On the Meaning of Self-Appreciation

I don’t think I imme­di­ate­ly real­ized the can of worms I was open­ing for myself in my last post, On Appre­ci­a­tion, includ­ing the con­ver­sa­tion with Joe McCarthy in the com­ments. I love Joe’s per­spec­tives and chal­lenges. In this case, how­ev­er, the real trou­ble began as ques­tion after ques­tion came for­ward for me inter­nal­ly. How is self-appre­ci­a­tion dif­fer­ent from self-esteem? Does the con­cept of self-appre­ci­a­tion help us over­come the age-old debate over whether some­one can have too much of a good thing, float­ing away as a result into mere ego­tism? How is self-appre­ci­a­tion dif­fer­ent from reflec­tive think­ing? Or self-appraisal? As I reviewed what’s avail­able on the net, it was clear that these fields all relat­ing to the self-esteem lit­er­a­ture have been well tilled — yet it also seemed like noth­ing much was actu­al­ly grow­ing there. On one hand, self-esteem is thought to bridge into some form of New Age mys­ti­cism, appar­ent­ly attrac­tive to peo­ple who lack con­fi­dence, and on anoth­er hand is also about sociopaths whose prob­lem is that they have too much self-regard. I also learned that the idea of over­ween­ing pride as a com­pen­sa­tion for lack of self-esteem does­n’t explain ego­tism (because there are too many cas­es where, as with the sociopaths, that just isn’t so). All these ques­tions were rat­tling around in me, even before get­ting to the larg­er cul­tur­al issues, such as the top­ic of self-pro­mo­tion and gen­der that Joe and I found our­selves dis­cussing. Per­haps writ­ing out some ideas here will help my own process of clarification.

First, going back to a point I made the last post’s com­ment thread, self-appre­ci­a­tion is a process, not a quan­ti­ty. Self-esteem is often expressed as a quan­ti­ty, and this by itself cre­ates a prob­lem because then feel­ings of self-worth are addressed glob­al­ly as a com­mod­i­ty, a thing that can be bought, sold, and accu­mu­lat­ed, most often in the form of books and sem­i­nars that pur­port to teach us how to get it. 

I could say that self-appre­ci­a­tion is a method for gain­ing self-esteem, but giv­en the ques­tions about self-esteem as a con­struct, what I’d real­ly like to do is throw the con­struct out alto­geth­er, and go back to ground zero, also known as Begin­ner’s Mind.

Then, here is where I want to go. Appre­ci­a­tion is the key word. Appre­ci­a­tion refers to a sen­si­tive under­stand­ing of the val­ue of some­thing. If the term is self-appre­ci­a­tion, that means that I sen­si­tive­ly under­stand the val­ue of who and what I am and what I do. This is so dif­fer­ent from the notion of what fills a buck­et. If I am search­ing only for good feel­ings or feel­ings of wor­thi­ness in order to hold onto them, as if they were things, essen­tial­ly pos­ses­sions or a form of psy­cho­log­i­cal mon­ey, my process is flawed for sure. 

Bird and Crumbs

By con­trast, self-appre­ci­a­tion leads me to rec­og­nize and val­ue self from a broad­er stand­point, spir­i­tu­al, social, and per­haps even aes­thet­ic in nature. Self-appre­ci­a­tion is about sen­si­tiv­i­ty to what is. To what is real, good or bad. It may be that self-appre­ci­a­tion reflects an aware­ness that I have nev­er giv­en some parts of who I am enough cred­it, but it just as cer­tain­ly will reflect the parts I have giv­en too much cred­it. I may see the val­ue of the hard chal­lenges I’ve faced, and also the self­ish­ness of some of my choic­es. And yet, for all that, it is not sim­ply reflec­tive think­ing, which may be abstract­ed from the true grit of who I am nor is it only self-appraisal, which too often has a moral tone to it and leads to fixed views of one­self. I believe we get clos­er by includ­ing terms like “meet­ing one­self” and even “con­fronting one­self.” Self-appre­ci­a­tion — in line with the whole pur­pose of this weblog — is about self-knowl­edge, appre­ci­at­ing that knowl­edge and under­stand­ing, and ulti­mate­ly act­ing upon it. If I were to con­trast self-appre­ci­a­tion with any­thing, it would be con­trast­ed to igno­rance or empti­ness. A high­ly ego­cen­tric per­son may have lit­tle self-appre­ci­a­tion because he or she does not yet rec­og­nize or val­ue the neg­a­tive real­i­ties of his or her impact on oth­ers. An over­ly sub­mis­sive per­son may also have lit­tle self-appre­ci­a­tion because he or she does not yet see the pos­i­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties for per­son­al influ­ence. Each of these sit­u­a­tions is about under­stand­ing the val­ue, the impor­tance or pre­cious­ness, of self-knowledge. 

