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Core Self

Self-concept consists of emotionally-charged beliefs about yourself. Emotionally-charged is the key. Your capacity to love is likely to be part of your self-concept; your ability to drive a car probably is not.

Self-esteem is inextricably linked to self-concept, and both are linked to behavior, which is why attempts to raise the former without changing the latter fail. (Saying, “I’m a good person,” can actually lower self-esteem, if you do not behave in the way you believe a good person does.) But self-concept goes well beyond how you feel about yourself.

Your brain uses self-concept, along with identity, as a guide for interpreting the world. We tend to process only the information that confirms self-concept and filter out anything that contradicts it. If you think you’re incompetent, you’ll focus exclusively on your mistakes and overlook the vast majority of tasks you do well. If you believe you’re a hard-worker, you’ll notice evidence that supports your self-concept – you go to work, clean the house, mow the lawn, cook dinner, etc., and discount your tendency to procrastinate or take more than the allowed breaks at work.

Identity is an umbrella term in psychology, used variously to label nearly everything about the self. In regard to our discussion of core self, it’s useful to define identity as an image of the self that helps us know how to behave. My identity reinforces certain qualities and helps me play certain roles. For instance, I might identify with being a teacher, artist, or sportsman, with qualities of loyalty, intelligence, perseverance, etc. These roles and qualities become guides for how I behave. When I falter, I experience the discomfort of cognitive dissonance.

Identity also defines how we want others to perceive us. If I have an inflated identity, I’ll spend a lot of effort trying to manipulate the impressions of others, to avoid the guilt and shame I feel when the world reminds me that I’m not all that artistic, talented, intelligent, or compassionate.

Self-Value is a richer and more useful concept than self-esteem. The latter, simply put, is how you feel about yourself. But it’s not an entity that you can “work on.” It’s more a product of the interplay among self-concept, self-efficacy, and identity. Self-esteem can be improved only by improving self-concept, identity, and self-efficacy. Research has shown that Pollyannaish programs to raise self-esteem – “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” – usually fail to produce positive outcomes. While the indiscriminate praise of children (“You’re special! You’re one of kind!) does not make them successful, but can make them narcissistic. They’ll cut in front of you in line because they’re “special!”

Self-value is about how you regard and treat yourself. Remember, value is very much a matter of regard and behavior. If you value a da Vinci painting, you appreciate its beauty and design, which are not diminished in your eyes by the cracks in the canvas. Above all, you treat it well, making sure that it is maintained in ideal conditions of temperature and humidity. Similarly, people with high self-value appreciate their better qualities – while trying to improve their lesser ones – and take care of their physical and psychological health, growth, development, and well-being.

Self-Concept

List 3 words you would use to describe yourself. I am (example, a loser, go-getter, hard worker, screw-up, etc.):

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How did I come to believe these things about myself? What is the evidence?

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List 3 desired descriptions – how you would like to describe yourself.

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List 3 abilities you have. I can (for example, succeed, accomplish, understand, compete, be alone, fail, screw up):

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How did I come to believe these things about myself? What is the evidence?

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List 3 abilities you would like to develop and the first step to developing each. (for example, I would like to be more successful at my work. The first step is research, to learn more about what it takes to do my job well.)

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List 3 consistent personal qualities (for example, kind, fair, honest, personable, tenacious, self-centered, fearful, or stingy):

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How did I come to believe these things about myself? What is the evidence?

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List 3 ways to reinforce you desired personal qualities. (for example, when proposing something to my intimate partner, I will respect his/her opinion about whether my proposal is fair.)

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List 3 key aptitudes. (for example, smart, analytical, pragmatic, mechanical, mathematical, sensitive, self-aware, and considerate of others):

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List 3 ways of developing your desired aptitudes. (for example, I will become for considerate of others by trying to take their perspectives.)

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List 3 important accomplishments/potentials. (for example, skills, education, training, achievement):

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List 3 important accomplishments/potentials (for example, skills, education, training, achievement):

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Exercises to Discover and Fortify Identity

List 3 qualities or roles that are part of your identity. (for example, teacher, parent, hard-worker, victim, survivor, or advocate):

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Identify and Affirm Your Dreams in Life

To reclaim your core self, you have to start dreaming again.

My Primary Dreams for the Future:

Dream #1.

Dream #2. Dream #3.

What is the first thing you must do to fulfill Dream #1? (For example, if your dream is to get a college degree, your first step might be to research local college fees and requirements.)

What is the second thing you must do? (In the example above, you obtain the documents necessary to apply – transcripts, recommendations, etc. – and start looking into financial aid.)

The third? (In the example above, you would put together your applications for admission and financial aid.)

What is the first thing you must do to fulfill Dream #2?

