Regenerating Our Self-Esteem

Robert F Mullen, PhD

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The distinction between social anxiety disorder and social anxiety is a matter of severity; reference to one includes the other. The recovery tools and techniques provided apply to most emotional malfunctions including depression, substance abuse, generalized anxiety, and issues of self-esteem and motivation. These malfunctions originate homogeneously, their trajectories differentiated by environment, experience, and the diversity of human thought and behavior.   

“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI – deliberate, repetitive, neural information.” – WeVoice (Madrid, Málaga)   

“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

Regenerating Our Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is mindfulness of our value and significance to ourselves, society, and the world. It is the recognition and acceptance of our flaws and assets. It defines how we think about ourselves, how we think others perceive us, and how we process and present that information. 

Explicit and Implicit Self-Esteem

Persons experiencing social anxiety have significantly lower implicit and explicit self-esteem relative to healthy controls. Explicit is the conscious expression of our self-worth, appreciation, and acceptance. Implicit self-esteem is our nonconscious self-appraisal, often expressed by our automatic negative thoughts (ANTs). 

Maslow’s Hierarchy

Certain preconditions must be satisfied for healthy psychological development, including adequate sleep, security and safety, familial support, and a healthy environment. Social anxiety is the consequence of negative self-appraisal stemming from childhood disturbance, which can subvert particular biological, physiological, and emotional support.

A pioneer of positive psychology, Abraham Maslow‘s hierarchy of optimal human development contained five categories: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization. While he later expanded the list, we are concerned about the preconditions that form our level of self-esteem. The hierarchy establishes the importance of satisfying these conditions for optimal development and how they complement and influence each other.

The pyramid on the left portrays healthy development. The one on the right reveals how unmet satisfactions imperil other needs within the hierarchy. It is worth noting that Maslow’s theory is based on Western culture and does not necessarily fit with different customs and traditions. 

Our development within the hierarchy is not purely linear but fluid and individualized, subject to experience and environment. A child will have difficulty learning if they are hungry. Without responsible parenting, they are unlikely to feel safe. 

Physiological Needs 

Physiological needs are the basic things we need for survival and healthy development. They include air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep, and health. Deprivation of these disrupts our natural growth and impacts our core beliefs, which are more rigid in SAD persons because we tend to store information consistent with negativity, ignoring evidence that contradicts it.

Safety and Security

Childhood disturbances impact our feelings of safety and security. Our formative years need order, protection, and stability, and these securities stem from the parental unit. Any upheaval can generate feelings of abandonment, detachment, neglect, or exploitation, causing distrust of family, authority, and or relationships. 

Love and Belongingness 

Love and belongingness describe our physiological and emotional need for interpersonal and social relationships. We are societal beings; our fundamental need for connectivity is hardwired into our brains. For those of us experiencing SAD, personal attachment is challenging because of our fear and avoidance of relationships and social interaction. 

Human interconnectedness is a critical component of mental and physical health. Research has shown that healthy social contact boosts our immune system and protects our brain from neurodegenerative diseases. Positive interpersonal contact triggers the neurotransmission of chemical hormones that consolidate our self-esteem while enhancing learning, concentration, pleasure, and motivation.


Our sense of self-worth and appreciation gauges our level of self-esteem. Mindfulness of our character strengths, virtues, and accomplishments is the catalyst. While it enjoys respect and reciprocation from others (status and reputation), self-esteem is not defined by the approval of others. Otherwise, it would be labeled other­-esteem.

Any number of factors can impact our self-esteem, including our environment, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, and education. Family, colleagues, teachers, and influential others contribute substantially. 

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Healthy Philautia

Philautia is the Greek dichotomy of self-love. At one end of the spectrum is the excessive love of self (narcissism) and, at the other, the recognition and appreciation of self (self-esteem). 

Narcissism is a condition in which people function with an inflated and irrational sense of importance, often expressed by haughtiness or arrogance. It is the need for excessive attention and admiration, masking an sense of inferiority and inadequacy. Although we may be uncomfortable with the label, social anxiety carries an unhealthy self-centeredness that approaches the definition of narcissism.

Healthy philautia recognizes our value and potential. It realizes that we are necessary to this life and of incomprehensible worth. By embracing ourselves, warts and all, we open ourselves to sharing our authenticity. 

To feel joy and fulfillment at self-being is the experience of healthy philautia. Self-esteem is a prerequisite to loving others. If we cannot appreciate ourselves, we cannot wholly cherish another. It is unfeasible to give away something we do not possess.


To regenerate means to renew or restore something damaged or lost. Because of the disruption in our optimal development, many positive self-qualities that construct our self-esteem are latent or dormant – underdeveloped or suspended. 

