From police psychology to basic chemistry: If we wanted to make a very good cleaner, we would mix two decent cleaners and the combination would make something great. Doesn’t take a genius to understand, does it? So go home and mix ammonia and bleach and see what you get (actually don’t ever do this). You end up getting a chlorine gas that can cause you to lose consciousness, literally burn your insides out, or possibly just kill you. In fact, it was actually used in WWII for chemical warfare. This is called an interaction effect –the combination of two things take the shape of a separate event all to itself. And by the way, chlorine gas doesn’t feel good.
The Pinball Effect
Now take two wonderful people, and mix them together and you will get a wonderful couple, right? Or take a job and a highly qualified person and magic happens. Well, not always. Sometimes you get a chemical warfare agent. A sort of mustard gas. And that doesn’t mean someone is undeserving or stupid. It doesn’t mean that someone is inadequate, it doesn’t mean that someone is bad, or wrong, or… (insert any negative word that you’ve ever told yourself). It means simply you are not right in that situation. Yet, we will work to blame someone, or point to some inadequacies in the other person, or do something that makes someone else or ourselves feel awful. This is human nature. When someone is particularly attuned to other people’s opinion, I call it “emotional pinball.” Just bouncing around from bumper to bumper lighting people up. Don’t pinball off others. Everyone’s definition of excellence will be different, and to some, your performance may be amazing, and to others it may fall short. But none of that should matter as long as you do your best, as long as you put in your effort.
How to deal with criticism and praise without the Pinball Effect
There’s a stress management tip I use in my speeches and in therapy that I want to share with you. Close your eyes and picture in your mind sitting in class. Your teacher goes up to the front of the class and announces, “Wow, everyone’s paper was fantastic—oh, except for you (insert your name here). That was the worst paper I’ve ever read.” On a scale of –10 to +10, with “0” being neutral, how did your opinion of yourself change after hearing your teacher say that about you? Or after hearing your boss say your work was the worst he’s seen. Now, how about a different scenario: “These papers were the worst I’ve ever seen—except for (insert your name again—wow, I should have told you to bring a pen). That was the best paper I’ve ever read.” On that same scale, rate your change in opinion of yourself after this statement. What about walking down the street and hearing people catcall at you? (That often gets an age and gender dependent reaction). Or, having a stranger call you a jerk? (New Yorkers need not answer this) The point is your answer should be “0” for all of these. Your opinion of yourself should not change, positively or negatively, just because someone else has judged you or your work. You need to make an evaluation of your own effort, instead of “pinballing” off the evaluations of others. Feel good about your effort, or set yourself to work harder next time. Don’t pinball!
Self esteem was a construct created in the 1890’s which started as a simple evaluation of the goals and achievement. If you achieved goals you had a good self-esteem, if you didn’t you would have a negative self-esteem. William James gave it a name and others kept it alive. It is rotten meat. It is a dated computer. It is an old dusty moth-eaten hat in the attic. Time to throw it away. Escape the dungeon of self-esteem.
Social Media: The problem and the solution
This is especially significant with the advent of the internet and media. So often do we see people post pictures, videos, or statuses on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and they get so many negative comments. Don’t get bummed out by them; don’t let your opinion of yourself change just because someone else judged you and found you wanting. Don’t tear down the picture or the video, or cry in your room, or blame the world for being against you. Ignore the gossip and harsh criticisms of other people. Sometimes you can be the best one out there, but if you’re not right for the part, you won’t be the right person. Accept that you can’t be everyone’s hero. And that can’t change how you feel about yourself, can’t change the voices in your head to negativistic, because as long as you know you’ve given it your all, that is all the judgment you need.
So let’s vanquish the concept of self-esteem and say simply, I did the best I can or I have to work harder next time or focus more next time. Let’s not worry about ourselves all the time. And mostly, let’s stop pinballing off of others’ opinions, and see our efforts as the most important goal of all.
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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