What is the second thing you must do?

The third?

What is the first thing you must do to fulfill Dream #3?

What is the second thing you must do?

The third?

Exercises to Discover and Fortify Self-value

List 3 qualities about yourself that you can appreciate.

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List 3 qualities that you can improve.

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Describe specifically what you can do to take better care of yourself through:

Exercise:

Eating and drinking healthfully:

Other:

 

Temperament

Temperament is a genetic mix of traits, in part, the product of an individual’s metabolism, the way the body creates energy. Subjectively, temperament can be thought of as a kind of “emotional tone” – what it feels like to be you.

Every human being (and every animal for that matter) is born with a definite temperament. Scientists use many different areas of measurement to create broad categories, which we often think of as “characteristics.” These are usually presented on a continuum, such as shy-outgoing, fearful-fearless, and agreeable-aggressive. Key aspects of temperament are average:

• Sensory threshold (easily over-stimulated or easily bored)
• Level of arousal (how excitable you get)
• Energy level (how easily you can muster the physical and mental resources to do tasks)

The above are useful starting points for self-discovery. Like all psychological classifications, they tell us little about individuals. For instance, if you have three children, you are likely to have three different temperaments. Your children will be highly individual, even though they share many traits and characteristics with their parents and with each other.

The different ways we adapt to our temperamental qualities account for much of the differences we see in personalities. Strictly speaking, we cannot change temperament. (An excitable child will become an excitable adult.) But we all adapt our temperaments in a variety of ways. (For instance, most people who were excitable children have learned to manage their elevated arousal levels by the time they’re adults.) If adaptations are healthy, we can enjoy the benefits of our temperaments without the hindrance of their limitations.

For example, shy people are not likely to become the life of the party, but they can learn to enjoy the party and contribute to the enjoyment of others through focus and attention, provided they do not beat themselves up for being shy. If you have a low-energy metabolism, you will probably not become a sprinter or marathon runner, but you can learn to enhance your energy level by walking briskly on a regular basis. If your persistence level is low, you can increase your confidence in a number of ways, provided you give yourself permission to make mistakes. This will remove the emotional blocks to persistence, although the temperamental impulse to “give up” will remain. Most of our impulses, thankfully, do not become overt behavior, as we learn to regulate them as a matter of routine.

Although most temperamental adaptations occur on their own, by trial and error over time, we can alter them through deliberate effort. If you’re prone to pay a lot of attention to detail, you can train yourself to back off now and then to see the big picture. If your interest level is naturally low, you have to go beneath the surface of things to maintain interest. (Novelty stimulates interest; depth sustains it.) If you tend to be mostly negative or mostly positive, understand that you can’t always trust your initial appraisal of people and situations – you need more information before judging.

Temperament in Relationships
The dimensions of temperament most likely to be exaggerated in committed relationships are intensity (energy level) and emotional tone (what it feels like to be you). Broadly speaking, people with high innate energy are more inclined to action than reflection and prefer some kind of external structure to guide their abundant energy. Those with lower energy levels tend to have a slower metabolism, be more thoughtful before acting, and prefer a looser external structure so they can think about where to invest their more limited energy.

Clashes over emotional tone in committed relationships cluster around anxiety regulation. Specifically, what lowers anxiety in one partner raises it in the other. One partner focuses on details while the other attends to the big picture; one is more organized, orderly, punctual, and rigid than the other. For example, if it’s very important for you to be on time, it’s almost certain that you’re married to someone who is often late.

“Opposites attract” turns out to be a myth. We are drawn to people with moderate differences in temperament, looking for potential partners who “fill-in our gaps,” as a popular movie character put it. For instance, highly organized people admire the spontaneity and tendency to “think outside the box” of their less organized dates, who, in turn, enjoy the stability and “feet-on-the-ground” qualities of their potential partners.
While we are not attracted to opposites, we seem to become opposites when living together. For instance, the anxious partner is more prone to worry. At least on an unconscious level, he/she will worry that the less anxious partner is not “worrying enough.” The less anxious partner will sense the rise in anxiety and try harder to relax and let things “roll off my back.” They argue:

“You have to be more concerned about or lives.”
“You have to worry less.

This is the classic argument where partners insist:

“You have to be more like me. See the world the way I do and feel the way I do.”

For relationships to be happy, partners must share responsibilities and labor more or less equally, but not energy levels and emotional tone. They must understand that they are different and accept each other for who they are. Specific behaviors are negotiable, differences in focus, processing, temperament, and core vulnerabilities are not.

It’s useful to better understand your own temperament and that of your partner and then figure out how to fit them together in harmony, rather than trying to change each other. To that end, each partner should fill out the following.

Core Self 1Components of Temperament

CompassionPower