Effects of Self-Esteem Overstated

This post addresses number one from Facts that Impact Therapy.

1. global self-esteem is not a major predictor of anything with the exception of happiness [3]

Self-esteem is defined here as trait (global) self-esteem in the absence of aversive social experiences.  This is a specific type of self-esteem measured on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) to detect the overall attitude that we have towards the self.

William James over a century ago said it best when he described this measurement as “a certain average tone of self-feeling which each one of us carries about with him, and which is independent of the objective reasons we may have for satisfaction and discontent” [12].


Effects of Global Self-Esteem Overstated

Although global self-esteem has been associated with a host of problems – delinquent behaviors, promiscuity, substance abuse, depression, hostility, and life satisfaction [12] – that, for example, educators have attempted to artificially inflate to improve grades to no avail and that our culture seems obsessed with, the social psychologist Dr. Roy Baumeister correctly reminds us that these are just correlations.

Dr. Baumeister bases this on a survey conducted in 2001 of over 15,000 publicized studies on self-esteem, where only primary studies were chosen in order to see the original data.  The conclusion is most astounding, and I will quote below but in essence global self-esteem is not that important too much of anything but our overall happiness, which, of course, is significant in its own right [3].

With the exception of the link to happiness, most of the effects are weak to modest. Self-esteem (global) is thus not a major predictor or cause of almost anything (again, with the possible exception of happiness). [3]

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised with these findings since if you look at the questions from the RSES (see Figure 1), they don’t detect extremes in attitudes and feelings about the self, with the exception of numbers 3, 9, and 10.  To me, it is obvious that it’s in the extremes of our ego states that we may exhibit detectable behaviors but not from measuring our biased, aggregated opinion towards ourselves.

This does not mean that other forms of self-esteem, say state or specific [21], can’t have a measurable effect on behaviors; for example, we can feel a state of inferiority after someone disparages us prompting retaliatory measures on our end, but this is state self-esteem.  State self-esteem along with self-esteem instability, which underlies the narcissistic trait, is tied to behaviors, but these are more difficult to measure [7, 8, 13, 26].

Figure 1:  Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale – RSES

  1. I feel that I am a person of worth, at least on an equal plane with others.
  2. I feel that I have a number of good qualities..
  3. All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.
  4. I am able to do things as well as most other people.
  5. I feel I do not have much to be proud of.
  6. I take a positive attitude toward myself.
  7. On the whole, I am satisfied with myself.
  8. I wish I could have more respect for myself.
  9. I certainly feel useless at times.
  10. At times I think I am no good at all.

References

[1] Aron, Elaine.  Ranking and Linking, For Better and For Worse. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/attending-the-undervalued-self/201001/ranking-and-linking-better-and-worse

[2] Baumeister, Roy.  Advanced Social Psychology. Oxford University Press.

[3] Baumeister, Roy.  Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?

[4] Brown, J. D., & Marshall, M. A. (2006). The three faces of self-esteem. In M. Kernis (Ed.), Self-esteem: Issues and answers (pp. 4-9). New York: Psychology Press.

[5] Caine, Susan.  NYT.  Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

[6] Crozier, Ray.  Shyness and Embarrassment. Perspectives from Social Psychology.  Cambridge University Press.

[7] De Ruiter, Naomi M. P.  Explaining the “How” of Self-Esteem Development: The Self-Organizing Self-Esteem Model.  Review of General Psychology.

[8] De Ruiter, Naomi M. P. Hindawi Complexity.  Self-Esteem as a Complex Dynamic System: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Microlevel Dynamics

[9] Gilbert, Paul. Subordination and Defeat: An Evolutionary Approach To Mood Disorders and Their Therapy.

[10] Harris, Judith Rich. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do.

[11] Heatherton, Todd. development and evaluation of a scale for measuring state self-esteem.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

[12] Hoyle, Rick. Selfhood. Taylor and Francis.

[13] Jordon, Christian.  Self-esteem Instability. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences

[14] Knopik, Valerie.  Behavioral Genetics.  Worth Publishers.

[15]  Leary, Mark R. Interpersonal Rejection.

[16] Leary, Mark R.  Making Sense of Self-Esteem.  Current Directions in Psychological Science.

[17] Marsh, Herbert. What is the Nature of Self-Esteem: Unidimensional and Multidimensional Perspectives

[18] Nesse, Randolph M.. Good Reasons for Bad Feelings. Penguin Publishing Group.

[19] O’brien, Edward J. Global Self-Esteem Scales: Unidimensional or Multidimensional?  Research Article.

[20] Robins, Richard.  Measuring Global Self-Esteem: Construct Validation of a Single-Item Measure and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

[21] Rosenberg, Morris. Global Self-Esteem and Specific Self-Esteem: Different Concepts, Different Outcomes.  American Sociological Review.

[22] Self-Esteem Issues and Answers (p. 424). Taylor and Francis.

[23] Schmidt and Schulkin. Extreme Fear, Shyness, and Social Phobia (Series in Affective Science).

[24] Simpson, Jeffrey.  Evolutionary Social Psychology.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers.

[25] Tafarodi, Romin W. Self-Liking and Self-competence as Dimensions to Self-Esteem: Initial Validation of a Measure. Journal of Personality Assessment.

[26] Tracy, Jessica.  The Self-Conscious Emotions. Guilford Publication.

[27] Waytz, Adam.  The Psychology of Social Status. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-psychology-of-social/

[28] Wong, Alexander E. Fractal Dynamics in Self-Evaluation Reveal Self-Concept Clarity.  Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences.

Low Self-Esteem Is Adaptive

This post addresses number two from Facts that Impact Therapy.

2.  low (global) self-esteem* is an innate survival strategy that does not need treatment [1, 5, 18]

* low self-esteem is defined here as trait self-esteem in the absence of aversive social experiences


Low self-esteem has been stigmatized and misunderstood, especially in a culture that glorifies narcissism, i.e., the pursuit of high self-esteem.  It has been suggested, however, that a considerable number of those classified as having low self-esteem are this way because of innate temperament, such as the discovered trait of sensory-processing sensitivity by Dr. Elaine Aron [18].

In fact, one-fifth, and always in this ratio, of over one hundred species of animals, including humans, adapt a survival strategy of being observant before acting and often appear as shy or inhibited [5, 18].  The cause for low self-esteem is not that people choose to be negative and rank themselves low as those are the effects of an unconscious strategy to protect from worst-case scenarios and from being challenged or criticized should they fall short of standards.

It’s a “lay low” and “play it safe” approach that is due to their temperament and is not learned.  Moreover, low self-esteem people don’t necessarily harbor feelings of dislike towards themselves as that is learned through negative social experiences and unfavorable social comparisons.  It only means that they readily describe themselves in disparaging terms when under the prospect of being judged by others since they are sensitive to the rankings of others.

These tendencies, which are automatic and unconscious, have the effect of saying that “I’m no threat” and make one submit and ingratiate more easily.  Whether or not low self-esteem people are at higher risk for depression and social anxiety, however, will be discussed in the next post.  Regardless, low self-esteem is better described as those that are “cautious and uncertain in order to reduce exposure of deficiencies” than as a “maladaptive coping strategy in the face of adversity” [3].


References

[1] Aron, Elaine.  Ranking and Linking, For Better and For Worse. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/attending-the-undervalued-self/201001/ranking-and-linking-better-and-worse

[2] Baumeister, Roy.  Advanced Social Psychology. Oxford University Press.

[3] Baumeister, Roy.  Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?

