Self-Worth and how perception is projection
Hello – and welcome to episode 23 of the Men’s Self-Help Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. John Moore. I’m a licensed psychotherapist out of Chicago, Illinois – and I’ve been involved with counseling for the better part of 15-years.
In addition to my work as a therapist, I also teach college courses psychology and business.
You know, I created to this podcast because I wanted to extend the walls of my practice and offer a safe place for guys to get insight into important topics they care about.
Now here is the deal – there are three specific groups of men I am trying to reach.
The first are men who are open to topics about wellness and naturally gravitate towards self-help material.
The second are guys who may have been previously diagnosed with something – be it anxiety, depression, PTSD or problems with self-perception.
And then there’s that third group. These are men who are never going to knock on the door of someone like me – a therapist – to reveal what’s going on in their life. They’re just not going to do it – BUT, they might be curious enough to tap on an app and listen to a show that relates to something going on in their life.
So, if you fall into any of those groups, I’m really glad you are here. Oh, and before I forget – I recognize that women also listen to this -which makes sense.
In many cases, they just want a better understanding of the male mind and are hoping to gain insight into how guys think. And so, if this describes you, right on – I am thrilled to have you!
Now quick disclaimer. This podcast isn’t designed to act as a substitute for therapy or mental health counseling.
If you’ve been tuning in for a while, you probably know that I like to provide concrete tools for working through challenging issues.
Over the years, I’ve learned that men – in the general sense – are fixers. In other words, we like having solutions, or at least options, for dealing some of the problems we face.
Which brings us to today’s topic … Self-Worth.
You know what I’m talking about right? That’s the little voice in your head that makes you question who you are, including how you look and your abilities.
Can you relate?
Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret. One of the main reason’s guys seek out guidance from a counselor is to get help with their self-concept.
And so, as part of this show, I’ll share with you the story of Tim; a thirty-something year old man who had serious problems with his own self-concept.
In telling his tale, I’ll also provide you seven practical things that you can do to move about the business of creating change.
Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, come on Dr. John. Self-worth can’t be instantly fixed.”
Well, yep – that’s right. I’m not saying that it can be. But I am suggesting that over time, it is possible to transform how you view – and feel about yourself – into something healthier.
The hard truth is change is never easy. The reality is it takes hard work, coupled with a heavy dose of mindfulness, to move the dial.
So, we’re going to talk about that.
Also, in this show, I’ll share with you a reader email from a man who struggles with social anxiety and isn’t sure what to do about it.
Do you have problems with being around groups of people? Is there a part of you who fears being embarrassed or somehow coming off as a fool? If the answer us yes, you’ll want to keep listening to the show.
Lots of topics coming up.
I’m really glad you’re here.
Self-worth. It’s one of those catch-all terms that gets bandied about in our culture. But what does it really mean?
Well, I’m going to try and define it for you. Yeah, I recognize this may be intuitive and self-explanatory, but I’m going to provide a working definition anyway because there may be some listeners who might benefit.
In a nutshell, self-worth is a personality trait that is largely made up of three ingredients:
One: Beliefs about yourself, such likeability and attractiveness
Two: Beliefs about your abilities – such as being able to accomplish a task and;
Three: Your overall sense of confidence.
When you mix these three ingredients, the end result is self-concept, also known as self-worth.
In hearing this totally non-clinical definition, I’m hoping to provide context for a story I’d like to share with you about a client I once worked with named Tim.
It was around five years ago that Tim contacted me for guidance around his self-concept. Tim was in his mid-thirties, unmarried, and had recently broken up with his girlfriend.
After the relationship collapsed, he fell into a well of depression. He wasn’t having much luck re-entering the dating scene and began adopting beliefs that he later recognized to be unhealthy … and untrue.
Some examples included feeling like he wasn’t worth anything, believing that he wasn’t attractive and holding thoughts that in the general sense – he wasn’t good enough to date.
Can you relate?
If you’ve ever experienced a setback in life, like getting dumped or losing a job – or in some way feeling rejected, you already know it can be a real blow to your self-worth.
In Tim’s case, his entire sense of self was in the shitter. And the crappy thing is Tim’s situation worsened because the thoughts he held about himself became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There’s an old saying, based on the work of Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung, that goes something like this: Perception is projection.
In other words, what you believe about yourself is projected outward and then reflected back … through the people you interact with.
In many cases, the reflection is a distortion.
Here’s an example. You are walking down the street and pass by an attractive woman. You try to make brief eye contact and smile. She seems unresponsive and keeps walking. No eye contact occurs, and the smile is not reciprocated.
Immediately, you think to yourself, “OK, wow – I really must be ugly. Why the hell would she look at me? I’m not exactly handsome and I’m not all that interesting.”
