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Building self esteem and identity – what we tell ourselves about ourselves

Posted Mar 20 2014 8:33pm

“Who do you think you are?” – That is usually thrown at someone as an aggressive or angry challenge. But the variation can be a useful question to ask: “Who do I think I am?”

How we identify and classify ourselves can have a profound impact on what we think we can be and accomplish, and on how much assurance we may hold that our talents and abilities are real and valid.

Jane CampionDirector 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.”

[Photo of Campion also used in post: Gods and prodigies, freaks and geeks .]

This is an example of a stereotype effect.

See the brief mention of the Scientific American Mind magazine article How Stereotyping Yourself Contributes to Your Success (or Failure), in my earlier post .

Another example: Natalie Portman once admitted, “Sometimes I get scared that I’m not a creative person, because it seems creative people are really flaky…” [Esquire, Aug 2004]

Is there a template for what a “real” actor, writer or other creative person must fit into? We can all too easily take on cultural stereotypes and other distorting concepts of what an artist is – or a neuroscientist, erotic baker or anything else we might want to be.

Ideas about our identity can be limiting.

More of those ideas are expanded in my article Being Creative and Self-critical .

Wayne Dyer advises: “Don’t make others’ feelings about you more important than your opinion of yourself. If you’ve allowed any negative thoughts and opinions directed your way to become the basis of your self-portrait, you’re asking the universal mind to do the same.”

> See his programs at Nightingale-Conant .

Jenna FischerJenna Fischer – who plays “knowing but downtrodden” receptionist Pam Beesly on the tv series “The Office” – has described her teen self: “I was never into boys and music and parties. I would sit at home and watch commercials and then write an essay on the subliminal messages that are keeping women down.”

She also enjoyed an early filmmaking experience: “I used to make stop-motion movies like ‘Barby Party Massacre.’ Poor Barby. She thought she’d escape, but she got run over by a Barbie camper in the end. Ken ran over her.” [Entertainment Weekly, Oct 20 2006]

Her wry comments are not only funny, but sound true. Probably a lot of us have done similar things.

But how do we talk about ourselves at younger ages? With that same sort of levity and not taking ourselves too seriously? More importantly, how do we think about and accept or scorn our earlier selves? And our current identities?

A number of talented writers, actors and other artists talk about being different as children, having non-mainstream experiences and viewpoints, and how all that affects their adult creative work.

J.K. Rowling described herself in January, a literary magazine, as “short, squat, very thick National Health glasses — free glasses that were like bottle bottoms — that’s why Harry wears glasses. I was shy. I was a mixture of insecurities and very bossy to my sister, but quite quiet with strangers. Very bookish. Terrible at school. That whole thing about Harry being able to fly so well is probably total wish fulfillment.”

Amanda BynesActor Amanda Bynes once commented (on her site) about reading the book, “The Joy Luck Club” for school.

“I thought this was a great excerpt from it. Here goes, ‘I wiped my eyes and looked in the mirror. I was surprised at what I saw. I had on a beautiful red dress, but what I saw was even more valuable. I was strong. I was pure. I had genuine thoughts inside me that no one could see, that no one could ever take away from me.’

“Now, this might be meaningless to anyone who hasn’t read the book,” Bynes continued, “but she is really saying that, even if the outside is pretty, what is truly beautiful is what is INSIDE. She saw purity, and strength. And no one can ever take those things away from her. When I read this, I felt uplifted.”

We’ve all heard stuff like “It’s what is inside you that counts” etc – but it is still true even though trite, and even in a culture like ours that idolizes appearance and accomplishments.

Speaking of appearance, a number of personal growth writers suggest looking at ourselves in a mirror – and really accept what we see. It may not be so easy. I feel a bit weird doing it, and tend to avoid looking at myself unless I’m shaving, but many of those writers think it can encourage more self-acceptance and esteem.

Nathaniel Branden, PhD. a therapist, writer and expert on self esteem issues, says “Self-esteem is a consequence of following fundamental internal practices that require an ongoing commitment to self-examination.”

He lists “Six Pillars of Self-Esteem” [one of his program titles] including:

“Living consciously: Paying attention to information and feedback about needs and goals… facing facts that might be uncomfortable or threatening… refusing to wander through life in a self-induced mental fog.

“Self-acceptance: Being willing to experience whatever we truly think, feel or do, even if we don’t always like it… facing our mistakes and learning from them.”

From his article . He is author of the CD program .

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> Also see the pages plus and Self-esteem Products / Programs .

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Originally posted 2009-01-16 17:00:29.

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