Self-Esteem Articles

How Words and Images Are Holding Women Back

Monday, March 5th, 2012

If you’ve been reading Real World Research for a while, you may remember the “fat old bitch” incident. (If not, read about it here, and here.)

The current fracas over Rush Limbaugh’s unbelievably inappropriate sexist rant against Sandra Fluke brings this back to my mind

I’m going to use this opportunity to recommend a new documentary I’ve seen twice now and could easily sit through again. It’s called Miss Representation, and it’s all about how the media’s representation of women shapes our attitudes and contributes to women’s lack of power in this country.

Lack of power? The “feminazis”? Don’t be silly. We’re modern, liberated, in-charge women.

I wish.

Consider this: Women are 51 percent of the population but only 17 percent of Congress. America ranks 90th in the world in women in legislature. Even China is more progressive than we are in that respect.

Women hold a whopping three percent of power positions in the media—and that includes TV, radio, publishing, online media—all of it. So this means that pretty much everything we (and, more importantly, our children) see in the media is filtered through the sensibilities of men—and that is not to our benefit.


Imagery and the Mind and Mindfulness

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

I’ve only just started reading the new book by fellow PyschCentral blogger Elisha Goldstein, and I’ve already found something useful.

Goldstein is a psychologist in private practice, and his excellent blog is about mindfulness. His book, The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life, is a manual for learning mindfulness. The book is short, quick-read chapters that leave you with lots to think about and try.

“See, Touch, Go” is the chapter that twanged a note in my brain–one image, in particular. Goldstein describes the See, Touch, Go method in an anecdote, through the words of a dog trainer trying to help a family frustrated by their rambunctious rescue dog.

“‘See, touch, go.’ When your mind begins to wander off onto all your worries and frustrations with this dog, see that your mind has wandered, touch the thought like you might softly touch your reflection in a pond, and then gently go back to focusing on the training we’ve discussed.”

OK, so the dog trainer is beside the point. What got me is this:

Touch the thought like you might softly touch your reflection in a pond.


Complaining About Complaining

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

I picked up The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way To Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, Enhance Self-Esteem, by psychologist Guy Winch, in hopes of learning something about the chronic complainers in my life.

But the book taught me as much about myself as others.

Despite the many years that have passed since, I still wince remembering my last months on a job that had gone bad. I became the person whose friends ducked for cover when they saw me coming because they knew to expect a litany of complaints about my miserable life.

And a few years ago, when I was again floundering professionally, I realized with horror that friends had started looking at me with pity. It was an awful epiphany. As Winch points out. “By succumbing to the special attention pity offers us, the convenience of lowered expectations, and other secondary gains associated with being objects of others’ sorrow, we become victims in our own eyes as well as those of others.”

I am going to imprint those important words on my brain. I don’t want friends pitying or dodging me.

And while I’ve been feeling bad about wanting to avoid the chronic complainers in my life, this book helped me understand the risks of complaining for the sake of complaining.


Social Skills Count on Facebook Too

Monday, February 6th, 2012

There was one bright spot amid all the hand-wringing over Facebook and its supposedly negative effects on relationships. Psychologists thought that Facebook allows people with low self-esteem, who typically are wary of the kind of self-disclosure that fosters intimacy, feel safe enough to express themselves, thereby expanding their social networks. People with low self-esteem thought the same thing. Here, they thought, I can open up, show myself, make new friends.

Well…maybe not.

New research suggests that rather than getting out there and making new friends on Facebook, people with low self-esteem get out there and get all negative, pushing people away.


So Now That We Know That, What Do We Do?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

An instrument of oppression?

My last post, about the effects of wearing cosmetics on people’s perceptions of women’s competence, raises some compelling issues, discussed in the comments, in which one woman takes me to task for an article she says is “disheartening to say the least.”

She continues,

“Why must a woman conform to society’s fascist beauty standards to be deemed acceptable? Articles like these contribute to all the artificial beauty and body images projected towards girls and women in every day media.”

I don’t entirely disagree with this view. I’ve written many times in the past about the messages women get, about body image in particular. (Check out Am I Fat? Who the Hell Knows, for one.)

Do I feel the same way about cosmetics? Certainly I object to any suggestion that cosmetics should help us hew to some sort of standard definition of beauty, and I don’t believe cosmetics should be a condition of employment.

But cosmetics don’t change us, they just jazz us up a little. And I admit, I’ve always thought women were kind of lucky to have the option of wearing cosmetics, particularly on those mornings after a night of too much fun. I’m definitely not the kind of woman who can’t leave the house without “putting on my face,”  but I also admit to preferring my appearance with a light glazing of makeup.

