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Treating Yourself As If You Count




Excerpted from
Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood
By Marsha Sinetar, Ph.D.

Certain long-standing habits may inhibit our self-esteem and our ability to be distinctive. In an overactive bid for security, approval, comfort or belonging, people learn to "reward" themselves in self-defeating ways. One person goes on spending sprees whenever things are going well. Another eats too much if he's tired, bored or depressed. A third rewards herself by staying out late at night, even though it means she cannot function in the morning. The list is endless. Clearly these "rewards" are not the activities which promote high self-esteem, but are designed to further injure an already damaged psyche.

To reward means to repay or give a prize for good conduct or merit. But each of these activities, and others like them, actually inflict punishment on the person doing it. The one who goes on a spending spree ends up in debt; the next few months are spent paying off credit card bills. The person who overeats hates himself in the morning when his clothes don't fit or when he steps on the scale and sees he has gained back the weight he has been trying so hard to lose. The woman who stays out late feels tired and listless the next day, even though she had wanted to be alert to perform well at the office. Turning these habits around can be difficult, because we have grown so used to thinking of these acts as "rewards."

Habits are hard to break. Certainly a first step is to identify what we do to thwart and limit ourselves, instead of rewarding ourselves as we had intended. A next step is to start another habit-the habit of treating ourselves as if we count, by doing the things that enhance our dignity, daily intentions and most cherished values.

Treating ourselves well is a step that can rapidly build self-esteem. Research studies show that people who have high self-esteem regularly reward themselves in tangible and intangible ways. Their tangible rewards consist of concrete items they enjoy-e.g., purchases, activities, "time-off' for vacations. Their intangible rewards may be in the form of self-statements that say they have done the best they could, or that they are happy with themselves. More importantly, their rewards carry with them messages, both symbolic and actual, that say they are worthwhile, that they deserve good things, and that they have succeeded in their own eyes. By documenting and celebrating their successes, they insure that these successes will reoccur.

The individual who fails to reward himself usually backs away from saying and doing what intuitively feels right. More specifically, he may choose the wrong friends or select the wrong job-perhaps one that is easier than he can handle, or one that is in the wrong field. He may give in to the pressures of other people's thinking, especially those in authority (like parents, teachers, lawyers or other "experts") or tell himself he "should" feel one way when in fact he feels another. The sum of these behaviors and choices is that he does not do the things that would convey to him that he is worthwhile. Sometimes, as we will see, he may not even be able to identify what it is he really wants to do.

This individual usually will not identify what he really wants because he is aiming for what he thinks is possible, rather than for what he genuinely desires. Thus, he limits his goal-setting. If he wants to be a contractor, let's say, he may feel he cannot achieve that goal, and will settle for being a carpenter instead. He might secretly long to ask out one type of woman, but will settle for another. Similarly, in the lesser areas of his life, he can easily talk himself out of products he would like to have, art work he wants to purchase, or friends or hobbies that could fill his leisure time with pleasure and enrichment. "This is not the way I'm 'supposed' to act,'' he may tell himself. Or, "Why would I want to buy (or: be, do, have, experience) that when others do not seem to?" Since his habit is to withdraw from saying and doing what is organically correct for him, it is easier to lower his standards than stick up for what he knows he needs to do. This self-defeating pattern starts in childhood, and can be hard to break or even identify. The practice of assuming authority figures know best what one needs, for example, is a mark of someone whose self-esteem is vulnerable. In this case, parents, teachers, and the opinions of others will matter more than they should. By contrast, when one possesses a strong sense of self, the expectations or prophetic remarks of authority figures are more objectively received.

In this connection, let us examine briefly how a person with high self-esteem might use psychological tests for his own enlightenment rather than-as so many do-submitting mindlessly to the results and predictions of these often misused instruments.

If we examine their typical response, we find that secure, inwardly confident persons use psychological tests for their own objectives, rather than allowing themselves to passively be at the effect of the results of these tests. We see that confident individuals use only the most helpful data, and ignore the rest-this is true even when the individual feels intimidated or insulted by what the test result may say. Its predictive value does not have power over the person's life.

Although in years past the use of psychological testing of one kind or another was in vogue as a way to determine employment, academic potential or college placement, by the end of the 1970's the use of tests had radically decreased in popularity. For one thing, mass produced, mass administered tests were felt to be impersonal, screening out individuality. For another thing, tests missed such aptitudes as creativity or intuitive skills; they reduced the human being to types and to a number on median scales. Also there has grown increasing controversy over such things as the socio-economic bias of most tests: they are written in a language and utilize problem-solving devices for which many persons have no background. A common criticism of academic testing is that it favors the person who has been raised in a standard middle-class, white setting and that it discriminates against minorities who may not have the experiential and language background to do well on these instruments. One consequence of the rising tide of negative feeling about academic testing is that a growing number of colleges are abandoning these as sole determiners of academic success. Despite this trend, many still look to tests and to experts who use tests as a way of gaining clarity about themselves and about their potential.

In the career counseling field, a slightly different issue seems apparent: that no test can identify what is in our hearts to accomplish with our lives. Some tests, like the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator, are helpful to an individual in providing feedback as to what he or she is best suited for. These are very general, archetypical patterns, and can be taken as but one of many other inputs. The Myers-Briggs is one of the most widely used "tests" in career planning circles, the results usually given only to the person taking it (i.e., not used to determine placement potential or management aptitude). This instrument can give an individual some productive insights as to his dominant way of thinking, solving problems and sorting data.

One educator, responsible for helping his staff know themselves so that they can be more responsive to their students, says Myers-Briggs has been helpful to him and teachers. But another person, a client of mine whose company administered the test as a part of a career-planning workshop, called the test little more than a psychological horoscope. Thus even when it comes to career planning, paper-pencil tests are received differently by different people. This is as it should be since the individual himself must always retain authority over what such data means to his life.

Some career workshops survey personality traits by taking into account how one is perceived by others. A secretary whose supervisor had undergone an intensive self-awareness seminar, designed to give individuals enhanced interpersonal skills and help them grow as persons, was troubled to find that this nationally-known workshop's approach was to send confidential questionnaires to co-workers and friends of participants so as to determine how the individual was seen by others.



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