[4] Brown, J. D., & Marshall, M. A. (2006). The three faces of self-esteem. In M. Kernis (Ed.), Self-esteem: Issues and answers (pp. 4-9). New York: Psychology Press.

[5] Caine, Susan.  NYT.  Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

[6] Crozier, Ray.  Shyness and Embarrassment. Perspectives from Social Psychology.  Cambridge University Press.

[7] Gilbert, Paul. Subordination and Defeat: An Evolutionary Approach To Mood Disorders and Their Therapy.

[8] Gilbert, Paul. Genes on the Couch.

[9] Harris, Judith Rich. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do.

[10] Heatherton, Todd. development and evaluation of a scale for measuring state self-esteem.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

[11] Hoyle, Rick. Selfhood. Taylor and Francis.

[12] Knopik, Valerie.  Behavioral Genetics.  Worth Publishers.

[13]  Leary, Mark R. Interpersonal Rejection.

[14] Leary, Mark R. The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life.

[15] Leary, Mark R.  Making Sense of Self-Esteem.  Current Directions in Psychological Science.

[16] Nesse, Randolph M.. Good Reasons for Bad Feelings. Penguin Publishing Group.

[17] Rosenberg, Morris. Global Self-Esteem and Specific Self-Esteem: Different Concepts, Different Outcomes.  American Sociological Review.

[18] Schmidt and Schulkin. Extreme Fear, Shyness, and Social Phobia (Series in Affective Science).

[19] Simpson, Jeffrey.  Evolutionary Social Psychology.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers.

[20] Tracy, Jessica.  The Self-Conscious Emotions. Guilford Publication.

[21] Waytz, Adam.  The Psychology of Social Status. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-psychology-of-social/

[22] Wood, Joanne V.  Positive Self-Statements. Psychological Science.

 

Self-Esteem is About Others

Our state self-esteem is most sensitive to others’ evaluating us and is an in-the-moment measurement of how we experience the self [11, 12]. Global self-esteem, on the other hand, is how we evaluate ourselves along the dimensions of appearance, likability, and capabilities, but when it is measured on tests, it only detects our average feelings towards ourselves [22].

These two aspects of self-esteem, however, are more similar than we may think.  Global self-esteem, for example, can also be shown to be “a person’s general sense that he or she is the sort of person who is valued and accepted by other people” [28].  In order to show this sleight of hand or shift in perspective, I’ve constructed a simple argument and have followed up with explanations.

  • A system will point to its purpose by what it is most sensitive to,
  • and our self-esteem is most sensitive to how others evaluate us.
  • We also evaluate our own appearance, likability, and capabilities.
  • It is these attributes and not others since they bestow value on to others.
  • Standards to assess our attributes are only ours’ when they fall short,
  • but when it is safe to measure, we use the standards of others.
  • So self-acceptance is not about us but about others.

The trick to understanding the thesis that the self-esteem system was designed to help with social acceptance is that self-acceptance is not what we think it is and just because people are more content when they are not worrying what others think of them, this is irrelevant to the design’s purpose.  An expert of the self-esteem system, Dr. Mark R. Leary, explains the theory quite well.

The theory is based on the assumption that human beings possess a pervasive drive to maintain significant inter personal relationships, a drive that evolved because early human beings who belonged to social groups were more likely to survive and re produce than those who did not (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Given the disastrous implications of being ostracized in the ancestral environment in which human evolution occurred, early human beings may have developed a mechanism for monitoring the degree to which other people valued and accepted them. This psychological mechanism – the sociometer – continuously monitors the social environment for cues regarding the degree to which the individual is being accepted [28].


It Is Personal After All

If we were to look at the emotions that are involved in self-esteem, for example, shame or pride, we will conclude that they are all self-conscious emotions, that is they arise in the context of how we are being evaluated and perceived by others.  Research is quite clear in that we care a great deal what others think of us.  And this doesn’t make us superficial people with petty concerns since we need to know the extent to which others like or value us in order to increase our chances of belonging and fitting in.

Everyday observation and behavioral research confirm that people are, in fact, acutely attuned to how others perceive and evaluate them. Not only are they highly sensitive to indications of disinterest, disapproval, and disassociation, but they strategically adjust their behavior when they believe that others are not perceiving them in desirable ways.  [26]

Some, however, will argue that they aren’t ever concerned with what others think of them.  But this claim is self-refuting since the very fact that someone would say that gives it away that they in fact do care.  This is to persuade others that they are independent and strong, unlike those who look for approval, which can, unfortunately, be seen as a sign of weakness.

Therapists seem to believe that we can shut off these needs since the brain has “plasticity”.  This is false, dampen it, sure, but not shut off.  They are forgetting about the daily deference and attention they receive from coworkers and patients by virtue of their professional demeanor and self-presentation, in which the mind unconsciously picks up to create feelings of safety, approval, and belongingness [10, 26].


Design Points to its Purpose

But the most convincing clue is that any engineered system, even natural selection’s design, will result in a design such that what it is most sensitive to – others’ opinions – points to its purpose.  To help, a system is a feedback mechanism that takes in information, processes it based on decision-based rules in the mind, and then outputs a behavior or emotion in order to reinforce or discourage an outcome.

As an example, we get negative emotions (social-anxiety, hurt feelings, and shame) when we are dismissed, ignored, or criticized, and these negative feelings discourage us from pursuing relationships but also encourage self-enhancement strategies because we believe we are “not enough”.  On the other hand, we feel positive emotions (joy and pride) when we get approval, positive attention, and respect, and these positive feelings reinforce the behavior. [26].

The decision-based rule – the brain’s selection of an output to send in response to the input – is understood to be a two-step process: one is an automatic and unconscious appraisal of the social interaction as being either a threat or as safety-conferring to the self, and the other is a conscious and deliberate attempt to attribute the situation’s outcome to either internal (you) or external causes (them) [26, 40].


A Need to Bestow Value

Global self-esteem, which is about our self-worth and self-acceptance, is strongly correlated with our perceived physical appearance, likability, and competence [22].  We care about these qualities in particular not because of their own sake, as natural selection is not that wasteful, but because they have the potential to bestow positive value on to others.

But in order to bestow value, we must attract others, and we do this through our appearances and capabilities.  The drive to want to attract and be valued is obvious when we express our needs to “have something to offer” and “to be included.”  This bestowed value is shown in the positive affect (feelings) we create in the minds of others, which if successful we are rewarded with an elated mood (state self-esteem) [16, 26].

But despite this desire to be accepted and to attract others – which ultimately pays off since we engage in mutually beneficial activities like mating, etc. – we also compete over these desirable attributes because they are in limited supply.  And so we compete for prestige as it is the social currency for acceptance and one measure of success in this struggle is the amount of attention and deference we can obtain, also known as our SAHP or our Social Attention Holding Potential [10].


Self-Acceptance as an Artifact

An aspect to self-esteem that seems to be at odds with this perspective is the idea of self-acceptance, but it turns out to be a cog in the wheel – an illusion to promote a grander agenda [39].  I don’t want to downplay its significance since self-satisfaction is linked to happiness [24, 32], but it is more of a process that varies depending on standards used rather than a decision.

We may have troubles with this idea since it’s thought that self-acceptance is something like nirvana.  And although it may show some independence to others’ opinions, this does not mean its purpose is exclusive to making us happy.  Because global self-esteem is prone to self-serving biases which may serve to inflate our worth to others not just ourselves [22, 39].

And the standards we use to evaluate our self-acceptance are not arbitrary since they are being measured against what we believe would have utility to others.  Experts incorrectly once believed that private self-evaluations were what determined self-esteem but even if our motives are intrinsic [1], the outcome is referenced against others’ standards, and we don’t stop making self-comparisons [14, 28].

