations, parents will also watch for situations in which children feel anxiety and unwillingness to face something; the parents then support them as they face it anyway. It is most important that parents gently and judiciously insist that children face their conflict circumstances. The parents can then discuss the process of coping, helping the child to learn.

All about Parental Self-Esteem

We propose that the degree to which parents have resolved their own questions of personal self-esteem will have more influence on their children than anything they might attempt to teach them verbally. Let us consider the proposition and its implications for treatment of self-esteem difficulties in the family. In a broad sense we speak now to the insight component described in the early pages of the chapter.

Several lines of evidence in psychology converge to underscore the importance of the parents’ example in teaching self-esteem. We noted earlier Harter’s (1983) conclusion that children before the age of 8 are generally maturationally unable to recognize a separate sense of self. In other words, the formation of an “I” who observes and influences the “me” does not occur until at least middle childhood.

Even then, developmental theories of both cognition (Piave, 1985) and personality (Erikson, 1968) suggest that it isn’t until adolescence that children become truly self-conscious, employing the capacity of self-reflection to study themselves and thereby choose to alter behavior. This is not, of course, to suggest that children are not learning about the self. Hardly! The major proportion of the self-definition upon which the adolescent and adult reflect is formed in the early years. It is simply that the learning comes primarily from observing parents and significant others and receiving messages about oneself through their actions.

It is as though, when adolescents are prepared to use the skills of self-reflection, they find much of the basic structure of the self already in place, as though their self-beliefs were unquestioned givens. A related conceptual track emphasizes the power of modeling in influencing behavior (see Bandura, 1986, for a review). The role of observation and imitation is amply demonstrated as one of the fundamental sources of learning for the child.

Moreover, the elements that increase the model’s influence—warmth, identification, and prestige—are all present in the healthy parent-child relationship. Therefore, parents must recognize that their children will learn more from their example than from anything they will tell them. The parents’ actions, their problem-solving approaches, and their responses to stress represent a one- or two-person seminar on life.

For the young child, whose self-esteem so fundamentally pivots on being accepted, parents’ attitudes toward themselves—whether prizing or indifference or rejection—are unavoidably communicated. The most central aspect of the modeling process, therefore, focuses upon the parents’ congruence, their personal demonstration of authenticity, or, on the other hand, their dissimulation and pre-tense in avoiding issues.

So many parents assume that they must pretend to be what they are not for the sake of she child. We suggest that what children will learn, then, is to pretend to be what they are not, with all the consequences that the choice of impression management entails.

Contrary to expectation, we propose that, for the sake of the child, parents permit the child to observe their struggles, their difficulties, and their conflicts because struggling is a primary coping response. Thus, the parent’s authenticity—the willingness to face difficulties, to recognize methods of avoidance and seek congruence—is critical. In that sense, all the apparently adult concepts of the book are indirectly but clearly influential in developing self-esteem in children.

Children may not be able to describe how they feel about themselves for choosing to avoid problems, but they will most surely observe its effect. It is ironic that some parents see healthy self-esteem for them-selves as a wishful dream but are most anxious to do anything they can to protect their children from similar pain. They may view a search for their own positive self-feeling as being egoistic, detracting from the needs of their children.

Their message is masked as self-sacrifice, but ultimately is perceived by the child as evidence that the world’s demands are threatening. Worse still, the client is asked to learn to cope with those demands while ob-serving a most intimate model who does not.

social invulnerability theory.

A third parenting theory, somewhat similar to the one preceding, assumes that self-esteem equals socialization. That is, if children can be trained so carefully and ‘so well that their behavior is unassailable, they will be safe from the pangs of low self-esteem. This social invulnerability theory negates the possibility of a positive, confident sense of self in favor of protection from criticism. Like the earlier theory, it implies that the evaluation of the self resides in others’ judgment, not in one’s own.

The emotional goal that these parents project onto their children is the absence of dread that one is vulnerable to attack. (The work of George Herbert Mead bears some distant but recognizable philosophical relationship to this theory and the one following. Recall that he suggested that we internalize the voices of significant others; therefore, in order to feel good about ourselves we must adapt ourselves sufficiently to persuade the voices to approve of us. By that mechanism we can come to say approving things of ourselves.)

Here it would seem that the error is more obvious. Striving for invulnerability generates the very anxiety that intensifies the like-hood of avoidance, which we have suggested is the seedbed of
pathological behavior. The commitment to impression management as a style of life is evident, as are its deleterious consequences, so amply described by Rogers (1950). By contrast, attempts at definition of the concept of self-esteem in psychological literature usually have described self-esteem positively, as a confidence-building, “freeing” experience, attended by feelings of competence and self-control.

The essential choice to face difficulties requires a willingness to view criticism as an accept-able, even integral (albeit not sought-after), part of the decision. Doing things less than perfectly is “part of the territory.”

Self-esteem-equals-belonging theory.

A final mistaken child-rearing theory, following the description of Mead’s theory above, suggests that since the source of self-esteem is positive affirmation from others, children with high self-esteem are those who are successful at winning approbation.

Abandoning the goal of invulnerability as impossible to reach, this self-esteem-equals-belonging theory emphasizes “fitting in,” teaching children that they can feel good about themselves when they can get others to accept them. Emphasizing obedience and conformity, these parents teach great sensitivity to social nuance and custom. Children are trained to consider offending someone as the source of great-est social danger; they will experience anxiety or a sense of threatening obligation until the breach of acceptance is healed. The family ethic, spoken or unspoken, is, “What will people think?” This style of seeking positive self-feeling is as futile as the effort to be invulnerable because it also depends totally upon the appraisals of others. Impression management is ingredient in the life-style because children must mold and adapt themselves to meet the perceived demands of those from whom they have chosen to seek approval.

