Psychological Self-Help

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1340
Changing Your Self-Concept and Building Self-Esteem
Only we know who we are--what we have intended to do and
actually done, what we have thought and felt, and what we have
hoped for. Our "self” is a life-long accumulation of impressions. How
we see and evaluate our "selves" and others' selves has a tremendous
impact on self-acceptance, self-control, and acceptance of others. But
as mentioned above, psychology has no clear-cut definition of the self
concept (Campbell, 1976). Examples: Is most of the self hidden (the
ice-berg self) as Freud suggested? Does our self include the dark and
shadowy but "natural instincts," such as greed, hostility, and sex, or
does the self constantly fight these basic instincts? Does the self
include "human nature," such as infatuation, nurturing, game playing,
and Jung's archetypes, or are these "needs and impulses" separate
from our "self?" Is the self basically good (Maslow's "Pollyanna" self)
and yearning for personal growth once the basic needs are met? Is the
healthy, fully functioning self accepting and reflective of all your
feelings, urges, thoughts and experiences, including the organism's
striving to be all it can be (Roger's authentic self)? Or, is the self
persecuted and constantly being judged against one's own ideal
standards which are separate from the self? Is the self merely an
illusion because there is nothing there except a conditioning machine,
as Skinner suggested, or layers of roles or masks used to manipulate
others, as Goffman suggests? Is the self primarily Mead's "mirror"
reflecting our interpretation of the reactions of others to us? The self is
seen many ways. 
The concept of good self-esteem becomes clearer, however, if you
think of it as having two parts: (1) a generally positive but realistic
self-evaluation and (2) the generally positive belief that one can
handle life's problems. Currently, there is a national debate between
two groups of theorists: (1) those who believe low self-esteem causes
most social problems--school failure, strained relationships, drug use,
unwanted pregnancy, delinquency, and all kinds of troubles. They, of
course, advocate building children's self-esteem but mostly by giving
rewards and praise even for easy tasks in school. Self-esteem is
considered so vital that some even say "don't make your kids feel bad
if they lie and steal." (2) The other theorists think it is the other way
around, i.e. that failing in school, getting in trouble, fighting in the
street and at home, being irresponsible and anti-social, etc. cause low
self-esteem. I suspect both views are right to some extent, i.e. self-
esteem can be both cause and consequence of undesirable behavior
(Bednar & Peterson, 1995). Having self-esteem would help with many
social problems, but it will take more than teachers full of praise to
develop motivated students and good citizens with high self-esteem. It
will take a supportive (perhaps even demanding) environment,
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