The attributes on which people’s self-esteem is based are precisely the characteristics that determine the degree to which people are valued and accepted by others (Baumeister & Leary, 1995).  Specifically, high trait self-esteem is associated with believing that one possesses socially desirable attributes such as competence personal likability, and psychical attractiveness. [28]

In conclusion, even if it breaks down to that we are “living for others”, with the exception of us going easy on ourselves by changing the standards, it still, in the end, is about us as we experience positive affect (feelings) and mood when our attributes meet standards, and this has positive health consequences that we often take for granted [5, 26, 29, 30].


References

[1] Ackerman, Courtney.  Self-Determination Theory of Motivation: Why Intrinsic Motivation Matters

[2] Allen, M. David M.D.  The Cognitive Behavioral Mafia.  http://davidmallenmd.blogspot.com/2011/12/cognitive-behavioral-mafia.html

[3] Anderson, Thomson Jr. Depression’s Evolutionary Roots.  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=depressions-evolutionary.

[4] Aron, Elaine.  Ranking and Linking, For Better and For Worse. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/attending-the-undervalued-self/201001/ranking-and-linking-better-and-worse

[5] Banks, Amy. Wired to Connect. Penguin Publishing Group.

[6] Baumeister, Roy.  Advanced Social Psychology. Oxford University Press.

[7] Baumeister, Roy.  Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?

[8] Brown, J. D., & Marshall, M. A. (2006). The three faces of self-esteem. In M. Kernis (Ed.), Self-esteem: Issues and answers (pp. 4-9). New York: Psychology Press.

[8.1] Caine, Susan.  NYT.  Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

[9] Caldwell, Benjamin E.. Saving Psychotherapy: How Therapists Can Bring the Talking Cure Back from the Brink.

[10] Crozier, Ray.  Shyness and Embarrassment. Perspectives from Social Psychology.  Cambridge University Press.

[11] De Ruiter, Naomi M. P.  Explaining the “How” of Self-Esteem Development: The Self-Organizing Self-Esteem Model.  Review of General Psychology.

[12] De Ruiter, Naomi M. P. Hindawi Complexity.  Self-Esteem as a Complex Dynamic System: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Microlevel Dynamics

[13] Douglas T. Kenrick, Vladas Griskevicius, Steven L. Neuberg, Mark Schaller. Renovating the Pramid of Needs: Contemporary Extensions Built Upon Ancienty Foundations. Perspect Psychol Sci.

[14] Garofalo, Giovanni. The Effects of Social Comparisons on Happiness in a Motivational Context.

[15] Gilbert, Paul. The Compassionate Mind (Compassion Focused Therapy) . Little, Brown Book Group.

[16] Gilbert, Paul. Subordination and Defeat: An Evolutionary Approach To Mood Disorders and Their Therapy.

[17] Gilbert, Paul. Genes on the Couch.

[18] George Lakoff. Philosophy In The Flesh.

[19] Griffioen, Brecht.  The Effect of EMDR and CBT on Low Self-esteem in a General Psychiatric Population: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

[20] Harris, Judith Rich. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do.

[21] Heatherton, Todd. development and evaluation of a scale for measuring state self-esteem.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

[22] Hoyle, Rick. Selfhood. Taylor and Francis.

[23] Knopik, Valerie.  Behavioral Genetics.  Worth Publishers.

[23.1] Lancer, Darlene. Codependency vs. Interdependency.  psychcentral.com.

[24] Langer, Ellen; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199911/self-esteem-vs-self-respect

[25] Leahy, Robert L. Ph.D.  Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Proven Effectiveness.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-files/201111/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-proven-effectiveness

[26]  Leary, Mark R. Interpersonal Rejection.

[27] Leary, Mark R. The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life.

[28] Leary, Mark R.  Making Sense of Self-Esteem.  Current Directions in Psychological Science.

[29] Levine, Amir. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love. Penguin Publishing Group.

[30] Lieberman, Matthew D.. Social. Crown.

[31] Marmot, Michael. The Status Syndrome . Henry Holt and Co..

[32] Mindvalley.  This Is Why Self-Respect Is Crucial For Happiness; https://blog.mindvalley.com/self-respect-crucial-for-happiness/?utm_source=google

[33] Nesse, Randolph M.. Good Reasons for Bad Feelings. Penguin Publishing Group.

[34] Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate. Penguin Publishing Group.

[35] Pinker, Steven. How the Mind Works. W. W. Norton & Company.

[36] Quartz, Steven. Cool. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[37] Rosenberg, Morris. Global Self-Esteem and Specific Self-Esteem: Different Concepts, Different Outcomes.  American Sociological Review.

[38] Schmidt and Schulkin. Extreme Fear, Shyness, and Social Phobia (Series in Affective Science).

[39] Simpson, Jeffrey.  Evolutionary Social Psychology.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers.

[40] Tracy, Jessica.  The Self-Conscious Emotions. Guilford Publication.

[41] Waytz, Adam.  The Psychology of Social Status. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-psychology-of-social/

[42] Wood, Joanne V.  Positive Self-Statements. Psychological Science.

[43] Wong, Alexander E. Fractal Dynamics in Self-Evaluation Reveal Self-Concept Clarity.  Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences.

Facts that Impact Therapy

This is an addendum to Therapists’ Inadequacies.

  1. global self-esteem is not a major predictor of anything with the exception of happiness (ii), [7]
  2. low (global) self-esteem is an innate survival strategy that does not need treatment (xiv), [4, 8.1, 38]
  3. low-mood or subordinated states are often conflated with low (global) self-esteem (xv), [16, 17]
  4. targeting self-efficacy to raise self-esteem before relational value needs are met is inexplicable (vii)
  5. self-esteem has three dimensions: self-acceptance, social-acceptance, status and rank
  6. self-acceptance shows independence from other dimensions yet evaluative criteria not arbitrary (v)
  7. social acceptance, status and rank are more important to our well-being (ii) than self-acceptance [16, 31]
  8. submissiveness, i.e., a readiness to submit or ingratiate is not a learned response but involuntary [16]
  9. telling a subordinate to use boundaries and practice assertiveness is hardly a strategy [16]
  10. depression and social anxiety are situational phenomena in which some are predisposed (xi), [16]
  11. codependency as a syndrome is over-treated and often times assumed rather than diagnosed (vi), [13.1, 29]
  12. as CBT is practiced today symptoms are treated but causes are rarely entertained (vi, viii), [2, 16]
  13. CBT can undermine the role of our intuition and may have unintended consequences (vi), [2, 16]

Notes

i) intrinsic worth, that is, humans possessing value by virtue of being human is just not reflected in our day to day experiences

ii) happiness is about fulfillment and satisfaction and wellbeing is about contentment but includes physiological health aspects

iii) global self-esteem is not state or specific self-esteem as it reflects the average feelings we have towards ourselves

iv) mood states are reflected in state self-esteem not global; global is a an aggregate and state is an instantaneous measurement

v) standards used to evaluate ourselves are not private because we imagine how our attributes come across to others