Referring to our earlier discussion, genuine positive feedback is apt to be received with disbelief because children may conclude that the praise is due only to their skill at presenting themselves. Individuals cannot experience more than a fleeting sense of self-confidence when they are aware that their position depends upon pleasing an audience. By definition they have created a position in which they are inferior. They cannot rely upon their own internal feedback because others are always the final judges of their performance. Constantly seeking feedback from others therefore,

Assumptions About Self Esteem

Most of the commonsense approaches to developing self-esteem are based on the expectation that children gradually internalize beliefs about themselves that are communicated to them by their social environment. The reader already knows that the model presented emphasizes the internal nature of self-esteem in the adult. However, the tasks of parenting are particularly complex because children are initially developmentally incapable of responding to an internal set of expectations.

Parents cannot simply determine to teach children to cope and confront issues as they themselves are doing, because the child’s balance between the control of emotions and the control of thinking is so much different. Fostering a general sense of positive self-feeling requires an overarching strategy, a Weltanschauung or worldview, that takes into account developmental immaturity as discussed earlier and planning for parental activities, which strategically change as the child matures. The importance of the parents’ viewpoint and its predicating influence may be illustrated by the humorous experience of a col-league and friend. He had just finished his PhD in child psychology.

As sometimes happens, he found that his training was looked at with some suspicion by his relatives, particularly his in-laws. (Perhaps it is an occupational hazard that, using Cooley’s looking-glass self-concept, one’s extended family members expect dentist in-laws to be looking at their children’s teeth and psychologist in-laws to be “analyzing” their children’s behavior.)

At the conclusion of a visit from one such in-law, the mother observed her 3-year-old son riding his cousin’s tricycle with great enthusiasm. With some delight at the opportunity for a challenge of my friend’s skill (now that he was so smart that he had a PhD in the subject), she said, “Since you are the expert, let’s see how you get Johnny to give up the tricycle and come with me.” My friend responded, “I’ll do what I know how to do.” He walked over to Johnny, told him it was time for him to go home now, to please come again some time, and lifted him, screaming, into his moth-er’s car. Johnny’s mother drove away, nonplussed, with Johnny still crying mightily.

In retelling the story, my friend remarked that it seemed that the goal of many parents was to have their child grow up without crying. His relative may have assumed that the “expert” parent can and should somehow manipulate the child into accepting unpleasant experiences without protest, a goal devoutly desired by most parents by late afternoon. This story is symbolic of several child-rearing styles of parents, who, though certainly caring, raise children at risk for the chronic difficulties of low self-esteem discussed in this book. Let us consider several parenting theories.

Unconditional love theory.

First is the belief that the kids with high self-esteem are those who have been raised with so much love and praise that they are somehow failure-safe, embarrassment-proof, and humiliation-protected. This unconditional love theory of building self-esteem sometimes uses a metaphor the love bucket. If parents keep this love bucket full to overflowing, nothing can go wrong. Disappointments must be assuaged and smoothed over quickly, as though they were dangerously infectious.

Parents must work overtime to construe reality so the child will never question the self or its abilities. They therefore must singlehandedly compete against the possible ego bumps and bruises outside of the family. The error, of course, is that complex problems, especially human ones, are seldom solved by simply lavishing more praise, or more love, or more money on them. It is, in its nucleus, a defensive, avoidant decision that fears coping with what may be a child’s very real shortcomings.

This parenting style, therefore, contains the very ingredients that we have suggested foster low self-esteem. No parent can successfully hover close enough to protect a child from those less caring and less admiring. Nor is it helpful. Self-esteem must be of a more robust construction than a child’s dependence upon parental praise. Indeed, Adler (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956) wrote eloquently of both the dangers of indulging a child and the beneficial psychological stance inherent in accepting imperfection in oneself.found preschool children of indulgent
parents to be the most unhappy and insecure of the groups she studied. Parents must not teach the child to avoid the honest need for self-appraisal and change. We have suggested earlier that accurate, negative feedback is a reality for most people. It can be a healthy, if unpleasant, part of the self-evaluation process.

Furthermore, parents who unfailingly pursue a course of attempting to contradict external negative feed-back will find that the child considers them a less and less credible source of evaluation. Adolescents frequently do anyway, indicating their suspicion of parents’ feedback with something like, “Oh, you always say I look good. That’s just because you’re my mom.” Self-esteem-equals-success theory. A second erroneous theory for developing self-esteem is that parents must see that children have so many training opportunities—dancing, music lessons, athletics, or preschool—that they will be guaranteed some arena in which they are more successful than age-mates. They must be winners in order to feel good about themselves.

The self-esteem-equals-success theory assumes that positive self-feeling is in short supply and is available only to the victorious. (Philosophically, William James may be blamed to some extent for the theory. Recall his successes/pretensions ratio. Our self-esteem depends upon what we back ourselves to be. If we are successful, we have a right to feel self-love.) Parents subscribing to this theory have the oppressive responsibility to assess the child’s gifts and provide the all-important head start in training that will save the child from the dangers of competing without an advantage.

Children of average or less than average endowment are doomed to either the tension-ridden effort to become more than they are or to the resignation of inferiority. The error in this theory is a fundamental and critical one, we believe, one that pervades much of the adult business world. It entails a mistaken focus on outcome, the belief that self-esteem is constructed by the result, the end point, or so-called bottom line of an endeavor. Self-esteem is thought to be a by-product of winning or achieving some goal. a competitive process in which trust and cooperation are irrelevant goals. While some portion of the assumption is true, in that success brings a sense of accomplishment, we have again suggested that it is neither necessary nor sufficient to produce lasting self-esteem.