Do you see what happened there? The beliefs you held about yourself got projected outward onto another – and then reflected back.
Now here is the thing.
That woman you smiled at could very well be having a crummy day. Maybe she’s just not in an interactive mood. Or perhaps, she’s not into the whole flirting thing because she already attached.
I think you get my point.
When we assign the reasons behind an action – or inaction – to another, it is often a function of our self-perceptions – reflected outward.
Going back to my former client Tim, this was certainly the case for him. Because of his recent breakup, coupled a history of stinking thinking, he held some beliefs about himself that became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In our work together, one of the first things I got Tim to realize is – perception is projection.
And trust me when I tell you this was no easy task. You see, for years, he had been playing a mental tape in his head that was filled with negative self-talk.
How he adopted those beliefs is a whole other show but I can tell you that he grew up in a home with a father that was emotionally unavailable and a mother that extremely critical.
In the world of psychology, these early messages we adopt are called parental introjects. Quite literally, they are messages that our parents give us that we adopt deep into our psyche and infuse into our belief system. I’m going to link to a page in show notes from Psychology Today that provides more context
So, let’s get back to Tim and draw a line between his situation and the larger issue of poor self-worth. After all, that is why you are here, right?
I’m going to gikve you seven things Tim did – with the help of talk-therapy – that helped to create positive change.
1. Challenge your irrational beliefs
You may think this one is obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it gets overlooked. Here’s the deal. The thoughts you hold about yourself hold major influence on your self-worth.
If you want to turn things around, it is vital that you focus on that internal voice and disrupt irrational thoughts that are not grounded in evidence.
For example. You may think you are uninteresting. But is that really true or do you just think that? Do you have any evidence to support this belief? If you don’t, then why are you saying to yourself, “I’m uninteresting?”
What would it be like to replace that kind of thinking with something different?
To help you on this front, I’ve created a link in show notes to a worksheet from the Therapist Aid website that you can use as a tool. I hope you check it out.
2. Stop comparing yourself
One of the problems with comparing ourselves to others is how unfair the process can be. In episode 18, I talked about how the game of comparisons can be toxic, particularly in an age of social media.
And so, what you hear me saying is this – focus on your own strengths, skills and abilities and less on what you perceive about someone else.
What would it be like to make a list of your abilities and lean into your strengths? Have you ever tried this? What do you have to lose?
3. Be yourself
Being yourself may sound cliché but what does that really mean? Well, I’ll tell you. It means embracing who you are, including those parts of yourself that need improvement.
None of us are perfect. Goodness knows I’m not. But I can tell you that if you try to pretend to be someone else, it almost never works out. Think about it. Can you tell when someone is being fake vs. being authentic?
One of the things I asked Tim to do was to create a circle of confidence. The idea was to access his subconscious and generate a sense of self-acceptance.
If you would like to do this for yourself, visit episode 21 of the podcast.
4. Practice self-care
In a nutshell, self-care is when you do things that nurture and support your emotional and physical self.
Examples include reading a book that interests you, learning a new skill or doing cardio on the treadmill.
At its core, we are talking about investing in yourself. When you do this, you become less interested in what others think about you and more focused on what you think about yourself.
I think you get my point. What are you doing to focus on self-care?
5. Set small goals
When your self-worth is in the dumpster, it’s easy to get lost in a morass of sadness and depression. While there is no such thing as an instant “cure”, you can take steps to effect change.
Specifically, I’m talking about setting small goals. An example might be organizing your closet or gathering clothes you don’t wear anymore and donating them to charity.
The idea here is to jack-up feelings of accomplishment and to increase your self-worth. Again, we’re talking about small goals. Down the road, you can tackle bigger things. But like the old saying goes, you’ve got to walk before you run.
6. Focus on gratitude
One of the things Tim started to do to help increase his self-worth was to take note of things he was grateful for. These things don’t have to be grandiose. In fact, the smaller the better.
An example could be being grateful for the ability to feel the warm sun on your skin or finding a penny on the street. The idea is to look for the positive.
And here’s the powerful thing about gratitude – the more aware you are of the good things in your life, the more you notice the positive aspects of yourself.
So, can you think of anything – right now – that you are grateful for?
7. Find a therapist
OK, I’ve saved this one for last. One of the best ways you can help boost your self-concept is by working with a therapist. Ideally, you will find someone who practices various forms of cognitive behavior therapy or CBT.
I’m not suggesting other forms of counseling aren’t helpful because they can be. It’s just that we know from lots of research that CBT helps folks root out unhealthy thinking patterns offering tools for creating change.
Finding a therapist isn’t all that hard. Just head on over to Psychology Today and pop in your zip-code. You’ll find lots of options.
So, you may be wondering what happened to Tim?
I can tell you that he’s in a much better place than he used to be. Not long ago, he sent me an email revealing that he’d recently tied the knot and that his wife was pregnant.