The attributes on which people’s self-esteem is based are precisely the characteristics that determine the degree to which people are valued and accepted by others (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). [28]

vi) sample size of n = 12 therapists and psychiatrists; claims are only for the treatment of depression and social anxiety

vii) it is a gross error to skip the interpersonal part to self-esteem in favor of self-efficacy as relational value needs come first [13]

viii) ones’ interpersonal status is primary; assessments on temperament, personality and attachment style to fine tune treatment

ix) as much disdain as many have towards evolutionary psychology, it provides a useful framework to view interpersonal problems

x) empirical support for the hierarchical arrangement of Maslow’s pyramid exists but self-actualizing is not a fundamental need [13]

xi) personality: neuroticism; temperament: inhibitedness; traits: high sensory-processing sensitivity, rejection sensitivity [38]

xii) dependency paradox says that once we belong and feel valued only then can we venture out with confidence and explorer [29]

xiii) we make self-comparisons to validate the outcome or process regardless if intrinsically or extrinsically motivated [14]

xiv) low self-esteem is defined here as trait self-esteem in its purest form in the absence of aversive social experiences

xv) low or subordinated states include negative automatic thoughts and schemas only in the presence of depressed affect; there is much empirical support for this view, see: (Haaga, Dyck, & Ernst, 1991; Hollon, DeRubeis, & Evans, 1987; Miranda & Persons, 1988; Miranda, Persons, & Byers, 1990; Segal & Ingram, 1994; Teasdale, 1983)


References

[1] Ackerman, Courtney.  Self-Determination Theory of Motivation: Why Intrinsic Motivation Matters

[2] Allen, M. David M.D.  The Cognitive Behavioral Mafia.  http://davidmallenmd.blogspot.com/2011/12/cognitive-behavioral-mafia.html

[3] Anderson, Thomson Jr. Depression’s Evolutionary Roots.  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=depressions-evolutionary.

[4] Aron, Elaine.  Ranking and Linking, For Better and For Worse. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/attending-the-undervalued-self/201001/ranking-and-linking-better-and-worse

[5] Banks, Amy. Wired to Connect. Penguin Publishing Group.

[6] Baumeister, Roy.  Advanced Social Psychology. Oxford University Press.

[7] Baumeister, Roy.  Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?

[8] Brown, J. D., & Marshall, M. A. (2006). The three faces of self-esteem. In M. Kernis (Ed.), Self-esteem: Issues and answers (pp. 4-9). New York: Psychology Press.

[8.1] Caine, Susan.  NYT.  Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

[9] Caldwell, Benjamin E.. Saving Psychotherapy: How Therapists Can Bring the Talking Cure Back from the Brink.

[10] Crozier, Ray.  Shyness and Embarrassment. Perspectives from Social Psychology.  Cambridge University Press.

[11] De Ruiter, Naomi M. P.  Explaining the “How” of Self-Esteem Development: The Self-Organizing Self-Esteem Model.  Review of General Psychology.

[12] De Ruiter, Naomi M. P. Hindawi Complexity.  Self-Esteem as a Complex Dynamic System: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Microlevel Dynamics

[13] Douglas T. Kenrick, Vladas Griskevicius, Steven L. Neuberg, Mark Schaller. Renovating the Pramid of Needs: Contemporary Extensions Built Upon Ancienty Foundations. Perspect Psychol Sci.

[14] Garofalo, Giovanni. The Effects of Social Comparisons on Happiness in a Motivational Context.

[15] Gilbert, Paul. The Compassionate Mind (Compassion Focused Therapy) . Little, Brown Book Group.

[16] Gilbert, Paul. Subordination and Defeat: An Evolutionary Approach To Mood Disorders and Their Therapy.

[17] Gilbert, Paul. Genes on the Couch.

[18] George Lakoff. Philosophy In The Flesh.

[19] Griffioen, Brecht.  The Effect of EMDR and CBT on Low Self-esteem in a General Psychiatric Population: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

[20] Harris, Judith Rich. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do.

[21] Heatherton, Todd. development and evaluation of a scale for measuring state self-esteem.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

[22] Hoyle, Rick. Selfhood. Taylor and Francis.

[23] Knopik, Valerie.  Behavioral Genetics.  Worth Publishers.

[23.1] Lancer, Darlene. Codependency vs. Interdependency.  psychcentral.com.

[24] Langer, Ellen; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199911/self-esteem-vs-self-respect

[25] Leahy, Robert L. Ph.D.  Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Proven Effectiveness.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-files/201111/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-proven-effectiveness

[26]  Leary, Mark R. Interpersonal Rejection.

[27] Leary, Mark R. The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life.

[28] Leary, Mark R.  Making Sense of Self-Esteem.  Current Directions in Psychological Science.

[29] Levine, Amir. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love. Penguin Publishing Group.

[30] Lieberman, Matthew D.. Social. Crown.

[31] Marmot, Michael. The Status Syndrome . Henry Holt and Co..

[32] Mindvalley.  This Is Why Self-Respect Is Crucial For Happiness; https://blog.mindvalley.com/self-respect-crucial-for-happiness/?utm_source=google

[33] Nesse, Randolph M.. Good Reasons for Bad Feelings. Penguin Publishing Group.

[34] Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate. Penguin Publishing Group.

[35] Pinker, Steven. How the Mind Works. W. W. Norton & Company.

[36] Quartz, Steven. Cool. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[37] Rosenberg, Morris. Global Self-Esteem and Specific Self-Esteem: Different Concepts, Different Outcomes.  American Sociological Review.

[38] Schmidt and Schulkin. Extreme Fear, Shyness, and Social Phobia (Series in Affective Science).

[39] Simpson, Jeffrey.  Evolutionary Social Psychology.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers.

[40] Tracy, Jessica.  The Self-Conscious Emotions. Guilford Publication.

[41] Waytz, Adam.  The Psychology of Social Status. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-psychology-of-social/

[42] Wood, Joanne V.  Positive Self-Statements. Psychological Science.

[43] Wong, Alexander E. Fractal Dynamics in Self-Evaluation Reveal Self-Concept Clarity.  Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences.

Therapists’ Inadequacies

Introduction

I started with a question on “what makes us tick” because of interest in why the undesirable and inadequate seemed to be at risk for unfair treatment (i).  As a result, I read “How The Mind Works” by Steven Pinker (ix) over twenty years ago and have been reading on the subject matter ever since.  In retrospect, it was unreasonable for me to think I would get answers from therapists as they were misinformed, tact and willed a client base (vi).

But as someone whom has struggled with social anxiety and depression, I knew from my experiences and research that the nature and origins of these problems were misunderstood.  So I have decided to devote several posts to carefully explain thirteen conclusions that have an impact on how therapy is conducted as well as provide supporting evidence.  My questions were later answered not by therapists but by Herman Hesse’s poetry which says that life is a “struggle for position and a search for love”.


Contentions with Therapy

When it comes to the topic of low self-esteem, I contend that most therapists employ ineffective and even damaging methods to treat it [4].  The most obvious to criticize is the, quite frankly, foolish use of self-affirmations which cannot only backfire but evidence to support its efficacy is either weak or altogether absent [4, 42].  In fact, I will argue that we can’t treat low self-esteem at all because it’s more of a feature of our personality, which is relatively stable over time and situation, than it is a learned way of perceiving that the glass is either half empty or half full [4, 8.1, 21, 38].

And when we think we are treating it, say by challenging negative core beliefs and schemas, we are in fact treating a low-mood state due to negative social experiences but not global self-esteem [16].  Furthermore, targeting self-esteem per se with a cognitive approach has a very limited number of studies to show its efficacy and effectiveness, and all studies have the glaring problem of not being able to control for the confounding variable of social acceptance acquired through the patient to therapist relationship, in which self-esteem is very responsive to [19].

I believe this difficulty in treatment stems from a failure to understand self-esteem’s purpose as well as what it means to have low self-esteem.  And, to be sure, self-esteem is dependent on what others’ think of us, despite therapists expounding that it’s an “inside job” since its purpose is to assist us with social acceptance and to help place and navigate us within a social hierarchy [10, 26, 36, 40].  In fact, the ultimate function of self-esteem has even been termed as being a sociometer in that it monitors the degree to which others value and accept us, that is, our inclusionary status [26].

