Self-esteem and relationship

Often we hear an approach whereas we should set up a strong, stable and permanent self-esteem because (if we can!), and from that moment it doesn’t matter what people say or how they act with us, it won’t affect our personality negatively. The other approach is the opposite, that is when someone completely surrenders him-or herself to his/her surroundings and his/her mood wavers according to other’s opinion or appreciation (or lack of appreciation). This behaviour is called co-dependency which makes an equality based relationship impossible. Sometimes these kind of people use their partner as a self-definition which is very adverse if their partner doesn’t have a stable and healthy personality. Noticeable that people with damaged self-esteem or being co-dependent usually don’t have a partner with healthy self-esteem or healthy personality. They have a partner with the same problem or the opposite.

We can find the truth somewhere between those two extremes behaviour. The happy medium as always!

I think that person who states that; we can have a stable self-esteem in a relationship where she/he (or his/her opinion, emotions, decisions) is neglected, abused or reviled, or kept in suspense where she/he must be anxious about if the other wants or doesn’t want him/her; is wrong.

Namely to respect my own feelings, my values, my time and my body is also part of building and keeping a healthy self-esteem. If our partner cancel a program in the last moment using petty excuses and expect us to conform to him/her all the time; or after months still doesn’t undertake our relationship in public; or perhaps threatens us to leave when we express our needs which are out of his/her comfort zone and after all how can we state that all these things don’t influence our self-esteem? Usually we are reacting like “this is our problem” after undertaking our negative feelings relating to the relationship which is a kind of denial. More painful to see the reality than to wop it under carpet using self-justifications.

Clients with seriously damaged self-esteem often ask themselves that “What if I give the reason for him/her to behave with me like that?” or “What if I provoke him/her?”  “What if I’m really a difficult person to live with?” “What if I should feel grateful because she/he is with me?” – when they experience unacceptable behaviour from their partner.

(If seriously self-esteem damaged people have a self-centered partner (very often, more than we think), usually the answer is – “Yes, you are, I’m treating you like this because you give me reason to do it.”- self-centered people always find a reason to do it.)

They continuously think about how could they understand their partner’s behaviour (which is necessary to handle it) at the same time the most important question is missing (maybe because already existing trauma from childhood): Do I let him/her to treat me like this?


Typical symptom of damaged self-esteem in relationship that clients very often experience helplessness. “I would like to have more or better – but do I deserve another?” “I would like to express my needs but are they just?” These people struggle on this duality, sometimes for a long time, like years.

There are two choices; one is to admit that I’m not treated well, it hurts so I must do something for myself (change); or claiming that I’m bad and it’s understandable I’m treated like that (doesn’t require change). You can guess which one what people choose statistically more often.

First step of healing damaged self-esteem is to resolve our denials and other own lies what with we protect our relationship and excuse our partner from treating us badly. Which means “Yes, what is happening with me is destructive!”

After that we have several options, but this first one can’t be skipped. The whole status quo remains as long as we use several different kind of self-justifications, excuses and lies. We can lie but the fact is not changed; we are in a destructive relationship and it’s undermining our self-esteem.

To recognize having a destructive relationship is very difficult for people who are co-dependent for instance. They just can’t imagine that they can exist without their partner even if they are treated badly now. They rather crucify their own well being than change.

To recognize damaged self-esteem and its roots is not so easy, usually requires professional help. Sometimes those roots are buried so deep and very difficult to identify and change them.

Good news is self-esteem is improvable after finding the destructive effects’ origin. If you feel that your self-esteem is vanished, please don’t hesitate to ask an appointment and start your mental training with me.

“That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is. Most people love you for who you pretend to be. To keep their love, you keep pretending – performing. You get to love your pretence. It’s true, we’re locked in an image, an act – and the sad thing is, people get so used to their image, they grow attached to their masks. They love their chains. They forget all about who they really are. And if you try to remind them, they hate you for it, they feel like you’re trying to steal their most precious possession.”