These self-qualities (e.g., confidence, reliance, compassion, and other self-hyphenates) are damaged but not lost. Disruption interrupts productivity. It does not destroy it. Like stimulating the unexercised muscle in our arm or leg, we can regenerate our self-esteem.

Goal and Objectives

The primary goal of recovery from social anxiety is the moderation of our fears and apprehensions. In self-empowerment, it is the rebuilding of our self-esteem and motivation. We execute these goals through a three-pronged approach.  

  1. Replace or overwhelm our negative thoughts and behaviors with healthy, productive ones.
  2. Produce rapid, concentrated neurological stimulation to overwhelm the negative abundance of our neural network.
  3. Regenerate our self-esteem through mindfulness of our assets.


Aaron Beck, the pioneer of cognitive-behavioral therapy, maintained that social anxiety provokes feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and unworthiness. The concept of undesirability revealed itself in our SAD recovery workshops. Until we commit to recovery, we continue to be manipulated by these destructive self-beliefs. 

We struggle to build healthy relationships due to difficulties with intimacy, trusting partners, and establishing personal boundaries. We convince ourselves we are incompetent and socially inadequate. 

We compare ourselves unfavorably to others. Our expectations of criticism, ridicule, and rejection cause us to avoid personal affinity and collegiality.


By reframing, we identify our self-esteem issues and revise our perspective on how we experience and respond to them. Positive reframing turns a negative perspective into a positive or neutral one. There are always multiple perspectives to any situation. While we may not control everything that happens, we always control how we react and respond. If we have a choice to be positive and happy, then it is illogical not to take advantage of the opportunity. 

So, although there may be justification for negative thinking, it is in our interest to reframe our thinking to accelerate and consolidate the positive restructuring of our neural network. Our negative thoughts are unhealthy and nonproductive. Experts agree that positive reframing is critical for emotional well-being. 

Reframing addresses our negativity in general, while rational response focuses on our situational fears and apprehensions.

Rational Response

A rational response is a logical, self-affirming counter to our fears and ANTs. Automatic negative thoughts are our immediate, involuntary emotional expressions that occur when challenged in a particular situation. They are the unpleasant, self-defeating things we tell ourselves that define who we are, who we think we are, and who we think others think we are. They are borne of our core and intermediate beliefs and sustained by our negative self-appraisal. (“No one will talk to me.” “I’ll do something stupid.” “I’m a loser.”)

The logical counters to our ANTs are rational responses or ARTs (automatic rational thoughts). For example, in response to the situational fear of adverse criticism, the corresponding ANT might be, “I am inadequate and don’t belong here.” Rational responses could include: “I am entitled to be here as much as anyone.” “I am valuable and significant.” “I am equal to anyone here.” 

Identify the Problem

To reframe or rationally respond to a fear or apprehension, we must determine its trajectory.

1. We identify the situation where our self-esteem is an issue. Where are we? Who is present? What is causing our distress? 

2. We unmask our fears and apprehensions. 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. We identify our corresponding ANTs. These are the involuntary, emotional, self-defeating expressions of our fears – 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.”

4. We examine and analyze our fears and corresponding ANTs. What are the causes, thoughts, and images precipitating them? How do we counter their illogicality?

5. Once we have examined, analyzed, and accepted the self-destructive and unreasonable nature of our fears and corresponding ANTs, we reframe or rationally respond to them.

Our thoughts and beliefs might be positive or negative. They might be rational, based on reason or fact. Our fears and apprehensions may also be based on facts and experience. They are not reasonable, however, but created on false assumptions.

Moderating our self-esteem and motivation issues 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 regenerate our self-esteem.

Even so, we can practice certain tools and strategies on our own.

Write Your Character Resume

A character resume is a compilation of our positive qualities, achievements, and memories. Mindfully retrieving and cataloging these qualities compels us to embrace our value, confirming we are desirable, consequential, and worthy. What goes on our character resume? Anything and everything that activates a positive response including our strengths, achievements, contributions, personal milestones, talents, and charitable deeds.

Character Strengths, Virtues, and Attributes. Due to our negative self-analysis, we tend to repress, misplace, and forget our inherent and developed assets. They are not erased or lost, however, but compartmentalized from our active consciousness. Renewed mindfulness of these strengths and incorporating them into our daily lives help regenerate our self-esteem. 

Positive Autobiography lists our successes, achievements, contributions, personal milestones, talents, charitable deeds, and service to others. Recollecting and recognizing our accomplishments encourages us to embrace the extraordinariness of our lives.

Positive Personal Affirmations  PPAs are self-motivating, empowering statements that help us focus on goals, challenge negative, self-defeating beliefs, and reprogram our subconscious minds. 

Self-Esteem Self-Analysis. What do we like about ourselves mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and socially?  

