The Science and Philosophy of Self-Esteem Can a greater appreciation for life boost Self-confidence and Self-esteem?

August 9, 2018

Self-esteem is our evaluation of our worth shared by what other people think of us. 


"Self-esteem increases when others appreciate and value us, and decreases when are rejected (social inclusion) and start to question our own worth and abilities. Self-Esteem is an essential ingredient in promoting good mental health and well-being. A lack of it has the potential to develop a vulnerability to a range of psychiatric problems including eating disorders, addictions and depression."  An extract is taken from Will, G. J., Rutledge, R. B., Moutoussis, M., & Dolan, R. J. (2017).


In 2017 research from UCL "developed a computational model that precisely predicts how self-esteem changes from moment to moment as people learn what others think of them. The findings indicating that self-esteem depended both on whether other people liked the participants and on whether they were liked or disliked more than expected. Self-esteem decreased the most when participants received negative feedback from someone they expected to receive positive feedback from." - An extract is taken from Will, G. J., Rutledge, R. B., Moutoussis, M., & Dolan, R. J. (2017).


Other contributing factors could be how we read and interpret others behaviour coupled with past experiences. Influencing certain expectations and assumptions in a negative way that will drive a response? Another question is can we differentiate between looking to others for guidance to evolve making better decisions to drive better outcomes and looking to others just for validation? 


Despite the importance of Self-esteem for Mental well-being, it's not really known how the brain accumulates social feedback to determine our self-esteem. However, if future research can provide and define the different mechanisms and associated brain areas responsible for improvement or decline in the areas of expectation and self-esteem.  Maybe more effective solutions can be found. Some FMRI imagining studies indicate that one possible Neural substrate responsible for integrating social evaluation with self-evaluation is the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC).


So if Self-esteem is so hardwired into our system why can some access it and others can't and what can we do to learn how to work with it? Does the answer perhaps lay in looking at some of the Eastern philosophies along with positive psychology practices to help equip us with a different bag of tools to cultivate a greater appreciation of life and self-worth? 


By exploring some of the other mechanisms and the brain areas that could be involved through Self-reported and experimental behavioural findings, we can see how some of these Eastern practices and philosophies may cross over. For example, some of these mechanisms are; Emotion regulation: reappraisal (Dorsal) prefrontal cortex (PFC) approaching ongoing emotional reactions in a different way (not judgementally, with acceptance). Emotion regulation: exposure, extinction, and reconsolidating exposing oneself to whatever is present in the field of awareness; letting oneself be affected by it; refraining from internal reactivity. Associated brain areas Ventromedial PFC, hippocampus, amygdala. Change in perspective on the self: detachment from identification with a static sense of self. Associated brain areas  Medial PFC, posterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporoparietal junction.


Both Psychology and Yoga and Eastern philosophy study the formation of habits through repetition. Meaning we are born with and continue to develop an array of powerful patterns; mental (cognitive), emotional, neural (related to wiring in our brain), physical, and behavioural. 


As human beings, we are heavily influenced by what we see and hear. In scientific terms, our visual and auditory inputs encode our preferences and assumptions which leads us to ask ourselves how consciously aware are we in acting on everything we see and hear? 


The teachings of the East suggest that if we can practice a healthy detachment from these preferences and assumptions by getting to caught up in what we see and hear. By noticing moment to moment changes with awareness in feeling and thoughts then we may be able to change our responses. Thus changing our behaviour to a conscious endpoint which will have a particular effect and outcome rather than just repeating old responses and behaviours. 


It was Descartes philosophy 'I think therefore l am' which had an impact on how we think about Free Will and possibly started the trend of Positive Psychology. However, it is from the work of Antonio Damasio, where that statement has now been revised by Damasio himself to 'I feel therefore l am' reflecting and showing a clear connection between mind and body.  


So how can you work with these areas of the brain?
Here are a few suggestions;

1. Ask yourself honestly how you see yourself by reviewing your values + beliefs and if they align with past or present? 

2. Are the expectations relative and realistic to real-time, business and life outcomes? 

3. Pick 1-5 things personally or professionally that you've done well and received a positive response from or a positive expectation that makes you feel good. 


So are our experiences, expectations along with favouritism some of the obstacles that stand in the way of our evolutionary journey and towards owning a healthy dose of Self-esteem?








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