Self-Appreciation and Defensiveness

In my work as a coach, I often find, for exam­ple, that a per­son may actu­al­ly have some self-knowl­edge of a per­son­al strength or weak­ness but have no idea how to gauge the val­ue of that self-knowl­edge. He/She may see the trait, but not under­stand what it is doing or what it’s impact is. That comes through a process of atten­tion and obser­va­tion. A per­fect exam­ple of this is around defen­sive behav­ior. Sup­pose, for exam­ple, I see myself as some­one who is not espe­cial­ly good at writ­ing (or “strate­gic plan­ning” or “being in touch with oth­ers’ poten­tials”) or some oth­er area that I judge to be a weak­ness. If some­one gives me neg­a­tive feed­back about this area, it may be momen­tar­i­ly painful, but if I judge the com­ments to be accu­rate, I am prob­a­bly able to hear them fair­ly well. I may even ask for advice on how to improve. But sup­pose the oppo­site is true — I believe I’m espe­cial­ly good at these areas. Then, if I receive feed­back, I am much more like­ly to become defen­sive and to exhib­it neg­a­tive, maybe even retal­ia­to­ry behaviors. 

How dare you crit­i­cize my writ­ing! How dare you! After all, with­out my strengths, what am I?

A fraud.

The role of self-appre­ci­a­tion is to attend to this dynam­ic and to offer a com­pas­sion­ate under­stand­ing of self and how vul­ner­a­ble I am around that strength that expe­ri­enced the crit­i­cism. Per­haps, indeed my writ­ing is an impor­tant gift and I can appre­ci­ate why the crit­i­cism hurt, but maybe there is some­thing to learn. So, self-appre­ci­a­tion sup­ports me, soothes me, and I can slow down, lis­ten, per­haps even be bemused for a moment but also con­nect and self-cor­rect. With­out self-appre­ci­a­tion, I may try to rebuild myself around my writ­ing too quick­ly, and in the very effort to do so, attempt­ing (unsuc­cess­ful­ly) to tell myself and oth­ers why in fact I’m good at this, I act defen­sive­ly. Have you seen any of the episodes of Amer­i­can Idol? Some­times the con­tes­tants receive feed­back about their singing quite gra­cious­ly, but some­times, espe­cial­ly in the ear­ly try-out phase, peo­ple become enraged. And that’s because when our strengths are under attack we have an espe­cial­ly long way to fall, but such events have noth­ing to do with our capac­i­ty for self-appre­ci­a­tion. Those who only attend to good stuff about them­selves or only attend to bad stuff are lim­it­ing the span of their atten­tion, the result of which is arro­gant or com­pul­sive­ly crit­i­cal self-absorption. 

What I like about the notion of self-appre­ci­a­tion is real release from this absorp­tion and all the con­fu­sion and com­plex­i­ty and dra­ma around the notion of self-esteem, the focus on its def­i­n­i­tions, rules and excep­tions. I like the idea of throw­ing open all the win­dows and doors to see the whole messy real­i­ty of the self, and appre­ci­at­ing that, along with the abil­i­ty to explore with­out fear the ter­ri­to­ry of what it means to be in this world. We are giv­en sig­nals every­day, from out­side and from inside, and it is our job to notice them and see what they mean, as if we are in fact lis­ten­ing to the pas­sages of a pow­er­ful piece of music, full of pat­terns, emo­tions, mys­ter­ies, dark moments, and light-filled dis­cov­er­ies. That sense of won­der is so much clos­er to the notion of self-appreciation. 

One day I may be a fierce pas­sage from Stravin­sky’s The Rite of Spring:

Play Rite of Spring Passage

And the next day I may be the theme from Peter and the Wolf:

Play Peter and the Wolf Passage

Technorati Tags: and Reflective Leadership. Link to blog posting. Link to Oestreich Associates website.

