Self-esteem is a measure of how valuable you think you are; people with high self-esteem thinking very highly of themselves whereas people with low self-esteem view themselves negatively. Before reading further about this topic, consider your own self-esteem by taking the following self-test.
Test Yourself: How’s Your Self-Esteem?
Respond to each of the following statements with TRUE if the statement describes you at least some significant part of the time FALSE if the statement describes you rarely or never.
1. Generally, I feel I have to be successful in all things.
2. A number of my acquaintances are often critical or negative of what I do and how I think.
3. I often tackle projects that I know are impossible to complete to my satisfaction.
4. When I focus on the past, I more often focus on my failures than on my successes and on my negative rather than my positive qualities.
5. I make little effort to improve my personal and interpersonal skills.
How did you do? TRUE responses to the questions would generally be seen as getting in the way of building positive self-esteem. FALSE responses would indicate that you thinking much like a self-esteem coach would want you to think.
What will you do? The following discussion elaborates on these five issues and illustrates why each of them creates problems for the development of healthy self-esteem. So, this is a good starting place. You might also want to log into the Natinoal Association for Self-Esteem’s website (http://www.self-esteem-nase.org). There you’ll find a variety of materials for examining and for bolstering self-esteem.
The basic idea behind self-esteem is that when you feel good about yourself—about who you are and what you’re capable of doing—you will perform better. When you think like a success, you’re more likely to act like a success. When you think you’re a failure, you’re more likely to act like a failure. Increasing self-esteem will, therefore, help you to function more effectively in school, in interpersonal relationships, and in careers. Here are five suggestions for increasing self-esteem that parallel the questions in the self-test.
Attack Self-Destructive Beliefs
Challenge those beliefs you have about yourself that are unproductive or that make it more difficult for you to achieve your goals—for example, the belief that you have to succeed in everything you do, the belief that you have to be loved by everyone, the belief that you must be strong at all times, and the belief that you must please others (Butler, 1981). Replace these self-destructive beliefs with more productive ones, such as “I succeed in many things but I don’t have to succeed in everything” and “It would be nice to be loved by everyone, but it isn’t necessary to my happiness.
Seek Out Nourishing People
Psychologist Carl Rogers (1970) drew a distinction between noxious and nourshing people. Noxious people criticize and find fault with just about everything. Nourishing people, on the other hand, are positive and optimistic. Most important, they reward us, they stroke us, they make us feel good about ourselves. To enhance your self-esteem, seek out these people. At the same time, avoid noxious others, those who make you feel negatively about yourself. At the same time, seek to become more nourishing yourself so that you each build up the other’s self-esteem.
Work on Projects That Will Result in Success
Some people want to fail, or so it seems. Often, they select projects that will result in failure simply because they are impossible to complete. Avoid this trap and select projects that will result in success. Each success will help build self-esteem. Each success will make the next success a little easier. When a project does fail, recognize that this does not mean that you’re a failure. Everyone fails somewhere along the line. Failure is something that happens; it’s not something you’ve created, and it’s not something inside you. Further, your failing once does not mean that you will fail the next time. So put failure in perspective.
Remind Yourself of Your Successes
Some people have a tendency to focus, sometimes too much, on their failures, their missed opportunities, their social mistakes. If your objective is to correct what you did wrong or to identify the skills that you need to correct these failures, then focusing on failures can have some positive value. But, if you just focus on failure without any plans for correction, then you’re probably just making life more difficult for yourself and limiting your self-esteem. To counteract the tendency to recall failures, remind yourself of your successes. Recall these successes both intellectually and emotionally. Realize why they were successes and relive the emotional experience when you sank the winning basketball or aced that test or helped your friend overcome personal problems. And while you’re at it, recall too your positive qualities. For a start read down the list of the essential interpersonal skills on the inside covers and check off those you’d consider among your assets. To this list add any other qualities you number among your positive qualities.
It’s frequently recommended that you remind yourself of your successes—that you focus on your good deeds; on your positive qualities, strengths, and virtues; and on your productive and meaningful relationships with friends, loved ones, and relatives (Aronson, Cohen, & Nail, 1998; Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 1999).
