The Science of Stigma – Self Esteem – PART 3

This is a great post! It’s well worth a read for anybody who suffers from low self esteem. I realise there are a lot of new concepts to understand, but they are crucial in gaining the insight towards channeling your own thoughts and behaviour towards better self esteem. If anything is unclear just comment below and I will do my best to make things clearer for you.

In Part 2 we looked at the danger of how Stigma could shape the way we think of ourselves. To maintain our self esteem, and avoid the impact of stigma, it is very useful to look at two types of Attribution Theory. Attribution Theory is used to explain behaviour. There are two types of Attribution – Internal and External. Internal Attribution is when we look within ourselves for an explanation of behaviour. A teacher whose student has performed very well in a test, may say to himself ‘I’m an excellent teacher’. Whereas if the teacher was to take an approach using external attribution, he/she might say, that student is very clever. That is attribution theory in its simplest sense.

When someone seems to be stigmatising us we can use External Attribution to make better judgements and maintain our self esteem. I will use the example of a mental health sufferer shopping and a customer saying ‘that’s weird’. Using Internal Attribution, we might attribute the customer’s opinion as being targeted at our behaviour. We may think that we are being called weird and that we are the target for stigma. In reality, the comment could, much more likely, be interpreted as being externally attributed. Isn’t it far more likely that they are calling a product, a smell or even part of their conversation weird. The problem is that we tend to internally attribute behaviour long before we come to externally attribute it. Another quick example is when someone is rude to us and we may think that they don’t like us. In reality isn’t it more likely that they are just having a bad day.

Stigma towards mental health sufferers can cause them to have low self esteem i.e. see themselves negatively. There are a few different types of self esteem, that, when understood, can help you to make better choices about how you feel about yourself.

Trait and State Self Esteem differ in regard to where you obtain your levels of self esteem. Trait Self Esteem gives you the bigger picture and is your general sense of self esteem over a longer time period. Whereas, State Self Esteem is more how your self esteem varies from moment to moment. It is worth trying to catch yourself during periods of low state self esteem. If you can, first, stop any destructive negative thought e.g. I am worthless. Then, try to avoid contradicting that thought by saying, e.g. I am not worthless. Believe it or not this only reinforces the negative thinking patterns. Instead, it is far more effective to think of a happy thought. A time when you felt good about yourself and others. By making this thought pattern a habit, you will soon find your level of self esteem improving. Let me know how you get on!

There are some states of self esteem which often go unconsidered, but have a significant impact on how you feel about yourself. You can have all the self esteem in the world, but if yourself esteem is unstable, stigma or certain behaviour by others, can cause you problems. Defensive self esteem is where your self esteem is high, but it is unstable. Here, you are likely to respond negatively to any threat, and have periods of lower self esteem as a result. Mindfulness meditation can help you stay in the present moment, build more stable levels of self esteem, and respond more positively. You can find a plethora of mindfulness meditation apps, by doing a simple search on your phone’s app store.

It is also worth considering something called the contingency of self worth. Here, self esteem can be generated by either, only a few factors (these can be family support, academic performance, self-image, for example), or by a good number of factors. Depending on how importantly you rate these domains and how much they contribute to you self worth will determine your levels of self esteem. If your level of self esteem is based on just one contingency you are more likely to suffer from low self esteem. It may be worth exploring new domains and improving your performance in them. If you would like to be more physically attractive, you could go to the gym, for example.

Stigma can have a dramatic impact on your level of self esteem. Work at understanding the concepts in this post, and take action by putting techniques in place to generate better self esteem. You will find your renewed resilience can help you put stigma to shame!

Peace and Namaste!

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