To be fair, the construct of self-esteem does have more dimensions to it than just desiring to be accepted by others and acquiring status and rank—which is known as self-acceptance (iii) and measured as global self-esteem (iii)—but the parts that have the greatest effect on mood states (iv) and wellbeing (ii) are in fact about how much others value us and where we stand in relation to them when doing unconscious self-comparisons, in which, I will add, therapists have little to no influence over [31].


Influences on Therapists

Some of these conclusions may not be explicitly stated within the field of social psychology; nevertheless, they can easily be shown to be true through inference.  Yet these ideas are largely rejected by a significant portion of current-day therapists (vi).  I attribute this to the industry being influenced by the standard social science model [34], the codependency movement, and positive-humanistic psychology [28].

There are two ideas that have become axiomatic amongst therapists as a result: we are in control of our behavior and that we don’t need external validation.  To touch upon the latter, intrinsically motivated pursuits do foster autonomy and correlate with global self-esteem [1]; however, Maslow reminds us that order matters (x).  We should not be trying to self-actualize a person without looking at the patients’ interpersonal status amongst peers and family first.

And instead of implying that desiring approval is a weakness, it should be stated that looking for it incurs risk.  It’s a matter of strategy, not absolutes.  In fact, all behaviors and endeavors, even those that are motivated to do work for the sake of it, are subject to a person evaluating the outcome relative to others’ standards as well as engaging in self-comparisons (xiii).  And for those that say they don’t need it, it is because they already have it, “as we are only as needy as our unmet needs” (xii), [29].

So the claim that we should be self-validating is pandering to a fiction that can easily be disproved as we are highly dependent on one another in countless ways, mostly unconsciously, and are wired to be emotionally connected to the extent that our happiness and well-being depend upon it [5, 26, 29, 30].  This myth is so pervasive that some biologists are at battle with therapists’ indiscriminate approach to diagnosing codependency, which if misapplied can have disastrous effects on an existing relationship [29].

These conclusions are not just academic points but points that matter for application that therapists should take heed to if they are to effectively treat low-mood states, depression, and social anxiety.  Because they are simply off the mark when trying to imagine the causes of many problems as witnessed by their inordinate focus on the ideas that early caregivers and dysfunctional learned thoughts and behavior explain everything [16, 20].


Notes

i) intrinsic worth, that is, humans possessing value by virtue of being human is just not reflected in our day to day experiences

ii) happiness is about fulfillment and satisfaction and wellbeing are about contentment but includes physiological health aspects

iii) global self-esteem is not state or specific self-esteem as it reflects the average feelings we have towards ourselves

iv) mood states are reflected in state self-esteem not global; global is a an aggregate and state is an instantaneous measurement

v) standards used to evaluate ourselves are not private because we imagine how our attributes come across to others

The attributes on which people’s self-esteem is based are precisely the characteristics that determine the degree to which people are valued and accepted by others (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). [28]

vi) sample size of n = 12 therapists and psychiatrists; claims are only for the treatment of depression and social anxiety

vii) it is a gross error to skip the interpersonal part to self-esteem in favor of self-efficacy as relational value needs come first [13]

viii) ones’ interpersonal status is primary; assessments on temperament, personality and attachment style to fine tune treatment

ix) as much disdain as many have towards evolutionary psychology, it provides a useful framework to view interpersonal problems

x) empirical support for the hierarchical arrangement of Maslow’s pyramid exists but self-actualizing is not a fundamental need [13]

xi) personality: neuroticism; temperament: inhibitedness; traits: high sensory-processing sensitivity, rejection sensitivity [38]

xii) dependency paradox says that once we belong and feel valued only then can we venture out with confidence and explorer [29]

xiii) we make self-comparisons to validate the outcome or process regardless if intrinsically or extrinsically motivated [14]


References

[1] Ackerman, Courtney.  Self-Determination Theory of Motivation: Why Intrinsic Motivation Matters

[2] Allen, M. David M.D.  The Cognitive Behavioral Mafia.  http://davidmallenmd.blogspot.com/2011/12/cognitive-behavioral-mafia.html

[3] Anderson, Thomson Jr. Depression’s Evolutionary Roots.  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=depressions-evolutionary.

[4] Aron, Elaine.  Ranking and Linking, For Better and For Worse. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/attending-the-undervalued-self/201001/ranking-and-linking-better-and-worse

[5] Banks, Amy. Wired to Connect. Penguin Publishing Group.

[6] Baumeister, Roy.  Advanced Social Psychology. Oxford University Press.

[7] Baumeister, Roy.  Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?

[8] Brown, J. D., & Marshall, M. A. (2006). The three faces of self-esteem. In M. Kernis (Ed.), Self-esteem: Issues and answers (pp. 4-9). New York: Psychology Press.

[8.1] Caine, Susan.  NYT.  Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

[9] Caldwell, Benjamin E.. Saving Psychotherapy: How Therapists Can Bring the Talking Cure Back from the Brink.

[10] Crozier, Ray.  Shyness and Embarrassment. Perspectives from Social Psychology.  Cambridge University Press.

[11] De Ruiter, Naomi M. P.  Explaining the “How” of Self-Esteem Development: The Self-Organizing Self-Esteem Model.  Review of General Psychology.

[12] De Ruiter, Naomi M. P. Hindawi Complexity.  Self-Esteem as a Complex Dynamic System: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Microlevel Dynamics

[13] Douglas T. Kenrick, Vladas Griskevicius, Steven L. Neuberg, Mark Schaller. Renovating the Pramid of Needs: Contemporary Extensions Built Upon Ancienty Foundations. Perspect Psychol Sci.

[14] Garofalo, Giovanni. The Effects of Social Comparisons on Happiness in a Motivational Context.

[15] Gilbert, Paul. The Compassionate Mind (Compassion Focused Therapy) . Little, Brown Book Group.

[16] Gilbert, Paul. Subordination and Defeat: An Evolutionary Approach To Mood Disorders and Their Therapy.

[17] Gilbert, Paul. Genes on the Couch.

[18] George Lakoff. Philosophy In The Flesh.

[19] Griffioen, Brecht.  The Effect of EMDR and CBT on Low Self-esteem in a General Psychiatric Population: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

[20] Harris, Judith Rich. The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do.

[21] Heatherton, Todd. development and evaluation of a scale for measuring state self-esteem.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

[22] Hoyle, Rick. Selfhood. Taylor and Francis.

[23] Knopik, Valerie.  Behavioral Genetics.  Worth Publishers.

[23.1] Lancer, Darlene. Codependency vs. Interdependency.  psychcentral.com.

[24] Langer, Ellen; https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/199911/self-esteem-vs-self-respect

[25] Leahy, Robert L. Ph.D.  Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Proven Effectiveness.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-files/201111/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-proven-effectiveness

[26]  Leary, Mark R. Interpersonal Rejection.

[27] Leary, Mark R. The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life.

[28] Leary, Mark R.  Making Sense of Self-Esteem.  Current Directions in Psychological Science.

[29] Levine, Amir. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love. Penguin Publishing Group.

[30] Lieberman, Matthew D.. Social. Crown.

[31] Marmot, Michael. The Status Syndrome . Henry Holt and Co..

[32] Mindvalley.  This Is Why Self-Respect Is Crucial For Happiness; https://blog.mindvalley.com/self-respect-crucial-for-happiness/?utm_source=google

[33] Nesse, Randolph M.. Good Reasons for Bad Feelings. Penguin Publishing Group.