The idea behind this advice is that the way you talk to yourself will influence what you think of yourself. If you affirm yourself—if you tell yourself that you’re a success, that others like you, that you will succeed on the next test, and that you will be welcomed when asking for a date—you will soon come to feel more positive about yourself. Self-affirmations include statements like: “I’m a worthy person,” “I’m responsible and can be depended upon,” “I’m capable of loving and being loved,” “I’m a good team player,” and “I can accept my past but also let it go.”
However, not all researchers agree with this advice. Some argue that such affirmations—although extremely popular in self-help books—may not be very helpful. These critics contend that if you have low self-esteem, you’re not going to believe your self-affirmations, because you don’t have a high opinion of yourself to begin with (Paul, 2001). They propose that the alternative to self-affirmation is to secure affirmation from others. You’d do this by, for example, becoming more interpersonally competent and interacting with more positive people. In this way you’d get more positive feedback from others—which, these researchers argue, is more helpful than self-talk in raising self-esteem.
Identification with people similar to yourself also seems to increase self-esteem. For example, deaf people who identified with the larger deaf community had greater self-esteem than those who didn’t so identify (Jambon & Elliott, 2005). Similarly, identification with your cultural group seems also helpful in developing positive self-esteem (McDonald, McCabe, Yeh, Lau, Garland, & Hough, 2005).
As in the previous edition, a cautionary note is added in one of the questions for discussion:
Popular psychology and many television talk shows (especially Oprah) emphasize the importance of self-esteem. The self-esteem camp has come under attack from critics, however (for example, Bushman & Baumeister, 1998; Baumeister, Bushman, & Campbell, 2000; Bower, 2001; Coover & Murphy, 2000; Hewitt, 1998). Much current thinking holds that high self-esteem is not desirable: It does nothing to improve academic performance, it does not predict success, and it even may lead to antisocial (especially aggressive) behavior. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine how a person would function successfully without positive self-feelings. How do you feel about the benefits or liabilities of self-esteem? Would you have included this topic in this text?
Dialogue for Analysis
The Intercultural Relationship
Here’s a dialogue centering on intercultural relationships. Analyze the dialogue and try to identify examples of effective and ineffective interpersonal communication. How might you have engaged in this dialogue to make it a more effective, satisfying, and culturally sensitive interaction?
Annette, Barbara, Caroline, and Dana, all in their early 30’s
The four former college best friends now meet once a year for an elaborate reunion dinner.
Annette It’s so great getting together every year.
Barbara I’m always anxious to hear what everyone’s been up to.
Dana Well, I got engaged.
At once What? Engaged? When did this happen?
Annette You weren’t even dating anyone the last time we met!
Dana I guess I just met the man I’ve been look for all my life. And he’s not even from our country.
Barbara You couldn’t find someone right here? In this entire country?
Annette What did your parents say?
Dana They were furious.
Annette I bet they were.
Dana They were furious; they told me all the reasons it wouldn’t work and all the reasons I should get my head examined. And they want nothing to do with any children we might have. They don’t even want to see their own future grandchildren.
Barbara You know interracial relationships don’t work.
Caroline And it’s just not accepted—despite what you see on TV.
Barbara And TV is NOT reality.
Caroline And don’t be fooled into thinking everything will be ok—it won’t.
Annette And what about the kids?
Barbara Is he—tell me, he is—at least a Christian?
Dana No—surprise No. 3—he’s an atheist and a communist.
Annette Your parents are right; you should have your head examined.
Caroline You need to reconsider this, honey. You’re going to make the rest of your life very difficult. And what about the kids?
Dana Your kids are the ones to suffer. They won’t know who they are or where they belong. I know this for a fact. You know my cousin married that creep from Lebanon or some such third world country.
Annette And you’re going to bring your kids up as little atheists? That’ll make them real popular.
Caroline You’re pregnant aren’t you?
Dana No, I’m not pregnant but we are trying.
Dana Well, we intend to expose the children to a variety of religious viewpoints and let them make up their own minds. I mean isn’t that more logical than shoving one religion down their throats?