Set Boundaries

Boundaries establish the standard of treatment to which we believe we are entitled. They define what behaviors towards us are acceptable or unacceptable. Boundaries protect us from invasions of our space, feelings, limitations, and expectations. They allow us to enforce our identity, empower our goals and objectives, and prevent others from manipulating, exploiting, or taking advantage of us. 

Knowing our boundaries comes from a healthy sense of self-awareness. Securing them takes self-confidence and a keen recognition of our value and significance. Healthy emotional boundaries value our feelings and needs. 

Our social anxiety provokes us to anticipate criticism and ridicule. We obsess over what others think and say about us. Our desire to be accepted makes us reticent to assert our needs and conditions for security and happiness.

Our incapacity to establish, develop, and maintain relationships creates the fear that boundaries limit the possibility of human connection. We worry that self-assertion will bring rejection and isolation. Our negative self-appraisal convinces us we are unworthy.

Rather than say no, we overextend ourselves and put the needs of others above our own, which causes us to feel inferior, resentful, and exploited.

Boundaries are essential to all healthy relationships. Boundaries bring us closer rather than separating ourselves from others because we set clear understandings of personal values. Defining acceptable behavior provides a sense of communication and self-assurance. When we set boundaries, we determine how we live our lives rather than allowing others to decide.

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are temporary safeguards against situations that challenge our conscious minds. They are unconscious and automatic psychological responses designed to protect us from our fears and apprehensions. 

We overcompensate, deny, repress, and rationalize. We project our irrational behaviors onto others rather than confront them, and we displace our guilt by kicking the dog. 

Cognitive Distortions are exaggerated or irrational thought patterns that perpetuate our anxiety and depression. We twist reality to reinforce or justify our toxic thoughts and behaviors. Social anxiety paints an inaccurate picture of the self in the world with others. 

The number of cognitive distortions ranges substantially. Thirteen are particularly adept at subverting our self-esteem, including:

Polarized thinking. In polarized thinking, we perceive things as absolute – black or white. There is no middle ground, no compromise. We are either brilliant or abject failures. Our friends are for us or against us. We refuse to give people the benefit of the doubt. Worse than our anxiety about criticism is our self-judgment. We must be broken and inept if we are not flawless and masterful. There is no room for mistakes or mediocrity.

Filtering. When we filter, we focus on the negative aspects of our lives, fixating on situations and memories that supporting our defeatist self-appraisal. This creates an emotional imbalance due to excluding healthy thoughts and behaviors. We view ourselves, the world, and our future through an unforgiving lens.

Emotional Reasoning. Emotional reasoning is when we make judgments and decisions based only on our feelings – relying on our emotions or instincts over objective evidence. At the root of this cognitive distortion is the belief that what we feel must be true. If we feel like a loser, then we must be a loser. If we feel incompetent, then we must be incapable. If we make a mistake, we must be stupid.

Self-Labeling. When we label an individual or group, we reduce them to a single, usually negative, characteristic or descriptor based on a single event or behavior. When we self-label, we sustain our negative self-appraisal. Negative self-labeling supports our sense of incompetence and undesirability, and our subsequent behaviors often support those labels. 

We are consumed and conditioned by negative words. Some of us use the exact destructive words over and over again. The more we hear, read, or speak a word or phrase, the more power it has over us. It is not just the words we say out loud in criticism and conversations.

The self-annihilating words we silently call ourselves are even more destructive. Would we use these words against a colleague or loved one? If we wouldn’t say them to someone else, why would we say them to ourselves? Words have power.

Understanding how we use defense mechanisms as subconscious strategies to avoid facing certain truths is crucial to recovery. Our compulsion to twist the truth to validate our negative self-beliefs is formidable. It is vital to understand how these distortions sustain our social anxiety and depression. 


Self-appreciation is recognizing and enjoying our good qualities, efforts, and achievements. We have been beating ourselves up for our condition for too long. We deserve to experience the pride and satisfaction that complements our significance and positive individuality. Self-appreciation dramatically regenerates our self-esteem while accelerating and consolidating neural restructuring. 

Give yourself credit for making positive changes. Recognize all the good things you accomplish daily. Appreciate yourself by doing something nice for yourself every day. We are in charge of our emotional well-being and quality of life. We are responsible for the regeneration of our self-esteem. Self-esteem is the catalyst for self-appreciation. In reciprocation, self-appreciation consolidates self-esteem. We take care of ourselves to take care of others. We embrace our worth and potential to champion them in others. 

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WHY IS YOUR SUPPORT SO IMPORTANT?  ReChanneling develops and implements programs to (1) moderate symptoms of emotional malfunction and (2) pursue personal goals and objectives – harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. Our paradigmatic approach targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration utilizing neuroscience and psychology including proactive neuroplasticity, cognitive-behavioral modification, positive psychology, and techniques designed to regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.

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