Merit: Healthy Self-Esteem – Part 2

The concept of merit doesn’t enjoy the status it once did and rightfully deserves. Our culture doesn’t do much to promote, recognize, and reward meritorious conduct. Many don’t even know what the concept of merit means. And many more fail to appreciate its importance. But understanding merit is key to heeding the “third commandment” of healthy character development. We must mindfully cultivate a balanced sense of self-worth.

Merit and meritorious Conduct

The Cambridge Dictionary defines merit as: “the quality of being particularly good or worthy, especially so as to deserve praise or reward.”  It truly amazes me how many individuals I’ve encountered over the years who prided themselves for all the wrong things.  The same folkks often failed to recognize the supreme value of their more meritorious actions. In almost every case, this led to an unhealthy, unbalanced sense of self. Taking pride in the wrong things – especially those things for which we really can’t take credit anyway (e.g., our intellect, our looks, our talents, etc.), fosters an unhealthily inflated sense of self-worth. That’s because those aforementioned things can’t rightfully be considered our doing.  In truth, they’re accidents of nature or “gifts of God.” We shouldn’t heap or embrace praise for such things. And when we don’t recognize and affirm ourselves for how we use our gifts to make this world a better place it’s hard to develop healthy self-respect. We and we alone are responsible for the right exercise of our wills. So, it’s important to affirm the value of our more conscientious choices.

When I employ cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help people develop sound character, I teach folks to both recognize and give themselves appropriate credit for the efforts and difficult choices they make each day to be a better person. We’ve long known that therapists do well to be both affirming and rewarding in dealing with their clients. But I’ve learned to be selective about how, when, and what I praise. And it’s equally important to advise people properly about how, when, and why they should applaud themselves. I learned this lesson early in my career and wrote about it years ago in my first book In Sheep’s Clothing. I wrote about it again in Character Disturbance and The Judas Syndrome. But now, even the research evidence is clear: it’s not what you look like, how witty you are, or any of those other unique attributes you possess that makes you “special.” If you allow yourself to think so, you’re likely to get a pretty “fat head.” What really makes you extraordinary – and merits you recognition and affirmation – is what you do with your gifts and how you conduct yourself in your relationships. This is the very essence of merit. And the extent to which you conduct yourself in a meritorious manner is also what defines your character.

Helping Folks Become Better

When guiding folks toward greater character health, I make it a point in the beginning to recognize and affirm all their meritorious actions, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. But eventually, they have to learn to do this for themselves. Appropriately recognizing and affirming meritorious conduct is the the very antidote to false pride and unhealthy self-agrandizement.  It also provides essential reinforcement for a person’s willingness to undertake life’s most daunting but noblest tasks.  And as we know, no behavior persists without reinforcement.

Next week’s post will provide an additional preview of my upcoming book with Dr. Kathy Armistead, tentatively titled The 10 Commandments of Character: How to Lead a Significant Life, due out at the end of the summer.  I’ll discuss the “fourth commandment” of healthy character development, which has to do with revering truth.  I’ll be spending some time on this “commandment” because of its crucial importance.

My sincerest thanks to all of you who have helped make How Did We End Up Here ?, my first book with Dr. Armistead, the success it is fast becoming.

Tune in to Character Matters Sunday Evening at 7 pm Eastern (6 pm Central) for a discussion of these and other matters.  And if you have something to ask me, share with me, or just want to share with the listening audience, call in at (718) 717-8296.




20 thoughts on “Merit: Healthy Self-Esteem – Part 2

        1. I think by working on ourselves. We need to acknowledge our positive and negative traits. Build on our positive traits, work on correcting or accepting our negative traits. Build good character, self esteem, self value. In short, follow the Ten Commandments of good character and repair the damage of the CD, as well as, work on the damage that existed before that attracted the CD in the first place.

  1. What do I do with my gifts? What are my gifts? I’ll have to think about that. Not sure that I have any.

    1. Lucy,
      Knowing you, I bet many times you could be counted on to give a 110%
      To give above and beyond that which is required so the whole would benefit not wanting anything in return.

      1. I can be counted on. That is for sure. Thanks for pointing that out. And I do like to entertain to bring friends pleasure. It pleases me at the same time. Do t know if that’s a gift. Maybe …..

  2. Lucy,

    We all have gifts and I’m guessing you have quite a few. The thing is, you probably will best recognize your gifts as burdens or responsibilities, things you like about yourself but also feel conflict about wanting to change after dealing with the CD or things you completely take for granted.

    For example, I have a gift of high empathy. It’s easy for me to notice how people or animals feel even when I’m not really paying attention. People praising me for noticing and responding makes me uncomfortable. Ignoring that gift seems wrong. It’s what we are supposed to do, right? Help our fellow man when we realize they are in need, especially when a smile, a five minute conversation, or a sincere ‘are you doing ok’ will make a difference. High empathy is a gift and also often feels like a burden as I notice more often than usual people’s emotional states.