12 Comments

  • Oh my oh my, what a fun romp this can be as we say Alo­ha to Feb­ru­ary, the month of love gone wild… ask for­give­ness not per­mis­sion of the love affair (we smile…)

    Your explo­rations are such gems Dan; they are wise. You ask fer­tile ques­tions, and as seri­ous as this dis­cus­sion can be (and needs to be, in a time where the “disposable work­er” we’ve been speak­ing of must rec­og­nize self-worth to per­se­vere) as I think on this more, and I will, I’ve got to sim­ply say for now, how much I thor­ough­ly enjoy ‘watching’ your men­tal gymnastics.

    Self-appre­ci­a­tion is a process, not a quan­ti­ty — yes! whole­heart­ed­ly agree.

    Beginner’s Mind + bread crumbs — intriguing.

    I stopped by to vis­it you as I fin­ished up a very late lunch, and you nour­ished me bet­ter than my meal. Mahalo.

  • I’m glad to serve you some­thing good for lunch, Rosa! Yes, this top­ic is worth some care­ful con­sid­er­a­tion. There are plen­ty of places to get side­tracked. At one lev­el I sim­ply hope that we don’t lose sight of how impor­tant it is to appre­ci­ate our bal­ance of strengths and flaws; the moments of real wake­ful­ness and the moments of uncon­scious­ness. The bal­ance makes us who we are, and what­ev­er aware­ness of them we gain is also a gift and a sub­tle transformation.…

    The bird by the way, and some friends, came by our bal­cony every morn­ing for a hand-out last time we were on the Big Island.

  • Always a plea­sure to read your notes, Dan!

  • Dan: I’m try­ing to find a bal­ance in grap­pling with issues of appre­ci­a­tion and atten­tion here and on my own blog. At the risk of going off the deep end [again(!)], your post brought up a num­ber of issues for me … but I’ll try to keep my com­ments some­what brief.

    First and fore­most, I kept think­ing about a deep truth I first encoun­tered years ago: when you are what you do, when you don’t you’re not. I strug­gle with dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing who I am (a noun, or a quan­ti­ty) from what I do (a verb, or a process). If I am [more of] a process rather than a quan­ti­ty — and I’m not sure if this is your view (but I detect a bias of self-appre­ci­a­tion over self-esteem) — than I real­ly am [more] what I do than who I am (or who I think/thought I am/was).

    But I’ll leave aside my ongo­ing per­son­al dilem­ma about [valu­ing] being vs. doing, and instead offer a few oth­er items I’ve encoun­tered recent­ly that I believe are relat­ed to issues you are rais­ing here.

    One was a ref­er­ence to John Hagel’s post on “Defin­ing the The Big Shift” in Venes­sa Miemis’ post on The Impor­tance of Man­ag­ing Your Online Rep­u­ta­tion, in which she notes three of John’s ideas relat­ing to process:

    We’re nodes in a net­work. We all have strengths and skills, but they go to waste if we don’t know how to con­nect them with and through the right peo­ple. There’s a move­ment tak­ing place that’s push­ing us towards a mod­el that’s more rela­tion­al and con­tex­tu­al, or as John Hagel puts it – the Big Shift – “from knowl­edge stocks to knowl­edge flows” (break down silos divid­ing tal­ent and infor­ma­tion), “from trans­ac­tions to rela­tion­ship­s” (build trust to encour­age val­ue exchange), and “from insti­tu­tions dri­ven by scal­able effi­cien­cy to insti­tu­tions dri­ven by scal­able peer learn­ing” (increased com­pe­ti­tion and eco­nom­ic pres­sures will demand a col­lab­o­ra­tive work­force for success).

    Anoth­er is an arti­cle in PetHack­er about Meet the Help­sters, in which the author invokes some rel­e­vant wis­dom from Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great Amer­i­can Cities, which, trans­lat­ed into the cur­rent con­text, speaks to a bal­ance between self-appre­ci­a­tion and self-esteem (which I have not yet found … or embraced … but maybe that’s all part of the [life-long] process):

    In her book, Jacobs makes the anal­o­gy of bio­log­i­cal feed­back. A healthy cell will cease to cre­ate a sub­stance when it detects enough of that prod­uct out­side of its mem­brane. A faulty cell will go on mak­ing, clog­ging its envi­ron­ment with mono­cul­tur­al goo.