[34] Pinker, Steven. The Blank Slate. Penguin Publishing Group.

[35] Pinker, Steven. How the Mind Works. W. W. Norton & Company.

[36] Quartz, Steven. Cool. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[37] Rosenberg, Morris. Global Self-Esteem and Specific Self-Esteem: Different Concepts, Different Outcomes.  American Sociological Review.

[38] Schmidt and Schulkin. Extreme Fear, Shyness, and Social Phobia (Series in Affective Science).

[39] Simpson, Jeffrey.  Evolutionary Social Psychology.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers.

[40] Tracy, Jessica.  The Self-Conscious Emotions. Guilford Publication.

[41] Waytz, Adam.  The Psychology of Social Status. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-psychology-of-social/

[42] Wood, Joanne V.  Positive Self-Statements. Psychological Science.

[43] Wong, Alexander E. Fractal Dynamics in Self-Evaluation Reveal Self-Concept Clarity.  Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences.

Malignant Manipulation

The topic of manipulation, which we all do, is obviously relevant when dealing with others that exhibit traits from the dark triad, and I attempt here to define it by carving out the more malignant form of it.


Emotional manipulation is emotional abuse. A person who controls your feelings and behavior with manipulation does not value or respect you or care about your well-being. [1]


Manipulation can be difficult to capture in a definition because the essence, or defining feature, depends on which aspect of the concept we want to emphasize.  For example, in the most general sense, it means interfering to get a result, but it can be hidden in nature to get what we want, or it can be obvious and intended to benefit others.  Moreover, it can be persuasive by appealing to our emotions or reasoning, with either good or bad intentions.  This is a multi-faceted concept that has many dimensions.

In an attempt to circumscribe the facets of manipulation, there are four dimensions that will help us, all to a matter of degree: deceptiveness (being misled), callousness (well-being is not taken into account), sadism (relishing in harm inflicted), or covertness (concealing it).  We can eliminate the ones that are innocent or understandable, since we all do them, such as when someone wants to avoid confrontation (because of fear) or to ingratiate someone (to either get ahead or to be well-liked), as just a few examples.

We need to use a qualifier to eliminate what we don’t want in our definition, which is benevolent manipulation, so the descriptor malignant will be used, which is where harm is done to our well-being.  So we are targeting the effects of manipulation in order to define its essential features.  There is no discussion on intentionality (which implies a degree of self-awareness) because that can be difficult to discern as some may be fully aware of their acts while for others it may be below their threshold of awareness.

Focusing on how the effects of manipulation can harm us (measuring how angry, betrayed, or hurt the act makes us feel), we know we have to include at least two dimensions: underhandedness (deception for personal gain) and callousness (no regard to how it will affect us).  Underhandedness is more descriptive than deceptiveness since it underscores that the act is done for personal gain.

Let’s give it a formal definition: malignant manipulation is an underhanded (where it is hidden or misleading) and callous (where victim’s feelings are irrelevant) attempt to alter, even control, another person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior without their consent (which is coercive) for personal gain or advantage.

This leads us full circle to the defining features for those that score high for the traits in the dark triad: that is, they seek to maximize personal gain, at the cost of another and then to feel justified in doing so.  In future posts, I’ll explore whether or not those of the dark triad have the need like we do to justify our actions.


In closing, it may be helpful to be reminded of what a healthy relationship consists of especially if we were ignorant of these guidelines in the first place, like me.

Encourage expression of opinions. Say what they mean and mean what they say. Support you even if they don’t agree with you. Let you know in a direct and kind way if you’ve hurt them. Are capable of emotional intimacy—the mutual sharing of feelings and ideas. Trust others and exhibit behaviors that are genuine and authentic. [4]


References

[1] Birch, Adelyn. 30 Covert Emotional Manipulation Tactics: How Manipulators Take Control In Personal Relationships. Unknown.

[2] Davenport, Barrie. Signs of Emotional Abuse: How to Recognize the Patterns of Narcissism, Manipulation, and Control in Your Love Relationship. BOLD LIVING PRESS.

[3] Kole, Pamela. Mind Games: Emotionally Manipulative Tactics Partners Use to Control Relationships and Force the Upper Hand – Recognize and Beat Them (Emotional Freedom and Strength Book 1). Plaid Kilt Publishing.

[4] Sarkis, Stephanie. Gaslighting. Hachette Books.

The What It Is

This is the philosophy behind a person’s essence, that is, one’s temperament, which can be described by higher-order traits or dimensions that are further divided into sub-traits or facets.  Some of these tendencies are driven by our physiology, some just hint at it, while others correlate with other facets, giving clues that one is tangled with the other, and some may bear no such relationship.

In philosophy, essence makes the thing what it is, and without which it would be not that kind of thing [3].  The concept can be seen in the works of Aristotle and Plato, who used the Greek expression to ti esti, meaning “the what it is“.  [4]

To be sure, it’s a tough task to etch out a particular tendency such that it has a stable and definable input response, say stimulating an infant with a light shined to its eyes (the input) to measure a response (the output), since the outputs will change when the situation changes.  But we can still capture a definable quality as described by the behavior we observe, and the idea that it’s impossible to get at the “essence” of these observations has been wrongly expressed throughout our philosophical history.

Niels Bohr was skeptical about our ability to grasp whatever “hidden whole” (the physiological process) lay behind what was observed (the trait’s behavior), even though he agreed it was necessary to use words as conceptual aids to describe the invisible processes. But these words were conjectures to help understanding. [1]


The Essence of a Behavior

To locate the essence of a behavior means to get as close as possible to the physiological response that is shaped by genetics and unique to a class of people.  For example, the temperament – a genetically influenced trait – called inhibition to the unfamiliar, changes over the situation, say shy when with people, say timid when in unfamiliar territory, and finicky when with unfamiliar food.  Inhibition (the “hidden whole”) is the essence of the traits labeled as shy, timid, and finicky since it’s closest to one’s physiology.

To side with Einstein, however, is to commit the error of awarding a trait [my insertion] a Platonic reality—a thing in itself—that is a fiction.  Hilary Putnam (1995) argues that when we talk of “ding an sich” [a thing as it is in itself, not understood through human perception]” we do not know what we are talking about. [1]

Because we know the causes of the phenomena, it is no longer a platonic reality.  Here, it’s the physiological response to a stimulus applied to infants to see how “reactive” they are.  Developmental psychologist Jerome Kagan found that 20% of infants, always in that proportion if sample size large, “showed limbic activity combined with distress to visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli” [1].

“EEG activation on the right frontal area under resting conditions while most infants show activation in the left frontal area” [1].  The right frontal area in the brain is where negative “affect” occurs.  Affect is either how pleasant or unpleasant (valence) we feel or how agitated or calm (arousal) we feel.  Infants that show negative affect are more likely to test high for the trait of neuroticism as adults.


The Essence as Elusiveness 

The trait of inhibitedness, however, may not be the fundamental trait since “high sensory-processing sensitivity” of brain regions and the nervous system exist in individuals that are labeled as “high-reactive”, which results in sensitivity to subtle stimuli, cues, and novelty, as well as being easily overstimulated.  And people with this trait can appear to be shy because they often hesitate.

This hesitation has been described by Dr. Aron as “geared to pause, inspect and reflect” [1].  An analogy may be helpful here to illustrate why “sensitivity” is a better descriptor than “inhibitedness” just as “skin-cancer-proneness” is not as generally useful a descriptor of a blonde, blue-eyed person’s major physical traits as “fair” or “fair-complexioned” would be” [1].