Barbara And where will you live?
Dana We’ll live partly in North Korea—he has a big family there and he’s very close to them and we get along real well. And we’ll live partly right here in Tokyo. By the way, his name is Kwon and we love each other.
Dialogue for Analysis
The Reluctant Listeners
Here is a simple dialogue that illustrates the difficulty people have listening to things they don’t want to hear. As you read the dialogue, try to identify the principles of listening that these individuals violate and indicate what they might have done to make listening more effective.
Sam (the father)
Kate (the mother)
Jack (son, age 16)
Heather (daughter, 19 years old)
Bobby (son, age 13)
The family is watching television.
Sam Kate, pass the popcorn; this is great stuff.
Jack Hey, mom, dad; I need to say something.
Heather What’s up? Let’s hear.
Bobby I need to get new sneakers.
Kate Oh, I forgot all about them. Let’s go on Saturday and I need to get a new toaster, coffee filters, and a hundred other things.
Sam And pick me up some duct tape—a six roll pack.
Heather So, Jack, you wanted to say something.
Kate Yes, dear, what is it?
Sam You’re not getting a car—not until you’re 18. And not unless you start college.
Jack It’s not a car. It’s me. I don’t know how to say this exactly but I think I’m gay. I mean I am gay. I know I’m gay.
Sam Holy shit! You mean you’re a faggot? My son is a faggot?
Kate Hold on Sam. He’s only 16; he doesn’t really know what he is. Lots of boys go through this phase.
Jack It’s not a phase Mom.
Sam Well, it better be a phase—if you want to live in this house, that is.
Bobby Tricia’s brother is gay; she told me.
Kate Bobby, don’t say things like that.
Heather I think it’s great that Jack’s come out.
Sam Come out! Out where? The neighbors don’t know, do they?
Kate I’m not sure what to say. Do you want to go to therapy? Do you want to get cured?
Jack Mom, being gay isn’t a disease that you get cured of. I’m gay and will always be gay.
Kate But, I can’t bear to see you unhappy.
Jack Mom, I’m not unhappy; I’m gay.
Kate Well, I don’t care; you’re not gay; you’re going to see Reverend Wilson. You’ll see, it’ll all work out. You’re not gay. He’s not gay, Sam.
Jack Mom, I am gay. Aren’t you listening?
Sam You better not be; no faggot is going to live in this house, under my roof, and eat my food. I’m going to the bar. [exits]
Heather So, what’s the big deal—he’ll listen to Barbra Streisand and sing Broadway show tunes—(Sings) I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses.
Jack Heather! She’s kidding Mom.
Heather Yes, Mom, I’m kidding.
Kate Let’s not talk anymore about this. Bobby, what kind of sneakers do we have to get?
There seems renewed interest in the “dark side” of interpersonal communication. The Cupach & Spitzberg book (The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication) was published in 1994 (Erlbaum) and was, I think, the first book-length treatment of this topic in the communication field. For whatever reason (I guess there are many) there’s increased interest in this area. So, in the revision of Messages, one way I’m going to try to address this is to include something like the following. It’s my first draft.
The Dark Side of Interpersonal Relationships
Before reading about this important but often neglected topic, take the following self-test.
Test Yourself. Is Violence a Part of Your Relationship?
Based on your present relationship or one you know, respond to the following questions with Yes if you do see yourself in the question or No if you do not see yourself here.
_____ 1. Do you fear your partner’s anger?
_____ 2. Does your partner ever threaten you?
_____ 3. Has your partner ever verbally abused you?
_____ 4. Has your partner ever forced you to do something you didn’t want to do?
_____ 5. Has your partner ever hit (slapped, kicked, pushed) you?
_____ 6. Has your partner isolated you from your friends or relatives?
How did you do? These six items are all signs of a violent partner and a violent relationship. You might also want to change the questions around a bit and ask yourself if your partner would answer Yes to any of these questions about you?