    In addition to empathy, I also have a couple of other gifts: intelligence, intuition, logic, and organization. All of these gifts I’ve been doing since I was a little kid, no work from me required. My parents tell the story of how terrified I made them when at three I would walk up to the inter city feral dogs, pat them, have a conversation with them and walk away and tell them that’s a nice doggie or that’s a hungry doggie. My parents couldn’t approach to snatch me away because the dogs would grow or show their teeth at their attempts. They also talk about how I would converse with the ‘winos’ outside the grocery store, inviting them to stay with us because ‘can’t you see, they need help mommy, they’re sad.’ My parents moved us to the country because they didn’t think I’d make my next birthday.

    So I’ve coupled my list of gifts and work on helping people manage their dog’s behavior. Now that I’m proud of and will accept compliments. I have worked hard, really hard to apply these gifts to learning how dogs think, perceive and feel about their environment and helping owners understand their dog’s needs which unmet cause many of their behavior problems. I’ve worked hard to explain things in such a way the advice is applicable in many walks of life. Knowing I use my natural gifts, coupled with hard work to make the world a better place even in a small way feels good and right and I neither want or need praise but feels good when its received. The praise I will accept is not for my ‘gifts’ but what I do with them.

    I think it’s important for everyone to recognize their gifts. It’s not about bragging or thinking one’s better than another (although that’s how the CD view their gifts.). I believe our gifts are our purpose and if we choose to accept those gifts, we take on the burden, the responsibility of our purpose whether it’s small scale or large scale.

    Dr. Simon is a very good example. He has several gifts that are obvious. Intellect, intuition, an organized, flexible mind, the ability to write and generosity. He’s used these gifts to help us deal with and recover from the CD in our lives as well as helping CD’s improve their lives. The work he does is important and is very hard work. I cannot imagine he does not see this as his life’s purpose. His gifts merely enabled him the position of knowledge and understanding, his hard work brought about everything else and that is definitely praise worthy. I am thankful and grateful for his hard work and his use of his gifts. He could have an attitude of superiority and withhold his gifts to only those he deems worthy or could pay enough to receive but instead offers a free weekly blog so we can continue to learn, have a place with others going through similar experiences, is inclusive to everyone, and gives access to his knowledge and information that we would normally never have. He is using his gifts on a larger scale and its impressive. Thank you, Dr. Simon, for your work, your efforts and how you’ve chosen to use your gifts. You are appreciated.

    I believe we all need to access our gifts, acknowledge ourselves (we are our gifts and our gifts are us), talk about them and with humbleness and humility bring them into the world. Our gifts and our proper use of them for the greater good will make the world a better place.

    1. Charlie,

      Your gifts are very interesting and you’ve certainly put them to good use. It feels good to help others especially when it’s appreciated and brings a better good.
      I need to do some soul-searching. It’s a topic I haven’t put much thought into. Seems like I’m just stumbling through life mindlessly, most of the time.

      1. I saw the response you gave regarding the character disordered ex, I think you made very good use of some your gifts. Not everyone could or would. 🙂

        1. And I get frustrated, with all the chaos and confusion, I can’t consistently even come close to reaching the low end of my potential. There are always disruptions to continued growth by the CD.

  3. Be Yourself

    by Ellen Bailey

    Why would you want to be someone else
    When you could be better by being yourself
    Why pretend to be someone you are not
    When you have something they haven’t got

    Cheating yourself of the life you have to live
    Deprives others of that only which you can give
    You have much more to offer by being just you
    Than walking around in someone else’s shoes

    Trying to live the life of another is a mistake
    It is a masquerade; nothing more than a fake
    Be yourself and let your qualities show through
    Others will love you more for being just you

    Remember that God loves you just as you are
    To Him you are already a bright shining star
    Family and friends will love you more too
    If you spent time practicing just being you

    Q: Why was six scared of seven?
    A: Because seven “ate” nine.

    Gifts ?

  4. And as we know, no behavior persists without reinforcement.

    So can I assume that if you are able to abandon the DC. You are Helping them, as much as you are your own sanity ?

    1. Joey,
      Yes, by abandoning the DC you are helping them, only if their eyes are open and they don’t have backup enablers/flying monkeys. Deep down they know, but more important we have taken back our lives. Now that is the hard part, to put us back together again. I believe if one stays with the DC they perform their own lobotomy and lose theirseves in order to survive. Insanity, yes, or then there is suicide. For the ones that are able to leave it is one deep struggle.

      I have been watching the Falon You Tubes, very informative, I have watched others too. Thanks for posting the link.

      1. I don’t think I’ve helped The Jerk by leaving him. My leaving him has upped the ante to him to further his endeavor to destroy me. He has not apologized or confessed or shown sorrow for what he has done to me. He is sorry for himself for what held lost. He is sorry for all the wrong reasons. I really don’t know what really goes on inside his head. Did he love me? Did he hates? Does he hate me? He does not show love so I guess that is my answer. He shows hatred towards me so I guess he does hate me. I think he also hates himself. He is ate up with evil. No – I don’t believe my leaving helped. He is still sick

        1. Lucy,
          You did help, every bottom the CD hit may be the very bottom they need to look inward. So in essence you have helped him, to leave was the most loving act you could do for all concerned. It is the same with someone with alcoholism, until we stop enabling ( don’t like this term) being their right arm man and picking up the pieces they will stay stuck.

