Chapter 11: Regenerating Our Self-Esteem

Robert F. Mullen, PhD

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Regenerating Our Self-Esteem

“It is only when you have mastered the art of loving yourself
that you can truly love others.
It is only when you have opened your own heart
that you can touch the heart of others.”
– Robin Sharma

In Chapter Nine, we learned how to construct the necessary neural information to (1) produce rapid, concentrated, neurological stimulation to change the polarity of our neural network and (2) help us replace or overwhelm our negative thoughts and beliefs with healthy and productive ones.

Self-esteem is mindfulness of our value to ourselves, society, and the world. It is self-recognition and appreciation of our value and significance. It is embracing and utilizing our character strengths, virtues, and achievements. Self-esteem is honest and nonjudgmental awareness and acceptance of our flaws as well as our assets and directly related to how we think about ourselves, how we think others perceive us, and how we process or present that information. 

Research tells us that persons living with SAD have significantly lower implicit and explicit self-esteem relative to healthy controls. Our negative core and intermediate beliefs stemming from childhood disturbance and disorder onset are directly implicated. Our symptomatic fears and anxieties aggravate this deficit.

Fortunately, our self-esteem is never lost, but latent and dormant due to the disruption in our natural human development.  Underutilized self-properties atrophy like the unexercised muscle in our arm or leg can be regenerated. 

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Self-properties are the elements that constitute the strength of our self-esteem. Our healthy self-properties tell us we are of value, consequential, desirable, and worthy of love. Conversely, toxic qualities confirm our perceptions of helplessness, hopelessness, undesirability, and worthlessness.

Regeneration, in physiological terms, is the ability of our living organism to replace lost or injured tissue. In proactive neuroplasticity, the same process is designed to replace our self-destructive thoughts and behaviors with healthy and productive ones. In the case of self-esteem, regeneration reawakens our dormant and latent self-properties.

Maslow’s Hierarchy

As we now recognize, our susceptibility to SAD originated with childhood disturbance and onset occurred around the age of thirteen. These factors negatively impacted our physiological and psychological development. This is best illustrated by Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as illustrated below. The pyramid on the left portrays healthy development. The one on the right reveals how the childhood perception of detachment, exploitation, or neglect impacts our biological needs. Subsequently, safety and security needs are not met, as well as our sense of belonging and being loved, which subverts our development of self-esteem.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a series of human requirements (needs) deemed important for healthy physiological and psychological development. A pioneer of positive psychology,  Maslow originally divided human needs into five categories: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization. The additional three levels came later and are irrelevant to this chapter. The hierarchy establishes how important the stages are to basic human development, and how they influence the other stages.

While the hierarchy is fairly rigid, satisfaction is not a purely linear process but fluid and individuated, subject to experience and personality. Therefore, individuals may move back and forth between the different needs classifications. A child will have difficulty learning if they are hungry. Absent reliable parenting, they are unlikely to feel safe. It is also worth noting, the theory is based on Western culture and does not translate effortlessly into other customs and traditions. 

Physiological Needs are the basic things that we need to survive and develop naturally. Physical, sexual, or emotional disturbance, real or perceptual, can negatively impact our early sleep patterns or sexual health A sense of detachment or abandonment could imperil our assurance of shelter. If these needs are not satisfied the human body cannot develop optimally. Already, we can see the potential impact on our emotional malfunction if these needs are not satisfied. 

Safety and Security. Needless to say, childhood disturbances of any kind can impact our feelings of safety and security. Our formative years need to experience order, protection, and stability, and these stem. primarily, from the family unit. Our childhood disturbance, however, can cause us to distrust authority and relationships, two common symptoms of SAD. If we do not feel secure in our environment, we will seek safety before attempting to meet any higher level of survival. 

Love and Belongingness. Love is interpretational and broadly defined. The classic Greeks were more discriminating, separating love into seven types, e.g., platonic, practical, sexual, and so on. For those of us living with SAD, love is challenging because of our fear and avoidance of relationships and social interaction. SAD disrupts our ability to establish interconnectedness in almost any capacity. Childhood disturbance impacts filial connectedness; we struggle with platonic friendships, and pragmatic relationships are symptomatically contradictory. 

Belongingness is our physiological and emotional need for interpersonal relationships and social connectedness. Examples include friendship, intimacy, acceptance, receiving and giving affection, and social contribution. We are social beings; we are driven by a fundamental human need for social interaction and interpersonal exchange. The comfort in tribe is hardwired into our brains. Human interconnectedness is one of the most important influences on our mental and physical health. Research has shown that social contact boosts our immune system and protects the brain from neurodegenerative diseases. Healthy interpersonal contact triggers the neurotransmission of chemical hormones that improve learning and cognition while moderating the influx of cortisol and adrenaline. 