What will you do? If any of these questions describes your relationship, you may wish to seek professional help. Discussing these questions with your partner, which may seem the logical first step, may well create additional problems and perhaps incite violence. So you’re better off discussing this with a school counselor or some other professional. At the same time, if any of these apply to you—if you are prone to relationship violence—do likewise—seek professional help. Additional suggestions are offered below.
Source: These questions were drawn from a variety of sources, for example, SUNY at Buffalo Counseling Services (http://ub-counseling.buffalo,edu/warnings.shtml, accessed 2/1/06), The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Women’s Heath Care Physicans (http://www.acog.org/departments/dept_notice.cfm?recno=17&bulletin=198, accessed 2/1/06), and The University of Texas at Austin, The Counseling and Mental Health Center (http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/booklets/relavio/relaviol.html, accessed 2/1/06).
What Is Relationship Violence?
Three types of relationship violence may be distinguished: physical abuse, verbal or emotional abuse, sexual abuse (Rice, 0000—the US Department of Veterans Affairs, http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/facts/specific/fs_domestic_violence.html?printable=no, accessed 2/1/06).
Physical abuse involves threats of violence as well as pushing, hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, throwing things at, and breaking things.
Verbal or emotional abuse involves humiliating, economic abuse such as controlling the finances or preventing you from working, isolating, criticizing, and stalking.
Sexual abuse involves touching that is unwanted, accusations of sexual infidelity without reason, forced sex, and referring to you with abusive sexual terms.
A great deal of research has centered on trying to identify the warning signs of relationship violence. Here, for example, are a few signs compiled by the State University of New York at Buffalo (http://ub-counseling.buffalo,edu/warnings/shtml, accessed 2/1/06):
belittles, insults, or ignores you
controls pieces of your life, for example, the way you dress or who you can be friends with
gets jealous without reason
can’t handle sexual frustrations without anger
is so angry or threatening that you’ve changed your life so as not to provoke additional anger
So prevalent is interpersonal violence that many colleges and universities, government agencies, and professional health organizations have established counseling centers to deal with the increasing interpersonal violence. Here are just a few statistics for the United States:
over 5 million incidents of interpersonal violence occur each year against women (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000)
interpersonal violence is responsible for almost 2 million injuries and 1,300 deaths (http://www.cdc.gov/ncic/factsheets/ipvfacts.htm, accessed 2/1/06)
approximately 1 million women and over 350,000 men are stalked by their intimate partners each year (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000)
approximately 29% of women and 21% of men experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse in their lifetime (Coker, Davis, Arias, Desai, Sanderson, Brandt, et al, 2002)
Each year 1.5 million women and 800,000 men are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner
Approximately 20 to 30 percent of college dating relationships involve physical or verbal abuse (http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/booklets/relavio/relaviol.html, accessed 2/1/06)
The Effects of Violence
As you may expect there are a variety of consequences to relationship violence: physical injuries, psychological injuries, and economic “injuries” (http://www.cdc.gov/ncic/factsheets/ipvfacts.htm).
Most obviously when there is relationship violence there are often physical injuries. Physical injuries range from scratches and bruises to broken bones, knife wounds, and central nervous system disorders.
Even when the physical injuries are relatively minor, the psychological injuries may be major and include, for example, depression, anxiety, fear of intimacy, and of course low self-esteem.
Consider the cost to the nation. It’s been estimated that it costs approximately $6.2 billion for physical assaults and almost $500 million for rape. Interpersonal violence also results in lost days of work. The Center for Disease Control estimated that interpersonal violence costs the equivalent of 32,00 full-time job in lost work each year. Additional economic costs are incurred when interpersonal violence prevents women from maintaining a job or continuing her education.
The Alternatives to Violence
Here are some ways in which a nonviolent relationship looks when compared with a violent relationship (http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/booklets/relavio/relaviol.html, accessed 2/1/06).
Instead of emotional abuse there is fairness; you look for resolutions to conflict that will be fair to both of you.
Instead of control and isolation there is communication that makes the partner feel safe and comfortable expressing himself or herself.
Instead of intimidation there is mutual respect, mutual affirmation, and valuing of each other’s opinions.
Instead of economic abuse, the partners make financial decisions together.
