Do you have a healthy level of self-esteem and self confidence? Or not so much?
Our self-concept, positive self-regard and simply confidence, are key influences on how fully we realize our talents and live our lives.
What can we do to nurture healthy self-esteem, self-appreciation, self-compassion?
The Self-Acceptance Summit ran from Sep 11 – 20, 2017 and included video presentations by 31 leading experts in the field of self-acceptance and self-compassion, including Elizabeth Gilbert, Martha Beck, Marianne Williamson, Gabrielle Bernstein, JP Sears, Kristin Neff and many more.
You can now purchase recording packages with “Over 37 hours of practical guidance and breakthrough insights, downloadable presentation materials, transcripts, and additional resources.”
Learn more on the page:
John Lennon once expressed a perspective on some of the self esteem challenges experienced by many creative people:
“Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.”
Comedian, writer and actor Amy Schumer has related an experience of her low esteem and confidence:
“Right before I left for college, I was running my high school. … People knew me. They liked me. I was an athlete and a good friend. I felt pretty, I felt funny, I felt sane.
“Then I got to college in Maryland. My school was voted number one … for the hottest freshman girls in Playboy that year.
“And not because of me. All of a sudden, being witty and charismatic didn’t mean sh*t.
“Day after day, I could feel the confidence drain from my body. I was not what these guys wanted. They wanted thinner, blonder, dumber.”
[Photo is from her imdb section.]
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Psychologist and author of multiple books about highly sensitive people, Elaine Aron, PhD notes:
“In spite of our focus on raising self-esteem, we have had little success.
“In fact, research [indicates] low self-esteem is in a sense natural, one result of our instinct to rank ourselves among others…
“Repeating self-affirmations, the most common self-help treatment, only increases low self-esteem in those already feeling bad, as many hapless souls have found.”
See more in post: Ranking and Self-Esteem.
One of her books is The Undervalued Self – here is a video about it:
“The most creative people are typically not models of high self-esteem.”
Elizabeth Mika, a provider of assessment for gifted children and counseling for gifted adults, notes that “high self-esteem is something we, Americans, all want.
“To be sure, a similar obsession with self-esteem is rarely, if ever, found in other civilized countries, whose languages often do not even possess an adequate equivalent of the term.
“Here, however, self-esteem is a major preoccupation of psychologists, educators and pundits alike. Whole enterprises are built on the conventional wisdom which teaches us that high self-esteem is good, while low self-esteem can be hazardous to our health.”
She adds, “Let’s face it, having chronically high self-esteem is often a sign of either stupidity, delusion, or a lack of conscience — or all three combined. So what is so desirable about it? The feeling-good-no-matter-what part?
“On the other hand, the most creative and morally advanced people are typically not models of high self-esteem.
“Their inner lives are often plagued by self-doubt, worries, fears, and feelings of inferiority.
“One reason for this chronic insecurity is that they base their self-evaluations on very high personal standards, and thus their own behavior seems inadequate and far from ideal in comparison.
“But this insecurity is usually a sign of an active conscience at work. Moreover, the insecurity and the demons it feeds, are necessary elements of a creative temperament and we have plenty of evidence that without them no meaningful creative efforts, especially in art, can be undertaken.”
She quotes Czeslaw Milosz, Polish poet and writer, and a Nobel laureate:
“From early on writing for me has been a way to overcome my real or imagined worthlessness.”
Read more in her article What Is Wrong With Feeling Good?
The photo is Helen Mirren – although she has portrayed many confident, even imperious, characters, a British newspaper article says she “has talked of how insecure she has felt nearly all her life.”
And she said “I still get insecure.”
Another example of a highly talented and accomplished actor with imposter feelings is Meryl Streep, who has said, “I have varying degrees of confidence and self-loathing.
“You can have a perfectly horrible day where you doubt your talent… Or that you’re boring and they’re going to find out that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Read more in post: Gifted and Talented but Insecure.
Some more examples of impostor feelings and thinking:
Lupita Nyong’o had not yet graduated from Yale Drama School when she was cast by Steve McQueen for his powerful movie 12 Years a Slave.
She said, “I had impostor syndrome until the day I landed in Louisiana [for the shoot].
“I was certain that I was going to be fired.”
“Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud.” (Emma Watson)
“I convince myself I’m fooling people.” (Jonathan Safran Foer)
“I felt inadequate the entire time I was in graduate school.” (Rosalyn Lang, Ph.D.)
Read comments by other artists, and by coaches and psychologists, in my article Overcome Impostor Syndrome Feelings.
Confidence and body image
Lady Gaga is among many performers who have talked about experiencing self esteem challenges and insecurity.
In a magazine interview, she commented:
“I’m confident in who I am. I’ve come to a place in my life where I’ve accepted things that are me, as opposed to feeling pressure to explain myself to people around me. That’s just the way I’ve always tried to be. It didn’t change when I became a star.”
Interviewer: “But do you consider yourself to be beautiful?”
“Not conventionally beautiful. If there was some sort of mathematical equation for beauty, I don’t know if I would be the algorithm.
“I’ve always been OK with that. I’m not a supermodel. That’s not what I do. What I do is music. I want my fans to feel the way I do, to know what they have to offer is just as important, more important, than what’s happening on the outside.
Interviewer: “I think that’s interesting. Because every time I see a shot of you stripped down without makeup or a costume, I’m struck by your physical beauty. Your layering of costumes—is that because of insecurity? Are you afraid of what’s under all those layers?”