    Final­ly, in an attempt to [en]lighten up a bit, I want­ed to men­tion a light­heart­ed infor­ma­tion­al graph­ic I encoun­tered on the Infor­ma­tion is Beau­ti­ful blog on The Hier­ar­chy of Dig­i­tal Dis­trac­tions, as it dif­fer­en­ti­ates between a high­er lev­el of

    Deep Contact.
    Deep Appreciation.
    Mystery. 

    and a low­er [shal­low­er?] lev­el of

    Appreciation.
    Being Wanted. 

    I’ll have more to say on this hier­ar­chy soon … but will take it back home to my own blog.

  • hel­lo dan,

    very late to the conversation…and i have some thoughts.…one is the place of nar­cis­sim and self-appre­ci­a­tion, a soft­enened fla­vor of grandiosity…but nar­cis­sism nevertheless…a place where con­fu­sion lies

    anoth­er is self-appre­ci­a­tion is also about about appre­ci­at­ing our dark side, our flaws, our weak­ness­es for what they teach us…if we listen…

    final­ly, who is it who is doing the appreciating?…in east­ern tra­di­tions the one ques­tion that is impor­tant to ask ear­ly and often is “who am I?”…continually ask­ing and explor­ing the ques­tion will lead to not only an appre­ci­a­tion of the often-con­fus­ing and frus­trat­ing prac­tice but of one’s self, and the dis­cern­ment of the “self” and the “Self”…that’s a biggie

  • Hi Peter
    You high­light some key points all lead­ing to the “dis­cern­ment of the ‘self’ and of the ‘Self.’ ” Indeed, that is the big­gie. I do sense that the lis­ten­ing to the dark side flaws does not real­ly hap­pen until there is appre­ci­a­tion. That is, appre­ci­a­tion comes first, then the lis­ten­ing. Before that, we may be too busy resist­ing the pres­ence of the gold.

  • Dan — it helps, as you say, to define self-appre­ci­a­tion as a process, rather than as a quan­ti­ty. As a process, self-appre­ci­a­tion calls for me to be in the present. It is only in the here and now that I can appre­ci­ate who I am in the moment, warts and all. And frankly we are not taught to appre­ci­ate our warts. So, for me, a lot of resis­tance can get stirred up when I fail to accept what is in the moment. Your post has giv­en me much to reflect on!

  • Thank you, Deb. As I con­tin­ue to reflect, it seems almost core to me to appre­ci­ate not only the warts but the fact that I am always at least part­ly uncon­scious of some of myself, my behav­iors and impacts. It seems to me that it is often the uncon­scious­ness that throws us. We are not sup­posed to be uncon­scious. Kind of the ulti­mate con­trol issue per­haps. But if I can appre­ci­ate and come to love what I yet do not see or know, a self-invi­ta­tion is sent and a door can open in the wall.

  • Daniel Keeling wrote:

    Wow, Dan. I came across this blog because I was research­ing the mean­ing of appre­ci­ate. I’m a singer and I recent­ly told someone–an agent–that “It is my sin­cere hope that [he] will one day wit­ness and appre­ci­ate the effec­tive­ness of my tal­ent!” I then regret­ted using the word appre­ci­ate, because I did­n’t want to come across as arrogant–give the impres­sion that I want­ed him bow­ing down to me in grate­ful­ness. I used it because I would sin­cere­ly like him to become aware of it. (I digressed a bit but on to my point)

    Late­ly, I’m becom­ing ful­ly aware of the impor­tance of self-appre­ci­a­tion! It means pay­ing atten­tion to the process of life, see­ing it as it is, and being aware of it as it’s hap­pen­ing. As an striv­ing artist, it seems to be the key that unlocks the dead­bolt-lock on that door to hav­ing a viable career.

    Sin­cere­ly,

    Daniel

  • Daniel

    Like you, I was sur­prised at the pow­er of the word, “appre­ci­ate.” But as you saw, ask­ing anoth­er per­son to appre­ci­ate you is not the same as engag­ing in a prac­tice of self-appre­ci­a­tion. I would say that as you deeply explore this prac­tice, your pres­ence more than your words will do the talk­ing in a way that oth­ers will be invit­ed to lis­ten and won­der what you’ve got! Would­n’t that be a fan­tas­tic dis­cov­ery. Best of luck to you in your life and career.

  • This is a valu­able post and I agree with Daniel that self-appre­ci­a­tion is so impor­tant. When you work on your self-esteem and car­ry it with you, peo­ple see and feel it.

  • I real­ly like what this pas­sage means and i real­ly felt the same in me. thanks for help­ing me out for my assem­bly per­for­mance at school who­ev­er the writer is.

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