― Jim Morrison

Picture: Kate Swaffer

Parental perfectionism

Every parents want to raise their child or children perfectly but what happens if they go too far?

First of all nowadays one thing is scientifically clear and proved; perfectionists are made and not were born. The occurrence of perfectionism is growing. One of the reason is those parents look for their own status in their children’s achievements and its pressure on children just grows. They can take this pressure as a critic for their mistakes. A lot of parents believe if their children have difficulties in school or his/her performance is not satisfactory (according to them), it means they do something wrong, they are not enough good parents and what the other parents will think. I often can see that; parents identify their parental ability with the performance of children in school or in other part of life. “If my child is not a good student, I am not a good parent or if my child is an excellent student I give a good parental care.”  Honestly, they are not even connected to each other. Perfectionism is one of the type of parental control. Nowadays parents not just take part in their children’s life inordinately but also expect perfect performance from them. One thing is striving for perfectionism and another one is to demand it.


Perfectionism can be a model for children, anxious parents so often raise (create-make) similar child like them. Those children who deal with high perfectionism experience their own mistakes as a personal failure – they are characterized with high depression and anxiety. In the same way characterized those children as well whom feel their parents overrate them. Perfectionist parents’ children feel if they do not perform on the level which was expected, that will decrease love, respect and recognition what they can get. The problem most of the time is the perfectionist’s level is not 100% of performance, it is 120% which can be unachievable for a child. Perfectionist parents actually do not consider children’s individual abilities and capacities because it is not about their children; it is all about themselves as parents.

How does a perfectionist parent control a child?

Parental perfectionism directs the psychological world of children. Two sources had been identified. One source is the parent own perfectionism that is exaggerated worry about general parental mistakes. Perfectionist parents accept their children just if they perform above the average. I must highlight that it is not just about performance in school, perfectionism presented in all parts of daily life. They use hidden and indirect techniques to maintain their psychological control and use them to encourage their own children to use substantial self-criticism. For instance a technique like sigh, silence or raised eyebrows. Directly they don’t discipline them but clearly make children feel their dislike.

The other source of psychological control is the parents’ fear of detachment from children. Perfectionist parents are over-attached to their children and they worry about their growing autonomy and their children continuous growth threats them with emotional and physical detachment.

Perfectionist parents excite a feeling which is a sense of guilt and they approve their children’s behaviour if they remain emotionally close to them. They are susceptible to keep children in a dependent situation if their adult relationships don’t satisfy their emotional expectations or needs. We can state that; perfectionist parents whom use psychological control on their children (doesn’t matter why – fear of loss or demand of status) are focus on their own needs instead of their children’s needs and personalities.

Striving for perfectionism forces children into an illusion. Perfectionism destroys the real self. Actually instead of creating harmony and self-satisfaction, it creates self-destruction. The continuous feeling of failure (not being able to fill up the parents expectations) destroys children’s self-confidence and often they feel worthless. In children’s mind being loved by existence gets confused with an idea-feeling of being loved because of action; “I am able to be loved if I am doing things perfectly or if I am able to satisfy my parents.

Children pay a very high price for perfectionism. The main problem with perfectionism might be that; it covers the real beauty and joy of life. People do not become stronger by making them perfectionist but let them to be passionate about something what they are interested in.

Self-justification II.

In my previous post you could have seen that how easy to cheat ourselves sometimes. We can say that self-justification is a kind of excuse or comfortable lie in a contradiction to uncomfortable truth. If people commit themselves to an attitude a communicator can cause dissonancy and to decrease this tense condition the best way is to distort proofs or refuse them. The more we are committed ourselves to an attitude all the more we are willing to refuse every counter-arguments. It can show that to decrease dissonancy also drives us to a distortion of objective world because generally people do not like to see or hear things which are contrast with their own core believes or wishes.