“I would say that I am. Maybe it’s from the things I experienced in my past, you know?
“Being beautiful is not so fun when you’re in a business with all men.”
From The Monster Talent: Lady Gaga By Andy Cohen, Glamour October 29, 2013.
This photo of Lady Gaga is also used in my post Emotional Intelligence To Be Creative, which includes material about her work with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Born This Way Foundation.
[Over the years, I have collected many quotes on body image.]
Trauma and self esteem
Lady Gaga was bullied, even thrown into a trash can. She said, “I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point.
“I didn’t want to go to class. And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.”
Another artist who suffered abuse and this kind of erosion of self esteem is Halle Berry.
Referring to being abused as a child by her violent father, who also assaulted her mother, she said:
“I think I’ve spent my adult life dealing with the sense of low self-esteem that sort of implanted in me. Somehow I felt not worthy.”
One of the dynamics of acting may be in allowing people to “step away” from their painful histories and hurt selves by “becoming” someone else for a time.
Berry commented about acting in her intense movie “Gothika” (2003):
“Although physically I would feel exhausted and tired, my back would hurt, my arms would hurt and my feet would be raw from running through all the stuff, there was still something about it that felt good, like I had a cathartic experience.
“I got a lot of stuff out of me that was pent up in little corners of myself, so I felt good at the same time.”
Quotes are from my article Creative People, Trauma and Mental Health.
The quiet ego
This image is from the book: Transcending Self-Interest: Psychological Explorations of the Quiet Ego by Heidi A. Wayment, Jack J. Bauer, Editors.
The Amazon.com summary notes the term quiet ego refers to “an ego less concerned with self-promotion than with the flourishing of both the self and others.”
In his post on the site of Susan Cain, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman refers to this book and notes “The researchers found that those with a quiet ego reported being more interested in personal growth and balance and tended to seek growth through competence, autonomy, and positive social relationships.
“While a quiet ego was positively related to having a higher self-esteem, it was also related to various indicators of self-transcendence, including prosocial attitudes and behaviors.”
He adds, “This is consistent with the idea that a quiet ego balances compassion with self-protection and growth goals. Indeed, a quiet ego is an indication of a healthy self-esteem—one that acknowledges one’s own limitations, doesn’t need to constantly resort to defensiveness whenever the ego is threatened, and yet has a firm sense of self-worth and value.”
From article The Surprising Benefits of a Quiet Ego.
Scott Barry Kaufman is Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of books including Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind.
Susan Cain is author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
For more on being an introvert and/or highly sensitive, see:
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A comic take on all this self-esteem stuff, from The Big Bang Theory TV series:
Leonard Hofstadter (a physicist at Caltech, played by Johnny Galecki): I am clearly not the only person who is tormented by insecurity and has an ego in need of constant validation.
Sheldon Cooper (also a physicist; played by Jim Parsons): So you admit you’re an egotist?
Leonard Hofstadter: Yes! … I could never please my parents, so I need to get all of my self-esteem from strangers like you.
From the episode: The Cooper-Hofstadter Polarization (2008) (Video)
[Photo is from another scene from the show, probably not this episode.]
Some related articles from my various sites:
Self-Knowledge, Self-Esteem and the Gifted Adult by Stephanie S. Tolan
“Self-identification as a gifted adult is complicated by the great diversity among the gifted adult population. What does a gifted adult look like? Unfortunately, for many gifted adults, it looks like somebody else.”
Can self-esteem distort our personal development?
A study led by San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge [titled “Egos Inflating Over Time”] warns that years of school self-esteem programs and media that “promotes the self relentlessly” could cause significant personal and social problems for people reaching adulthood.
Building self esteem and identity – what we tell ourselves about ourselves
How we identify and classify ourselves can have a profound impact. Director Jane Campion, praised for “The Piano” and other films, once commented, “I never have had the confidence to approach filmmaking straight on. I just thought it was something done by geniuses, and I was very clear that I wasn’t one of those.”
Are self-help books worth it?
Books can be valuable tools for self-understanding and change, but are they always worth the investment of time and money? One of the top selling self-help titles has been “Awaken the Giant Within” by Tony Robbins. In their Scientific American Mind article “Do Self-Help Books Help?”, Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld use this as an example of self-help authors who “often make grandiose promises which invite a skeptical look.”
Can we do self-improvement too much?
Personal growth, personal development, self-improvement, self-help: these are topics that many of us explore. Maybe most of you reading this. But can we be overdoing it sometimes?
Deal with your negative thinking, but be careful with affirmations
Science writer Ed Yong explains “positive mantras like ‘I am a strong, powerful person’ have been championed at least as far back as Norman Vincent Peale’s infamous book The Power of Positive Thinking, published in 1952. But a new study suggests that despite its popularity, this particular brand of self-help may backfire badly. Ironically, it seems to be people with low self-esteem, who are most likely to rely on such statements, who are most likely to feel worse because of them.”
How to build confidence by Morty Lefkoe
“It is important to distinguish between confidence about being able to perform a specific task (such as fly a plane or speak a foreign language) and confidence in yourself. One might not be confident about being able to perform a specific task even though they have high level of self-confidence. Such a person knows that her inability to perform a specific task means nothing about her as a person.” – See links in this article to The Lefkoe Method programs to improve confidence and overcome limiting beliefs such as the ones above.
Also see my Personal Growth Information site section:
Courage and confidence programs