He also shared that while things aren’t perfect, he’s doing much better and still practices many of the things he learned in in the counseling office.
Pretty cool stuff, don’t you think?
In closing out this segment, I’ll leave you with the following questions: What thoughts do you hold about yourself? If they are negative, what are you doing to change them?
Our listener email comes to us from a younger man who is dealing with social anxiety.
I’ll share with you what he wrote and then offer my thoughts and reactions.
Hi, Dr. John,
I try to listen to your podcast whenever I can and want to thank you for making this show available. I’m a 31-year old man living in Florida.
My problem is simply this – I’ve got a bad case of social anxiety. I know this because I was diagnosed with this problem around a year ago from my psychologist.
I completely agree with the diagnosis because for my whole life, I have struggled to be around groups of people, particularly strangers, because I fear being judged.
What sucks is that I want to be more social and be around others. But it just seems like whenever I am given the opportunity to be part of some group activity or engage in something social, I cop out.
Just the other day, our company had a holiday party at a hotel. I walked into the event with the intent of staying for an hour. Long story short, I got so overwhelmed that I left within five minutes.
While I think therapy is helping, I wonder if there are other things I can be doing to help? Thanks again for the show.
You know, in reading this note I can’t help but think about how many guys I’ve worked who have battled with this problem.
While the numbers are somewhat scattered, current estimates suggest something like 15 million people live with some form of social anxiety. I’m linking to an article from PsyCom that offers more insight.
And here’s the thing – it’s a problem that is widely misunderstood and often not discussed.
I’ll read to you what I wrote back to the listener where I share my thoughts.
I’m super glad that you wrote and thank you for listening to the podcast. Having social anxiety disorder can be a real bummer because it can do a real number on our self-esteem.
You mentioned in your email that you were working with a psychologist and that it has been helpful. Right off the bat, I want to say that your decision to see a therapist was a smart move.
The hard truth is social anxiety disorder, sometimes referred to as a social phobia, is a complex issue that requires a multi-prong approach. I wish that I could tell you there is an instant fix but that just isn’t the case.
But what I can tell you is that would hard work, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Part of this involves going to therapy – like you are doing right now – and working on your self-concept.
But in addition to this, some people benefit from taking a SSRI, as part of working through. I’m not suggesting you need to be on meds. I’m not a medical doctor.
I’m simply saying that for some folks, it can be helpful as part of a comprehensive treatment approach. I’ve included a link to the Mayo Clinic that talks this a bit more.
Have you been referred to a psychiatrist by your therapist? If not, it might be something you want to bring up during therapy. If you have been referred, did you follow through and make an appointment?
Also, there are groups to consider. Some are online and others face to face. I’m going to link to a page from Very-Well for your consideration.
Finally, I’d like to recommend a resource to you that folks I’ve worked with have found helpful. It’s called The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook (see Amazon).
What I like about this read are the activities inside that can help to challenge self-limiting thoughts. There are also exercises inside that are designed to help you gain greater confidence when in the presence of others. It’s worth checking out.
Anthony, thanks again for this email. I hope this response was helpful to you.
We explored a number of topics in today’s podcast, didn’t we? We talked about the concept of self-worth and how perception is projection. We also examined seven concrete things you can do to help boost your self-worth.
Finally, we also looked at the topic of social anxiety disorder and assessed ways of working through.
Thanks so much for listening today. You know, there are lots of ways to get in touch with me. You can stop by my website at guycounseling.com or visit one of my social medial pages.
I’m on Facebook at Guy Counseling – and I’m also on Twitter and Instagram with the same handle.
You can also email me firstname.lastname@example.org Anything you send me is confidential. If you write something and don’t want it shared on the podcast, just say it goes nowhere – promise.
Finally, I just want to say thank you to the folks who have been leaving reviews. In reading through them, I am humbled by the many kind words and comments – truly.
Recently, a person named the Prince of Sherwood left the following on iTunes:
“This podcast is exactly what men need, someone who’s not afraid of talking about these issues and does it from a well-informed, actional perspective.”
See, it’s comments like that one that act as fuel for motivation for me to keep doing these. Here’s the thing – because I actively see clients and teach college, I don’t always have time to create these shows as frequently as I’d like.
Still, the reviews motivate me to make time. So, if the spirit moves you, feel free to share something on iTunes or wherever you may listen.
And so there you have it – another show. As you can probably tell, I don’t have a professional audio-engineer or doing editing. Everything you hear has been done by me – imperfections and all.
Thank you so much for being here. Be mindful of your internal dialogue. Focus on your strengths and gifts. Remember that perception is projection.
Take very good care.
I’m Dr. John and this has been another episode of the Men’s Self-Help Podcast.