Dissonancy and rational behaviour

Very often dissonancy deduction behaviour is very irrational. Because often this means wrong adaptation and can prevent someone from cognizance of important facts or finding real solutions for a problem. In the other hand it has a rational function as well which is protection the self, the ego; through it we can maintain our positive self-image which is we are good, smart and man of merit. We can look at this self-defence mechanism as very useful but sometimes can cause fatal consequences. (Generally people especially nowadays are willing to choose a comfortable lie rather than the painful truth even if it is still a lie.) Several studies prove the illogicality of dissonancy deduction. (Jones, E. – Kohler, R. 1959). Well it is always comforting us if all of the wise people are on our side and all of the stupid are on the other (which is not real but that is how we want to see and believe it).  We do not process information on an objective and impartial way. Quite the contrary, we distort them onto a way they fit into our previous conceptions. (Lord, C. – Ross, L. – Lepper, M. 1979) We all can point out in our behaviour that we can behave rationally and irrationally as well. There are people who are able to handle dissonancy better than others depending on circumstances.

Dissonancy like a consequence of decision

After making a decision nearly always people experience dissonancy – especially after a decision which required a lot of time, money or effort. It is because the chosen alternative hardly completely positive and the rejected is never completely negative. After a difficult decision people like to get enough calming about the rightness of their decision so they are looking for information which can confirm it. After a decision making people highlight the positive side of the chosen option and decrease negative ones of the refused and the opposite.

External and internal justification

Several times happen that people say the opposite of what they think or they believe. For instance; Christina and Maria are not too close friends but they are shopping together. Maria is trying a dress on and asking Christina’s opinion. Christina’s first thought is this dress looks awful but since she doesn’t want to hurt Maria’s feeling she says that; “This dress fits you well, you look so pretty!” Theoretically, Christina’s content of consciousness about herself is like she is an honest person is not compatible what she just said. To release the dissonancy she needs a new content of consciousness which can be that it is important not to hurt people’s feeling. “I lied not to hurt someone!” It’s an effective way of dissonancy deduction  and it was determined by a situation. It’s called external justification. First we always look for external justifications and if we don’t find any we try to find internal ones which means changing our own attitudes which fit what we said. Like “That dress did not look as bad on her”.

Where from we get our core believes? Do we get them? Some part of it yes from our parents and from our closed environment and society by socialization and some part of it through our own experiences.

According to Charles Darwin, the key of survival depends on the ability of adaptation. What if someone is not open-minded and has strong core believes (incorrect or outmoded way of thinking) without flexibility? Well, there is only one thing constant in life which is the change. Our world is changing daily and we are forced to adapt those changes. If we are not opened for new information or ideologies and having lack of flexibility, we can experience cognitive dissonancy over and over again almost daily. So how we can avoid to face with frequent dissonancy? A common solution is isolation. Information and social isolation. Easier to put our head into sand as a denial than looking for dissonancy deduction solutions all the time. Inflexible people do it so often. They look for friends who are almost the same, same ideology same view, same culture, same classes of society, same education or religion and they avoid social interactions with other people which can create an opportunity for dissonancy to appear by talking about several topics with those who are different. Inflexible and closed-minded people are mainly who judge others, continuously defending themselves and their point of view and believe they are always right. Do you know a person like that? I am sure you do!


These kind of people actually live in a bubble which is their own prison.

Continuously defending ourselves and refusing new things, facts or others’ point of view take so much energy, make us unhappy and living in a world which can be far from the reality. Living like surrounded by great walls made by us (fears, misbelieves) not just defends us also prevents to develop and experience good things as well. We all have a strong ego defence system but we must see, understand and experience there is nothing wrong with us, if we are or have been wrong or have been thinking on a not correct way. From time to time people learn from their mistakes and able to improve and develop. In ideal case we are able to say that “Yes, I was wrong.” “What kind of lesson can be drawn from it?”

How can we reach that?

