You can never value a river for being what it is in a particular moment, because as soon as you prevent it from changing, from moving and flowing, it ceases to be a river. The same is true with human beings. If you say “I like you” or “I love you” just the way you are in a moment, you are really denying what it means to be human. We are always changing, we are always recalibrating, interacting, building and engaging–it is the nature of being human. It is the nature of self. When you stop the ‘do’-based part of yourself, you are dead and you don’t have to worry about whether you like yourself anymore because you are either in heaven (in which case God loves you enough for the both of you) you are reincarnated (in which you are not you anymore and you don’t have to worry about whether you liked the old you) or you are nothing (with nothing to worry about) or some other variation of the afterlife (I actually would prefer to be a zombie so I refuse to be cremated, and zombies always have high self-concept). What.
According to RET, ‘self’ is actually two distinct things–one dimension is ‘do-based’ and the other dimension is ‘being-based’. Part of how we feel about ourselves is defined by the ways that our performance is perceived, the outcomes we generated, the money we made, the ways we fulfilled our roles in life and got the ‘to-do’ list done with quality and efficiency. Ever had a time in your life when you felt like a ‘loser?’ You didn’t get the good grades you were hoping for, you haven’t worked out in awhile, you’re having a bad hair day, the house is a mess, you forgot to take Billy to his soccer practice and your boss told you to improve the quality of your work because you are falling behind…etc.? You ‘feel bad’ about yourself on these days. Or maybe you have a day where you won the big race, earned the most points on the math quiz, did the perfect cheer on the cheer team, got a promotion, were awarded’ best worker’ at work, took care of all the household chores and finished up that big project with flying colors and every hair in place. You ‘feel good’ about yourself.
Here is the flipside to that coin. You go on a yoga retreat with your girlfriends and you spend all day talking about your lives, your loves, your losses, your wins. You go on a walk alone in the wildflowers, come back and have a glass of wine on the patio while the sun sets, listening to your favorite music. You spend the day playing with your family, ping pong and monopoly, then a long conversation with your sister. You go skydiving and have a picnic lunch under an oak tree in the fall, you make love with your wife afterward. You take the afternoon off to walk along the river, sit down and read your favorite book of poetry, then you visit that antique mall you’ve had your eye on and end up wandering for a couple of hours just lost in the smells and textures and history of the place. You ‘feel good’ about yourself after these types of experiences, even though you didn’t necessarily get anything accomplished in a tangible way, finding value in the process or experience of something that is need-fulfilling makes you feel good about yourself. Or, conversely, you spend all your time at work, when people ask you to go out to lunch, you decline because you have to get that report in. The only spare time in your day is spent vigorously exercising or taking care of the kids, making dinner, cleaning the cat box, you and your husband haven’t had a date night in a year, you won’t allow yourself to take any time for what you enjoy because it feels wasteful and that time is too precious for your busy schedule to accommodate it. Then, without warning you break down and cry in your driveway for half an hour because you hate your life. You ‘feel bad’ about yourself.
These examples reflect two discreet categories of self. The first is called self-esteem and the other is called self-worth. They exist independently of each other, they are mutually exclusive and cultivating one does not cultivate the other. By saying this, I am proposing that we rid ourselves of the ‘bucket’ technique in defining self-concept. Until now, psychology has not had separate categories of self-concept. The thinking was, one either felt ‘good’ about the herself, ‘bad’ about herself, or somewhere in between. By splitting this dimension in two, we can more accurately and comprehensively define not only what components make up self-concept, but what actions and experiences fortify or deteriorate each category of self.
Self-esteem is the way you feel about your performance, the tangible value that is garnered by your efforts, your accomplishments, your talents and skills and abilities, your role obligations and the degree to which you produce results. It is the feeling that you are valuable, lovable, worthy and deserving of respect because of what you do. Self-esteem is cultivated through nurturing needs on the achievement exchange.
Self-worth is the value you have just for being you, for experiencing life, for participating in the process of existence. It is your sense that you are valuable and lovable and worthy of consideration and respect just for who you are, independent of what you produce or the tangible goals you reach. Self-worth is only cultivated through nurturing needs on the experiential exchange.