I’ve been thinking about this research and what it means for women. Yes, in some ways it it is a little disheartening. But in another way, having this knowledge provides women with what could be a useful piece of information.


Why Stacy and Clinton May Be Right

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

I love me some What Not To Wear —or any makeover show, for that matter. I get a kick out of watching Stacy and Clinton take frumpy dumpies and zazz them up into snazzy sassies. I don’t always agree with the styling (what is this obsession with flat irons?), but usually, the afters are lots better than the befores.

Women on these show who start out resistant to the makeover process often argue that what’s important is what’s inside, that appearances are superficial, and that people should respect them no matter how limp their hair or saggy-baggy their clothes.

I agree, in theory, but that’s not the world we live in. It’s not even the world animals live in—appearance counts for them, too. The peacock’s tail isn’t exactly practical, but the ladies love it.

Lots of research has shown that natural beauty is an advantage in life, and natural beauty would be considered a biological phenotype. You’re born that way (or not). But recent research looks at whether the “extended phenotype” has any benefits. In the nonhuman kingdom, extended phenotype would be “the spider’s web, the hermit crab’s shell, the bowerbird’s bower and the beaver’s dam,” the researchers write. In the human world—at least in America—the extended phenotype includes cosmetics.

Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but apparently we try because it seems women wearing makeup are perceived as more competent.


Happy Festivus! Air Those Grievances

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

I love Festivus because it frees the part of my personality that I am told I should suppress–the gripey, complainy part.

(What’s Festivus? Watch the video here.)

Perhaps I shouldn’t admit to having anything in common with Frank Costanza. And I’d rather skip the Feats of Strength part of the holiday. And I haven’t put up a Festivus pole this year.

But the Airing of the Grievances? I’m all over it.

I’m not good at being a little ray of sunshine. I’m a pessimist and enjoy what I call recreational bitching and moaning. And I have found some good that can come of negative conversation—I wrote about it here.

Plus, there’s some evidence that seeing all the happy updates from Facebook friends makes people unhappy.

So to air a grievance, I have to admit that I do get a little weary of people whose Facebook updates are relentlessly upbeat. And this is especially true during holidays.


A Parenting Puzzle: Protective or Overprotective?

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

“When does trying to protect them become overly restricting? Is there a happy balance?”

A reader posed that question about raising kids earlier this week and it’s a good one. We recognize a helicopter parent when we see one, especially by the time their kids are teenagers. But how about when they’re younger? Are there red flags in parenting style that might mark the beginning of overprotective parenting?

What is overprotective? How is it measured?

My disclaimer here: I have no children, my parents were pretty laissez-faire. I’m just throwing all this out there. You tell me if it makes sense.

I looked at a number of studies that mention overprotection and found that frequently, overprotection is assessed by the protected. In other words, researchers ask children if they feel their parents are overprotective; or they ask people who have had strokes if their caregivers are overprotective.


Women and Negotiation: Damned If They Don’t, Damned If They Do

Monday, October 31st, 2011

You know how some women are afraid that if they toot their own horns, people won’t like them?

Silly, right?

Actually, no, it’s not. Research finds that this is, in fact, the case.

I recently wrote an article about self-promotion for GradPSYCH, an American Psychological Association publication, and what I learned was one big ol’ bummer.

Women face a double-bind. If they don’t promote themselves, they risk not getting ahead. But if women do promote themselves, they turn people off because self-promotion violates a stereotype. They are perceived as immodest.


Making A Reality Checklist

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Unearned praise may be just as much of a bummer as undeserved criticism.

New research finds that over-praising ourselves is as counterproductive as beating ourselves up. Or, as the title of the article puts it, “Both Self-Effacement and Self-Enhancement Can Lead to Dejection.”

The aha moment for me in this article is Study 4, when participants did a task (unscrambling anagrams) and, without knowing their actual score, randomly received either positive or negative performance feedback. (A control group received no feedback.) Then they completed a survey about the experiment that had buried in it questions used to measure dejection.

Everyone who was told they did poorly felt dejected, but people who in reality performed well but got negative feedback were more bummed than those who performed poorly and were told the truth. Not surprising.

But I was a little surprised that people who were told they did well even though they didn’t were more dejected than people who did poorly and were told they did poorly.

This research is part of the push back against the self-esteem movement, in which everybody gets a trophy just for showing up. For a long time, we believed that there’s no such thing as too much praise. Now we’re learning that unearned praise has its own burdens and pitfalls.

In other words, reality is good for us.


 

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