The importance of sensitivity or inhibitedness (which can result in fearfulness, shyness, and anxiety) will be obvious in a future post where the psychopath, not all but a vast majority, scores low in inhibitedness and therefore expresses what is known as boldness and fearless dominance, which, some argue, coupled with other traits, make the trait pathological in nature [2].


References

[1] Extreme Fear, Shyness, and Social Phobia (Series in Affective Science).

[2] Handbook of Psychopathy, Second Edition. Guilford Publications.

[3] Lakoff, George. Moral Politics. University of Chicago Press.

[4] Wikipedia contributors. “Essence.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 Feb. 2020. Web. 26 Apr. 2020.

Nuts and Bolts and Ego

If some of this comes across as excessive, there is actually a healthy reason behind it.  Because I am fortunately not fueled by resentments but rather by fascination, and a bit of obsession, with how each and every one of us manages to maintain positive feelings towards ourselves in the face of unfavorable self-comparisons, failures, or even abuse.

How this system works and self-regulates, to me, is a marvel of evolution, even if it is comparatively much simpler than many other systems its effects have enormous consequences to our happiness.  So this is not only about educating others on the perils of dominating and abusive people but also is self-serving because I too can learn from it.


Nuts and Bolts of NPD

What I just mentioned above—self-esteem regulation—actually is the dysfunction behind someone with narcissism.  It’s not so much about the addiction to wanting to feel more important than the rest or the romanticizing about how everyone will envy you when you have that perfect beach-front property and so forth.  It’s about the need to suppress feelings of shame and inferiority that theoretically drive a narcissist to behave the way they do.

The most concise way I’ve seen the causes of narcissism put is as seen below taken from “The Self-Conscious Emotions”.  This means that narcissists—we can all do this but again it’s a matter of degree—over time have become very good at getting defensive and inflating themselves when they feel threatened so much so that it becomes a feature of their personality.

Chronic experiences with certain self-conscious emotions can, in turn, shape people’s explicit self-esteem such that it differs in valence from their implicit selfesteem. In the context of the resulting fragile self system, narcissistic—that is, defensively self-aggrandizing—personality tendencies take root.  [6]

To illustrate the unstable self-esteem, with one possible scenario, the narcissist could sense a “put down”, priming the mind to send a burst of shame as a warning to take heed that their sense of ‘self’ is in jeopardy of being tarnished.  The defensive system then becomes engaged, and the narcissist focuses on the potential “threat to self” by getting defensive, angry, and even inflating with hubris, anything but to feel the shame.  And they have lots of practice at doing this because most theories posit that this starts in early childhood.

Shame, the output of a much larger self-esteem system, is what’s known as a ‘self-conscious’ emotion in that it works when you perceive that you are unattractive and undesired to others.  To get perspective, imagine self-esteem as being something that encourages us to strive for status and acceptance by rewarding us with positive feelings (pride) upon meeting standards.  But can, arguably even more so, motivate us towards self-improvement, or conversely to conceal defects and not compete, by the prospect of being punished with aversive feelings (shame) if we fall short of standards.  But shame’s role only works well when we “care what others think”.

Shame emerges from our complex evolved abilities to be aware of “how we exist for others,” and make predictions of what they think and feel about us. [6]


The Ego in NPD

And it pays to “care what others think” at least it did for our ancestors in our distant past which aided them in figuring out how to be valued by others and to compete for resources and mates.  For those that did not have this quality of insight may have been destined to becoming “not enough” and at risk of being exploited or even ousted by their tribe.

But this facet of us, the ego, has a dark side too since the very act of imagining “not being enough” is quite taxing to the mind and body.  As much effort now a day is spent practicing how to quiet that nagging voice through mindfulness meditation and being more aware.

Ego is the one affliction we all have in common. Because of our understandable efforts to be bigger, better, smarter, stronger, richer, or more attractive, we are shadowed by a nagging sense of weariness and self-doubt.[1]

This ego, which is colloquial for us for describing the turmoil of the self-conscious emotions, the yin and yang of struggles—to be dismissed or to be recognized or be laughed at or to be taken seriously—must be ubiquitous.  In fact, I imagine the ego plays a bigger role than we admit to since our daily battles with it make us feel small if others knew that we were driven by such petty stuff, so its effects remain largely hidden.

In fact, self-conscious emotions play a central role in motivating and regulating almost all of people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Most people spend a great deal of time avoiding social approbation, a strong elicitor of shame and embarrassment. We worry about losing social status in the eyes of others and, as Goffman noted, our every social act is influenced by even the slight chance of public shame or loss of “face.” In fact, according to the “Cooley–Scheff conjecture,” we are “virtually always in a state of either pride or shame”. [6]

And so the ego is quite vexing, but the narcissist, the disorder not the person, has a simple solution to this problem which is to block the part that hurts and which keeps us humble but at the cost of others witnessing it grow without bound.


References

[1] Epstein, Mark. Advice Not Given. Penguin Publishing Group.

[2] Gilbert, Paul. Genes on the Couch. Taylor and Francis.

[3] Leary, Mark. The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life.

[4] Leary, Mark.  Interpersonal Rejection. Kindle Edition.

[5] Quartz, Steven. Cool. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[6] Tracy, Jessica. The Self-Conscious Emotions . Guilford Publications.

On Diagnoses of NPD

Background

In the previous submission, we learned that a person has to have impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) as well as have pathological personality traits (erratic traits that society rejects that aren’t optimal to functioning) present in order for us to use the “disorder” label.  These impairments in personality are at the ‘self’ level affecting identity and self-direction as well as the ‘interpersonal’ level where empathy and intimacy play a role (see Table 2).  Here we will use the diagnostic criteria we see in DSM 5 part II (see Table 1) to point towards diagnoses based on the trait model but will also integrate section III’s model since it is much more insightful.

I’m sure I can read on the practice of how to diagnose and assess until I turn blue in the face but to truly be a good clinician takes actual experience, which I don’t have.  But I’d argue that in some sense I’m actually in a much better position to making an accurate diagnosis than a practitioner is as I have observations that stretch over ten years, which exclude the narcissist’s confessions to a therapist which are often contrived and of little value.  In fact, I am providing a very rare opportunity at looking at how a narcissist thinks because NPD is the least studied of personality disorders and many variations exist making it confusing and difficult to diagnose.

Method Used

Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of rigor and protocol to diagnosing that confirms my overall impression that I have had on the profession, and I say this in the most respectful way because I know it’s a social and behavioral science making variables more difficult to capture and measure.  But look at the first criterion (Table 1) and notice that there’s nothing to distinguish between how strong (severity or magnitude) or how often (frequency) the effect is.  So this makes me concerned about conflating the disorder with just having the trait.

And besides, there is no attempt on capturing how often these nine tendencies show up over time, there’s also no way of characterizing the quality of how the traits are expressed under certain conditions which may be important.  I did, however, find a questioner that puts it in on a five-point scale ranging from very often to never, which I decided to use.  But we don’t have access to the person’s personal thoughts and feelings, and she is socially skilled enough to know how to hide her unattractive ego with others.  So what are we relying on as data?

What I did was estimated an answer shown in the criteria scale below under Table 1 based on the degree and frequency of her demonstrating these traits as seen in her actual behavior and in odd things that she’s uttered.  These utterances were in unique contexts that when extracted, I would argue, give lots of information about her inner workings.  She also had a very well hidden but highly developed ego, which could be quite disturbing, often coming across as if that were her authentic-self making all other sides to her seem but a facade.  

It was in these moments of egotistical truth, however, that revealed a highly insecure person that was very much attuned to my place, your place, and her place in the social hierarchy so as she can best strategize her moves in her limitless quest for power and attention.


