Self Esteem and Scripts

Self Doubt, Depression, Confidence, Psychology, Esteem

If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d end up doing “self esteem exercises” every morning, I would have laughed.  I grew up convinced that anyone who advocated for raising self esteem in children was trying to do away with the hierarchy of natural talent, and would end up trapping students on a feel-good plateau of mediocrity.  This way of thinking wasn’t entirely wrong: recent studies have shown that children are more successful when they are praised for trying hard, rather than for being smart.  But somehow it ended up, at least in my experience, with parents denying or ignoring the need to praise their children at all.  I was lucky enough to have supportive and appreciative parents; but a dear friend of mine grew up thinking that he was stupid, because he received nothing but criticism at home.  As an adult, he discovered that many of his difficulties were due to an undiagnosed and untreated disability, and that many of the talents and skills he took for granted were actually in high demand and esteem outside of his family.  He has found out that his parents were actually very proud of him but never got around to telling him that.  He is doing well, but still struggles against the self-doubt and feelings of deficiency that have been programmed into his brain.

This is why, at the risk of giving my children big heads, I work hard to praise their efforts and natural talents alike, to notice and point out their achievements, to be encouraging about their failures, and to tell them point-blank that I am proud of them, and that I love them.

This last point–explicitly telling the kids how I feel about them–brings me back to the self-esteem exercises, which were recommended by my counselor.  Like Gottman’s scripts, they sound awkward at first, because they’re so obvious and cliche (my personal version is “I am good.  I am a daughter of God.  I deserve to be loved and respected”); but that doesn’t make them unnecessary.  Yes, I know that God loves me, just like a child knows that his parent loves him; but it is so much easier to believe it when you hear it out loud!  In the same way, I know that my husband cares about me and is listening; but it helps so much if he makes sure to express it with a script like “how was your day?” or “yeah, that sounds rough” or “poor baby” or just “uh-huh.”  Silence can be misinterpreted; saying something, even if sounds unnatural, clears things up.  Whether you suffer from the criticism of your family and peers, or just the lifelong crushing weight of original sin, it’s important to be reminded, out loud, that you are loved.


7 thoughts on “Self Esteem and Scripts

  1. Yep, I too used to think self esteem was a ridiculous concept, even going so far as thinking people who were trying to improve their self-esteem were narcissists. Now I am seeing that trying to build self-esteem isn’t trying to convince yourself you are the most awesome human who has ever lived, but rather trying to make your perceptions match reality. For me that looks like not looking at myself as a horrible, evil person just because I have any sort of weaknesses or shortcomings. I just finished Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection, and have been trying to incorporate a script she mentions and before going to bed saying, “Yes I am imperfect, vulnerable and afraid, but that does not change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It really does help to say things out loud! Over the years I have said things to myself such as, “This, too, shall pass” or “I am a badass!” or more recently “Quit your whining!” when my body starts to get tired at the gym.

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  3. Oh well said because I know someone who was the eldest in a family in which self esteem was considered one of the worst sins and all had it beaten out of them with the result that confidence and decision making became almost impossible – like being released into the wild in a crippled state. John Calvin has much to answer for.

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  4. Love it! I remember in college my brother decided he was too cool to talk to me (we were a year apart at a small school). Since I’d always considered us good friends, my feelings were hurt. Finally I said, “Can you please at least say, “Hi! How are you today?” when we pass in the hall? You don’t even have to sound happy – can you just say the words? He agreed. So every afternoon I would hear this very robotic sounding voice: “Hi-there. How-are-you-to-day?” Totally scripted with not an ounce of feeling in the words. And I’d smile and say, “Good, thanks!” and walk off. It meant so much to know he cared, even just a tiny bit, about doing something to cheer me up a little. And his second year of college he was done needing to ignore me. 🙂 Sometimes I can tell my husband is scripting, too – like when I tell him something upsetting and I get this not-heartfelt, “Oh, that sounds yucky. I’m sorry that happened.” Same words every time. But ya know… he is trying. None of us can really control how we FEEL (or don’t feel) but we can control how we act & scripting is choosing supportive words even when the feelings aren’t there at the moment to back them up. I think it gets a way worse rap than necessary.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yes, that’s a great point! If you make a relationship depend on spontaneity, so that you only act caring when you feel moved to, you are in big trouble.


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