  1. Recognize, acknowledge and understand our own defence and dissonancy deduction tendencies.
  2. Realize even if we did something silly or unmoral thing that still doesn’t mean we are silly and unmoral people for good.
  3. We develop enough self-strength to take our own mistakes.
  4. We evolve that capacity to perceive that comprehension of our mistakes are useful and fruitful in terms of growth and learning.

I know it is easier to write down than work on it. If you had found some misbelieves which hinder you from being confident, happy and harmonious with yourself and with others you always can look for help to achieve them. As a therapist I can assure you it is possible to become open-minded and peaceful with yourself and with others just by improving your self-knowledge. If you want to be delivered from your wrong misbelieves, set free from your own prison; contact me and I can show you it is possible.

  A very good friend of mine told me once: Living with refusal just you will be poor.



Aronson, E.: The Social Animal (1999)

Forgas, J.P.: Interpersonal Behaviour. The Psychology of Social Interactions (1985)

Self-justification I.

A last weekend event inspired me to pick up and write about this topic. It was a discussion about eating vegetarian-vegan. Meat-eating people started to explain how plant based eating is not that much healthy and how meat-eating is so beneficial. I was sitting there and recognized how their self-justifications were so strong necessary (it was not) and how their cognitive dissonancy with passive aggression created an argument.

What does exactly self-justification mean?

People generally are motivated to justify their own actions, thoughts, ideologies and emotions, trying to convince others about what he/she has done or did is logical and rational. Like in the example above. Even tough someone knows (proved by science) that eating too much meat and saturated fat (also not eating vegetables) is unhealthy he must justify his own behaviour of believes. It can be done by several ways. To have two incompatible contents of consciousness cause cognitive dissonancy.

Cognitive dissonancy

It is a kind of tense condition, which appears all the time when the person has two contents of consciousness (thought, attitude, view or opinion) but incompatible with each other psychologically. Differently if we consider each of them by itself then an opposite of one follows from another. Since cognitive dissonancy is an uncomfortable feeling people are motivated to decrease it. To keep on two conflicting views means is absurd so those two contents of consciousness or at least one of them must be changed like preferably compatible, consonance or like insert new contents of consciousness which will bridge over the gap between the original contents. Most of the people think that own believes and attitudes must be consistent with their behaviour so when they act contrary to their previous and existent attitudes, they feel motivated to explain and/or justify own behaviour.

How can cognitive dissonancy be released?

Using the example above, there is one person who eats a lot of meat, fried food without eating any vegetables. Once this person is reading a medical study about eating too much meat, fried food and not eating vegetables causes cardio and cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer and obesity. This person will experience dissonancy. The knowledge that he eats on a very unhealthy way is not compatible with that knowledge this way of eating causes for instance cancer. The most radical way to release this dissonancy would be to change the way of eating (but we all know, to make a change in our life, especially major a change, is so difficult) because after that change those two knowledges become compatible with each other. Imagine that, this person will try to change his way of eating but does not succeed. So what else can he do to release the dissonancy? Certainly he is going to do something with the other knowledge which is eating too much meat causes cancer. Like he tries to doubt facts about the relationship between eating too much meat and cancer. He makes himself believe that the experimental proofs are not convincible or he can mention someone who eats on the same way but without any health problems therefore if that person has no any disease he will not have either. Eventually to decrease the absurd characteristic of his behaviour he can identify himself with new contents of consciousness which are more compatible with eating unhealthy. So he might attach more important meaning to eating unhealthy. Like eating so much meat without vegetable is healthy and important and part of his personality. Like “I might not live that long but I enjoy it.” These kind of behaviours decrease dissonancy because they decrease the absurd nature of it. This person justifies his behaviour cognitive thus decreased the danger or exaggerated the importance of his action. Ultimately he succeeded to interiorize an attitude or change an existing one.

What kind of self-justifications can you recognize in your life? How do they influence your life or your self-control? Are you an open-minded person or chained to own core believes?

To be continued….

Source: Aronson, E.: The Social Animal