          Many never recover and we don’t really know who will be the ones that may accept what Dr. Simon says is their proverbial
          “come to Jesus moment.” My best friend of 20 years had a “Come to Jesus Moment” and did turn his life around and his story is a mess. At times I still see some of his selfish traits and I call him on it. I personally know of several people like this and have always contended that one can change if they want to.

          The question is are they willing to swallow their selfish self pride, to humble themselves and admit they are not all that and more. To be able to ask, to be able to say please, to be able to sincerely ask for forgiveness and be contrite, to take responsibility and grow up.

          It took a lot of self denial and internal lying and deceit to be where they are now, wallowing in their putrid vomit, are they able to swallow the medicine of humility and reach out, to shed their soiled diapers and become a honest human being with the same flaws as we all have.

          Yes, Lucy you did help, you may not see it but you broke the chains, you are free, the question is will he take this opportunity to be free also, or will he relink the chains? I agree the odds are against it, but miracles happen all the time. It is best you go on with your life, as one cannot predict the future and hold onto the past.

          Did your husband love you! I believe he loved you Lucy as much as he was able to love anyone. To what degree that is I don’t know, it is not the same love that would be defined by a “Normal” individual.

          Just know you did the best you could under the circumstances. I did the best I could under the circumstances too. There are many things I wished I could of, should of, would of done differently. I do know that leaving at the time was the only thing I could do.

  5. Lucy,

    I agree with you. I don’t see how it helps them by leaving. Their problem seem systemic and they don’t seem to learn.

    Tricks and I are at the point we are now planning a separation. I should be elated but instead I’m finding that I’m unbearably sad. I’m watching him converse, help and bond with a couple of women in his family. Regardless, of his reason or purpose, he’s giving them respect he only offered to me during dating. He’s offering his help and doing favors for them that he’s been angry and resentful of doing for me from the beginning of the marriage. It’s really hard to watch, to see what my marriage should have been if he hadn’t been so angry, disrespectful, controlling and hateful towards me. (It’s a huge hit to the self esteem.)

    Like you, I think he hates me and has hated me for a long time. It’s very mixed up. Why stay in a relationship with someone you dislike and disrespect? I think their issues are deep and while our lives will improve without them, their lives will continue to degrade without us. Maybe that’s the reason they hate us, are so disrespectful and controlling; They have always known they need us more than we ever needed them.

    1. Charlie,
      I hope a separation may help, I think the mixture of feelings is very difficult to process. In disconnecting I believe we lose a part of ourselves when that person has been a part of our life for so long. There are parts of us that are deeply entwined and deeply interwoven if we have loved on a healthy love.

      I still love my X and it is very painful looking back of all the good things and times we had together. I think in the end there is an inner part of them that knows the truth how deep the scar tissue they have built over that wounding is impossible to know. Do they hate us? In the end there is hate but I don’t believe in all cases the profound hate is really about us. Rather, it is the reflection of their internal hate that is in a conflictual battle projected at us.

      It is difficult to assess not knowing the individual as they are all different, does he know? Yes, he knows, are his defense mechanisms so deep he can’t tolerate wounding and at all cost deflect? Yes.

      Charlie, yes “They have always known they need us more than we ever needed them.” It is to bad, instead of embracing us and being grateful they found a loving spouse they resent and hate what they cannot be.

  6. BTOV,

    I’ve been having quite a few teary moments in the last few days. For example, I was reading Dr. Simon’s new topic on truthfulness and he asked me what I was reading. I explained the topic which instantly caused a fight between us (his definition of truthfulness does not agree with Dr. Simon’s). It didn’t go on long before I started to cry.

    I think the truth is, I’ve been fighting against his ideas, manipulations, and aggression for so long now I haven’t been able to absorb the full truth of what I married and what that really means for me. Absorbing the full truth of what my life has been about is sad and painful, what I’ve lost and what little I gained. (I don’t believe gaining the knowledge I married a wolf in sheep’s clothing is a positive gain even if I use the knowledge in a positive way for myself. That’s not a lesson I would wish on anyone especially me.)

    I don’t love him but I still love the idea of him, what should have been and what could have been, what I believed in the beginning and believed for so very long into the marriage what was going to be. And it hurts when I think of the 22 year old me, so hopeful, so trusting, so believing in him and his character and the type of life we were to have, that I thought we were going to have.

    Where there is an ending, there is loss, grief, mourning and, finally, acceptance. The acceptance of rebuilding the wreckage my life has become in a place of loss and defeat vs resolution and victory. The only thing that could be worse than the experiencing the ending is if he’s tricking me once again…. but I need to focus on one difficulty at a time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *