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Accountability and Self: Addressing Self-Esteem, Self-Worth and Self-Image

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 6, 2023

Self-worth is an essential component of our well-being. The American Psychological
Association (APA) defines self-worth as “your evaluation of yourself as a capable and valuable
human being deserving of consideration and respect. It is an internal sense of being worthy of
love”. Self-worth is valuing yourself and the unique qualities that define who you are. It is an
internal feeling of worth and not to be based on external validation. When we intrinsically feel
we are worthy, our self-image and self-esteem aren’t dependent on other people’s perceptions;
in fact, we are able to have healthier relationships because we don’t require the validation from
another to feel good about ourselves. When we have high self-worth, we are more resilient; we
have internal protections from rejection and failure; and we are less vulnerable to anxiety.

While self-worth is your overall feeling of worthiness, self-confidence is feeling competent in
specific areas of your life. You can have high self-worth and feel less confident in a specific
domain (work, relationships, hobbies, etc.) therefore it’s not necessary to feel confident in all
domains of your life to have a positive self-worth.

Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are often a direct result of our self-worth. For example, if
you continually internally judge yourself harshly, this may be an indicator for more self reflection
around your feelings of worth. Another example is if you push positive relationships
away, you may not feel worthy of a healthy relationship. The good news is we can develop new
mental habits that create new neural pathways and alter our self-worth. Psychologist, Rick
Hanson calls this intentional adaptation of positive mental habits as “self-directed
neuroplasticity.” Below are some skills, that if practiced regularly, can boost your self-worth.

  1. Challenge your inner critic: The first step in building self-worth is awareness of your
    thoughts and challenging your inner critic. Negative thoughts reinforce low self-worth.
    However, metacognition, or the capacity to be aware of your thoughts, can be difficult.
    Often it is helpful to notice how you are feeling or behaving and investigate the
    thoughts that preceded the feeling or behavior. If you observe a negative inner
    dialogue, this is an opportunity to ask yourself “is this thought true?”. We often believe
    whatever our thoughts are telling us without challenging them. You can also practice
    saying, “My thoughts are not who I am.” Once you are in tune with your thoughts you
    can talk to yourself as a compassionate coach would, one who wants you to be the best
    version of you. You can read more about taming your inner critic from the OITE blog
    here and here.
  2. Self-compassion: Self-compassion is the ability to comfort yourself, to be kind to
    yourself, and to treat yourself with the same compassion that you would offer to others
    during a difficult time. Self-compassion comes from self-reflection, recognizing those
    times when you are being hard on yourself, and then choosing to be kind. A tool that
    can help you practice self-compassion is to stop yourself when you are being self flagellating
    and ask, “what would I say to a child going through the same thing?” and
    speak to yourself with that same compassion. It does not mean to dismiss faults or
    mistakes but to recognize that you are human and if you make a mistake or experience
    rejection, you are still a good person who is worthy of love, especially love from
    Self-compassion is also the care you give yourself. When you are taking care of yourself,
    you are doing so because you are worth this care. Daily healthy habits such as exercise,
    eating healthfully, setting healthy boundaries, creating a sleep hygiene routine, self-care
    behaviors, etc. are all ways that you tell yourself “You are important”. You don’t have to
    practice these behaviors all at once but try to incorporate at least one self-care routine
    daily at first and add in others over time.
  3. Focus on strengths/gratitude/acceptance: If you are experiencing negative self-worth,
    highlighting your strengths, can shift your mindset from a negative self-image to a more
    holistic image with strengths and challenges. A tool that can boost your self-worth is
    to write out specific domains in your life that are meaningful to you and list your
    strengths within that domain. These strengths are not based on accomplishments, such
    as good grades or outcome oriented, but rather your unique traits in that area. An
    example of this may look like:
    Work: I am on-time, I am dedicated, I can write concisely and informatively, I am
    supportive of my colleagues, I am collaborative, I follow-up when needed, I ask for help,
    etc. Relationships: I am a good listener, I am supportive and caring, I reach out and
    check in often, I accept responsibility for my actions, etc.
    If you do this for all meaningful areas in your life, you can review these strengths when
    needed. Allow yourself to feel grateful for these strengths. “I am grateful that I ask for
    help when I need it. By asking for help I am demonstrating that I want to learn and
    increase my ability to do my job more efficiently”. Appreciation for your strengths over
    time can build your self-worth.
  4. Engage in activities that align with your values: Values are our internal compasses; our
    deep-rooted beliefs about what is important to us. When you align your activities to
    your values, you are naturally building your self-worth because you are being authentic
    to your core beliefs. For example, if you value helping others and engage in helping
    activities, this has a positive effect on how you feel about yourself. Taking inventory of
    your values can help inform this practice. Make a list of your values and brainstorm
    ways to you can actively engage in behaviors or activities that align with that value.

    Cultivating self-worth is a practice and changes may take time, but remember you are worth it.

Grounding Skills

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 20, 2023

Grounding skills are a set of physical, mental, and soothing strategies that help us manage stress and anxiety, including trauma-related distress.  They consist of small tasks that are designed to distract us from our distress by heightening our awareness of our current environment and refocusing on the present moment.  They help us create a safe space so that we can center ourselves and gain control over our strong emotions and prevent us from spiraling into negative thought patterns.

There are 3 types of grounding skills, and you may find one or all to be effective at different times.  Below are a few examples of each type of grounding skill:

Physical - focusing on your senses.

Mental - focusing on your mind.

Soothing – talking to yourself kindly and showing yourself self-compassion.

Physical grounding skills – focusing on your senses:

  1. Sit in your chair, or on the floor, close your eyes, clench your fists as you breathe in, count to 5, and relax your fists as you exhale, do this 10 times.
  2. Go to the bathroom, run cold water through your hands, count to 10, now use the soap, count to 10, wash off the soap with cold water, and count to 10.
  3. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, count to 3 then exhale.  Now, open your eyes, and notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, 1 thing you can taste.
  4. Touch 2 to 3 objects that are around you (your pen, your water bottle, the side handles of your chair etc.): notice the shapes, colors, textures, weights, and temperatures.  Compare the objects.
  5. Stretch: extend your fingers, arms, and legs as far as you can go, then slowly and gently roll your head around.  Do this while sitting down on your chair, sitting on the floor, and standing up.  Notice the difference.

Mental grounding skills – focusing on your mind:

  1. Describe your environment in detail out loud using all your senses: for example, the walls are off-white, there are 5 windows, the door is to the left side of where I sit, it is brown, with a shiny round mental handle etc.
  2. Do a 10-min guided meditation.
  3. Count back from 100 by 7.
  4. Go through the alphabet: A is for alligator, B is for bread etc.
  5. Recite your favorite poem or sing a song out loud.

Soothing grounding skills – showing yourself self-compassion:

  1. Plan a safe treat for yourself: a favorite candy, a bubble bath, a stroll with a friend, or a pet.
  2. Your favorites: list your favorite activities, sports, hobbies, people, foods, places, movies, and songs, and how you are incorporating them into your life.
  3. Look at the photos of the people/pets/things you care about.
  4. Write down your strengths with colorful markers on sticky notes and display them on the wall.
  5. Say encouraging things to yourself out loud in front of a mirror.

Practice your grounding skills consistently before you need them so that you know what to do when you need them.  Notice what types of grounding skills work best for you, the more you’re familiar with them, the better equipped you are in dealing with your anxiety and stress.  Learn to be aware and acknowledge your moods so you can start implementing these skills early to gain control of your strong emotions.

As a final reminder, the OITE offers a variety of wellness resources which you can find here.


Disentangling Our Identities from Work

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch March 27, 2023

Our self-identity is central to our well-being. “Who am I?” is not just a question that we contemplate during adolescence but one we come back to throughout our lives. As adults, our careers or jobs are a part of our identity. Having a job that we love is a goal for many; it can bring about a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and satisfy intellectual curiosity. A strong work identity can be tied to an overall healthy well-being. There are situations, though, in which work becomes our sole identity.  Our culture prioritizes this work identity, often rewarding burnout over balance. We hear, “what do you do for work?” as a first question upon meeting someone new. A common question we ask children is “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, emphasizing that what we do for work is our being.  Perhaps it is our own self-imposed pressure that leads to an overidentification with our work identity.  Our work can certainly bring us comfort: there is a predictability and routine that allows us to flourish, while other areas of our life may lack that same predictability. Being passionate about our career can be fulfilling, but a complete enmeshment of your identity with work can bring about a crisis if any unexpected challenges cause interruptions or changes professionally. There are healthy ways to disentangle work as an exclusive identity marker.  We can learn to be intentional about cultivating and embracing the many parts of ourselves that create a more diverse identity.  

Our identity is fluid, changing throughout the life span. It may take time to diversify your identity but when you do, the energy you invest will pay off with a richer and more varied sense of self. Below are some suggestions that may help in the quest for a more rounded identity.  

  • Space and Time: A first step in disentangling our identity from work is to set achievable boundaries around work. A helpful boundary may be to communicate if you are unable to take on another task at the moment. We often take on projects that can lead to taking our work home with us or staying late to complete the task. By communicating our needs, we can leave our work at work. If you work from home and it is possible, set up a dedicated workspace so as not to blur the lines between home life and work life. Try to adhere to a specific time schedule for work, allowing for a richer life outside of work. 
  • Ask yourself: What community/world/individual issue is important to me? Look for ways to volunteer to help address this issue. No matter how small or large of an impact, committing to service can add to your sense of purpose and broaden your identity outside of work. 
  • Explore: Sometimes we are stuck and don’t know how to broaden our identity.  Exploring where we live (even if we have lived somewhere for a while) can enrich our lives in many ways; we may find new interests, stumble upon a new exhibit or theatre, or find a café. It is important to note that there may be some discomfort at first. Acknowledge the discomfort and begin exploring in manageable steps. Perhaps, first writing down places you have been curious about and picking one or two of these to explore. Once you begin exploring, give yourself permission to pay attention to what piques your interest. This may be a good starting point to add a new activity into your life. 
  • Revisit past hobbies or find new ones: Were you a knitter, a ceramist, artist, a musician, woodworker, runner, yogi? Revisit those previous hobbies and see if they still bring you joy. Exploring new hobbies with a steep learning curve can invite novelty in your life which in turn impacts the reward center of our brain. This can lead to overall wellness as and an expansion of our identity.  
  • Find like-minded people: You may find that joining groups specifically centered around your interests or hobbies leads to new friendships. When we are participating in activities with others, we form unique bonds, and this encourages us to continue participating in the activity.  Research has shown that expanding your social connections can lead to a happier and more fulfilling life. 
  • Broaden your view: We often don’t try new things or get out of our comfort zone out of fear: fear of failure, fear of injury, fear of judgement.  Give yourself the space to envision something you never thought you would try and push yourself to try it. You don’t have to commit to it if you don’t like it, but you will never know unless you push yourself out of your comfort zone.  
  • Give the other domains in your life attention: Sometimes when we are immersed in our work identity, we neglect other domains in our life. Give yourself space to review how present you are in other domains and see if there are ways you can step up in more intentional ways.  For example, being self-aware of the attention we are giving our various relationships can lead us to be more intentional about how we spend our time in these relationships.  
  • Expand your definition of success: Often our sense of accomplishment comes solely from professional achievements, status or salary; by creating a more nuanced definition of success that includes criteria outside of work, you can help shift your focus away from work and broaden your identity. Adding in markers for success from your relationships, hobbies, interests, and well-being will aid in your journey of expansion of identity. 

Being passionate about your work a gift, but if you notice that your identity and self-worth is completely tied up in your professional life, it may be time to consider prioritizing who you are outside of work. Trying some of these suggestions may be helpful, and talking this through with a wellness advisor can help you start to disentangle your identity from work. There is so much more to you than your work.