Table 1. Trait Model (DSM 5 section II)

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance. (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, ideal love.  
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Is interpersonally exploitative. (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
  6. Has a sense of entitlement.  (i.e., unreasonable expectation of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.  
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes.

Explanation of Traits

The essence of grandiosity I take as to be the desire to feel “important” which can easily fall into a feeling of superiority.  The emotions involved here are those of the self-conscious type—namely pride and shame—which help us to function in social situations by making us aware of how we come across to others.  So important only makes sense in social contexts because it has to do with how we rank relative to one another.  And one of the reinforcers of feeling important—making you want to do it—is to feel the emotion of pride, but once you start comparing yourself in a superior way, then you will feel the inflated pride of a narcissist known as hubris.

The next trait is having the tendency of idealizing, fantasizing, or romanticizing.  The kernel in these activities has to do once again with feeling important, special, and powerful.  What happens is that we fantasize how perfection would be in the future – say the ownership of many houses or to be in the presence of a perfect lover—and we relish those feelings of pride and feelings of being special through our imaginations.

The third trait has to do with how important it is to associate with high-status others to affect your self-esteem.  This is where the trait model found in section II shows its limitations, so I will mention section III, the hybrid model, shown in Table 2 below, that works with dimensions instead of traits that could be integrated into this analysis for more insight.


Table 2. Hybrid Model (DSM 5 section III)

A. Moderate or greater impairment in personality functioning, manifested by characteristic difficulties in two or more of the following four areas:

1. Identity: Excessive reference to others for self-definition and self-esteem regulation; exaggerated self-appraisal inflated or deflated, or vacillating between extremes; emotional regulation mirrors fluctuations in self-esteem.
2. Self-direction: Goal-setting based on gaining approval from others; personal standards unreasonably high in order to see oneself as exceptional, or too low based on a sense of entitlement; often unaware of own motivations.
3. Empathy: Impaired ability to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others; excessively attuned to reactions of others, but only if perceived as relevant to self; over-or underestimate of own effect on others.
4. Intimacy: Relationships largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem regulation; mutuality constrained by little genuine interest in others’ experiences and predominance of a need for personal gain.

B. Both of the following pathological personality traits:

1. Grandiosity (an aspect of Antagonism): Feelings of entitlement, either overt or covert; self-centeredness; firmly holding to the belief that one is better than others; condescension toward others.
2. Attention seeking (an aspect of Antagonism): Excessive attempts to attract and be the focus of the attention of others; admiration seeking.


To shed light on the need to feel ‘special’ to the point of exclusively associating only with other high-status individuals, we need to see how we manage our self-definition and self-esteem.  If we rely too heavily on our associations to define ourselves or to manage our self-esteem, this can become maladaptive and is listed as an impairment in personality (Table 2, A, 1).  We will discuss why this is maladaptive in the post that focuses on the causes and consequences of NPD.

The trait of excessive admiration is something that can be hard to see since it’s often a hidden requirement in narcissists, but it seems to be an important need to be not necessarily well-liked but more importantly well respected and looked up to by others.  And jumping to the last two traits from Table 1, we can see that they will feel envious often or believe others are envious of them, which captures feelings of resentment and discontent over others’ achievements or possessions.  The ninth trait of arrogance is related to trait one of grandiosity but the focus seems to be on displaying it where you exaggerate your significance (inflate yourself) and importance by posturing around others and can even show attitudes of disdain toward those that don’t meet your standards.

The last three traits to discuss are impairments in empathy, exploitation of others and a sense of entitlement.  These in my view are the consequences of having narcissism as they affect those around you.  It’s not that they don’t have the ability to be empathetic and often do but more often than not it’s in a self-serving way.  The exploitation of others then comes naturally with low empathy, and people often become objectified and used as a means to accomplishing their goals.  And, lastly, a sense of entitlement means I deserve it because I’m important not because I earned it.


References

[1] Buss, David M.. The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is as Necessary as Love and Sex. Free Press.

[2] Dziegielewski, Sophia . DSM-5 in Action 3rd Edition. SAM Ficher.

[3] Gilbert, Paul. Genes on the Couch (p. 181). Taylor and Francis.

[4] Leary, Mark. The Curse of the Self: Self-Awareness, Egotism, and the Quality of Human Life.

[5] Quartz, Steven. Cool (p. 134). Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[6] Ronningstam, Elsa. Ph.D. Dimensional Conceptualization and Diagnosis of NPD.  Harvard University.

[7] Tracy, Jessica. The Self-Conscious Emotions . Guilford Publications.

[8] Treatment in Psychiatry.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Diagnostic and Clinical Challenges.  Eve Caligor, M.D., Kenneth N. Levy, Ph.D., Frank E. Yeomans, M.D., Ph.D.

Personality Disorders

Definition

The American Psychiatric Association provides a concise definition of personality disorder, but they are explicitly measuring the defect if you will against culture’s standards.

A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.

The DSM-5, which is a reference for psychologists and psychiatrists for diagnosing disorders, organizes it in terms of personality functioning and the presence of pathological traits and defines it as follows.

The essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) functioning and the presence of pathological personality traits. To diagnose a personality disorder, the following criteria must be met:

  • Significant impairments in self (identity or self-direction) and interpersonal (empathy or intimacy) functioning.
  • One or more pathological personality trait domains or trait facets.
  • The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.
  • The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual‟s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment.
  • The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma).

Pathology

So it’s best and most accurate to say that a personality disorder is one that has the features of impairments in personality as well as having the presence of pathological personality traits.  Well, I usually think of the word pathological as meaning something that just doesn’t work for the situation at hand and is often extreme.  Let’s see what the DSM says about this.

characterized by adaptive inflexibility, vicious cycles of maladaptive behavior, and emotional instability under stress.

To define pathological correctly, it looks like it must have the features of not being able to be appropriate or adequate for the situation along with possessing an unstable pattern of it, especially when under stressors.


DSM-5 and Clusters

If you look at how the DSM organizes the ten personality disorders, then you’ll notice that they use key features to put them in groups called clusters.  The group that is of interest to us is cluster B, Figure 1 below, which uses the characterization of dramatic and erratic behavior to describe the four disorders: BPD, HPD, ASPD, and NPD.

This behavior described seems to be similar to impulsiveness which means having little control over behavior and emotions, but phrasing the behavior as dramatic and erratic seems to add nuances while avoiding unwanted connotations.

Those that show subclinical symptoms of Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy may also benefit from reading this cluster, see the text in bold since it describes the bold element to their behavior remarkably well.

The “Cluster B” personality disorders are characterized by dramatic or erratic behavior. People who have a personality disorder from this cluster tend to either experience very intense emotions or engage in extremely impulsive, theatrical, promiscuous, or law-breaking behaviors.

  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is characterized by emotional instability, intense interpersonal relationships, and impulsive behaviors.
  • Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD) features a need to always be the center of attention that often leads to socially inappropriate behavior in order to get attention. People with this disorder may have frequent mood swings as well.
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) tends to show up in childhood, unlike most other personality disorders that don’t appear until adolescence or young adulthood. Symptoms include a disregard for rules and social norms and a lack of empathy for other people.  [This “umbrella” term of Antisocial Personality Disorder includes the traits of sociopathy and psychopathy.]
  • Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is associated with self-centeredness, exaggerated self-image, and lack of empathy for others.
Figure 1: Cluster B

References:

[1] Salters-Pedneault, Kristalyn, Ph.D.  Introduction to the DSM Personality Disorders.  https://www.verywellmind.com/personality-disorders-a2-425427