Esteem. The next stage of our psychological development centers on how we value ourselves and are valued by others. Esteem includes self-worth, achievements, and respect. Self-esteem is both esteem for oneself (character strengths, virtues, and achievements), and the need for respect and appreciation from others (status and reputation).

Notwithstanding the initial disruption of our childhood disturbance and onset, any number of factors continue to impact our self-esteem including our environment, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, and education. Family, colleagues, teachers, and influential others contribute heavily. Our symptoms exacerbate these potential issues. It is important to recognize, however, that the love and approval of others do not equate to self-esteem; otherwise, they would call it other­-esteem

The Greeks categorized love by its objective. For philia, the objective is comradeship, eros is sexuality, storge is familial affection, and so on. The concept of self-esteem evolved from the Greek Philautia. Translated as love-of-self, Philautia is the dichotomy of the love of oneself (narcissism), and the love that is within oneself (self-esteem, self-love). 

Healthy self-esteem is mindfulness of our flaws as well as our inherent character strengths, virtues, and attributes. It allows us to assess our strengths and limitations honestly and nonjudgmentally, and to value ourselves over the opinions of others. It is independent of status or competition with others. It is self-recognition and appreciation for our character strengths, virtues, and achievements. 

Self-esteem or the love that is within oneself is a prerequisite to loving others. If we cannot embrace ourselves, we cannot effectively love another. It is difficult to give away something we do not possess. 

Narcissism is a psychological condition in which people function with an inflated and irrational sense of their importance, often expressed by haughtiness or arrogance. It is the need for excessive attention and admiration, masking an unconscious sense of inferiority and inadequacy. 

Healthy philautia is beneficial to every aspect of life; individuals who love themselves appropriately have a higher capacity to give and receive love. By accepting ourselves, warts and all, with understanding and compassion, we open ourselves to sharing our authenticity with others.

Healthy philautia is the recognition of our value and potential, the realization that we are necessary to this life and of incomprehensible worth. To feel joy and fulfillment at self-being is the experience of healthy philautia. Mindfulness of our self-worth compels us to share it with others and the world.

The deprivation of our fundamental needs caused by our emotional malfunction impacts our acquisition of self-esteem. It is not lost but undeveloped and subverted by our negative self-perspectives. The rediscovery and regeneration of our self-esteem are essential components of recovery. We learn to emphasize the character strengths and virtues that generate the motivation, persistence, and perseverance to function optimally through the substantial alleviation of the symptoms of our malfunction. 

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How Do We Compel Regeneration

Recovering our self-esteem is an essential element of recovery and cannot be second-tiered. Due to our disruption in natural human development, we are subject to significantly lower implicit and explicit self-esteem relative to healthy controls. We rediscover and regenerate our self-esteem through the integration of historically and clinically practical approaches designed to help us become mindful of our inherent strengths, virtues, and achievements, and their propensity to replace negative self-perspectives and behavior.

Social anxiety disorder overwhelms us by generating negative self-beliefs, inducing us to repress our inherent and developed assets. Fortunately, our brain never deletes files; it fractures neural connections that can be regenerated. Proactive neuroplasticity and DRNI (the deliberate, repetitive, input neural input of information) compel our brain to repattern and realign its neural circuitry.


Moderating our issues of self-esteem and motivation is best accomplished in a workshop environment where we can identify and examine the challenges through personal introspection, memory work, journalling, role-playing, and other tools and techniques that help us rationally respond to the negative self-beliefs that generated our lacuna of self-esteem. For those who want to begin the work on their own, there are some basic steps we can take to identify our issues of self-esteem and begin to moderate them.

1.    Identify the Situation where our self-esteem is an issue. Where are we? Who is present? What specifically is causing our distress? What are the symptoms associated with this distress?

2.    Unmask our fears. What is problematic for us in the situation? How do we feel (physically, intellectually, emotionally)? What is our specific concern or worry? Are we afraid of rejection? Are we worried we will say something stupid? Are we concerned people will criticize or ridicule us?

3.    Identity our corresponding ANT(s). Automatic negative thoughts are our immediate, involuntary, emotional expressions of our fears. They are the self-defeating things we tell ourselves. “No one will talk to me.” I’ll say something stupid.” “I’m a loser.” She’ll reject me?” He’ll think I’m undesirable.”

4.    Examine and analyze our fear(s) and corresponding ANTs. What are the causes, thoughts, and images that precipitate our fears and anxieties? It is these that impact our self-esteem.

5.    Generate Rational Responses. Our fears and ANTs are irrational. Once we have examined and analyzed them, and accept that they are false assumptions, we devise rational responses to counter them.

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Comments. Suggestions. Constructive Criticism

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