Instead of making threats, there is accountability—each person accepts responsibility for one’s own behavior.
Instead of exercising power over the person where one person is the boss and the other the servant, there is a fair distribution of responsibilities.
Instead of sexual abuse there is trust and respect for what each person wants and doesn’t want.
Dealing with Violence
In addition to seeking professional help (and of course the help of friends and family where appropriate)—whether you’re a victim or a perpetrator—here are several additional suggestions (http://www.utexas.edu/student/cmhc/booklets/relavio/relaviol.html, accessed 2/1/06).
If your partner has been violent:
Realize that you’re not alone. Just review the statistics given above.
Realize you’re not at fault. You did not deserve to be the victim of violence.
Plan for your safety. Violence, if it occurred once, it’s likely to occur again.
Know your resources—the phone numbers you need to contact help, the location of money, and a spare set of keys.
If you are the violent partner:
Realize that you too are not alone. Review the statistics.
Know that you can change. It won’t necessarily be easy or quick but you can change.
Own your own behaviors; take responsibility. This is an essential step if any change is to occur.
Relationship violence is not an inevitable part of interpersonal relationships; in fact, it occurs in a minority of relationships. Yet, it’s important to know that there is the potential for violence in all relationships as there is he potential for friendship, love, support, and all the positive things we look for in relationships. Knowing the difference between productive and destructive relationships seems the best way to make sure that your own relationships are as you want them to be.
Test Yourself: How Verbally Aggressive Are You?
This scale is designed to measure how people try to obtain compliance from others. For each statement, indicate the extent to which you feel it’s true for you in your attempts to influence others. Use the following scale: 5 = strongly agree, 4 = agree, 3 = undecided, 2 = disagree, and 1 = strongly disagree.
_____ 1. If individuals I am trying to influence really deserve it, I attack their character.
_____ 2. When individuals are very stubborn, I use insults to soften their stubborness.
_____ 3. When people behave in ways that are in very poor taste, I insult them in order to shock them into proper behavior.
_____ 4. When people simply will not budge on a matter of importance, I lose my temper and say rather strong things to them.
_____ 5. When individuals insult me, I get a lot of pleasure out of really telling them off.
_____ 6. I like poking fun at people who do things that are stupid in order to stimulate their intelligence.
_____ 7. When people do things which are mean or cruel, I attack their character in order to help correct their behavior.
_____ 8. When nothing seems to work in trying to influence others, I yell and scream in order to get some movement from them.
_____ 9. When I am unable to refute others' positions, I try to make them feel defensive in order to weaken their positions.
_____ 10. When people refuse to do a task I know is important without good reason, I tell them they are unreasonable.
How did you do? In order to compute your verbal aggressiveness score simply add up your responses. A total score of 30 would indicate the neutral point, not especially aggressive but not especially confirming of the other either. If you scored about 35 you would be considered moderately aggressive and if you scored 40 or more you’d be considered very aggressive. If you scored below the neutral point you’d be considered less verbally aggressive and more confirming when interacting with others. In looking over your responses, make special note of the characteristics identified in the 10 statements that refer to the tendency to act verbally aggressive. Note those inappropriate behaviors that you’re especially prone to commit.
What will you do? Because verbal aggressiveness is likely to seriously reduce communication effectiveness, you probably want to reduce your tendencies to respond aggressively. Review the times when you acted verbally aggressive. What effect did such actions have on your subsequent interaction? What effect did they have on your relationship with the other person? What alternative ways of getting your point across might you have used? Might these have proved more effective? Perhaps the most general suggestion for reducing verbal aggressiveness is to increase your argumentativeness.
Source: These items come from a 20-item scale developed by Infante and Wigley (1986) and factor analyzed by Beatty, Rudd, and Valencic (1999). See "Verbal Aggressiveness" by Dominic Infante and C. J. Wigley, Communication Monographs 53, 1986 and Michael J. Beatty, Jill E. Rudd, & Kristin Marie Valencic, "A Re-evaluation of the Verbal Aggressiveness Scale: One Factor or Two? Communication Research Reports, 1999, Vol. 16, 10-17. Copyright