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SEA's Model of Self-Esteem

The SEA's Model of Self-Esteem
Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous -

The SEA's Program of Recovery
By James J. Messina, Ph.D.

Impact of low self-esteem

Low self–esteem is at the root of behaviors which make your life feel unproductive or unmanageable. The purpose of the twelve–step recovery program of Self–Esteem Seekers Anonymous (the SEA's program) is to assist you to get life under self–control so as to feel more productive and successful.


Developing chronic low self–esteem takes time. It takes a series of events and a chain of habitual behaviors to dampen the sense of personal worth. For this reason the first step of SEA's requires that you accept a slow, steady program of recovery to overcome the low self–esteem which has resulted from your home, school, work, and social life. The SEA's program does not dwell on the sources of low self–esteem except to identify the irrational beliefs, repressed or denied feelings, and unhealthy relationships which contributed to it. What is more important in the SEA's program of recovery is for you to identify the negative impact of low self–esteem which has resulted in your feelings of being out of control, unproductive, and a loser in life. What follows is the description of the negative impact of low self–esteem. To assist your understanding, use the flow chart in Figure 1 as you read this description.

Low self–esteem has its roots in a number of life circumstances. If you come from a family of origin where your mom and/or dad had problems with: alcohol; drugs; mental illness; inability to show warmth and affection; being overly critical; rigidity of religious belief; workaholism, then in all likelihood your self–esteem suffered. If you were physically, emotionally, verbally, or sexually abused or neglected by: a parent; a brother or sister; an adult caregiver; your spouse or lover, or friend, your self–esteem was lowered. If, in a relationship with a parent, a family member or spouse, you worked hard to overcome the other person's irresponsibility and yet no matter what you did it was "never good enough'' to fix the other person's problems, this `"codependent'' relationship negatively affected your self–esteem. If, on the other hand, you were dependent on another person to make things right for you, your self–esteem was also hurt. If you were ever in a relationship at home, school, work or in the community which was disastrous and marked by ill feelings and bad will, your self–esteem was impacted negatively. If you or a close family member have a developmental disability or chronic illness, your self–esteem was lowered. If you have ever experienced a personal failure such as failing a grade; dropping out of school; losing a job; bankruptcy, or divorce, your self–esteem suffered and was lowered. The origin of low self–esteem is more fully explored in Laying the Foundation.


These sources helped to distort your thinking, emotions and actions, resulting in lowered self–esteem. Your thinking was affected by irrational beliefs not founded in reality but motivated by the need to induce guilt, fear, mistrust, insecurity, and manipulation. This thinking led you to believe that no matter what you did in life it would "never be good enough.'' This thinking led you to believe that you were nothing unless you "did something.'' This thinking did not allow you to love yourself unconditionally for just being the person that you are. The concept of irrational thinking is covered in Tools for Personal Growth, Handling Irrational Beliefs, and Self–Affirmations. Irrational thinking led you to develop negative self–scripts which keep your self–esteem lowered and make you feel bad about yourself.


Your emotions and feelings were distorted by the sources of low self–esteem because you were not allowed to express feelings in a "normal'' healthy way. You were expected to always "look good'' in the public eye and not express anything negative. You were not encouraged to be overly expressive if you had happy or positive feelings. If you spoke up and conflict followed, you soon learned to keep the peace and avoid conflict by keeping your feelings to yourself. The repression and denial of feelings have made it difficult for you to identify your true feelings today. Another problem could be that your feelings are only expressed in exaggerated or explosive ways. Distorted feelings, be they repressed, denied, exaggerated or explosive, result in depression, a common feeling experienced by people with low self–esteem. The issue of distorted feelings is covered in the: Tools for Personal Growth, Tools for Communications, and Tools for Anger Work–Out.


Distorted actions and behaviors resulted from the distortion of thinking and emotions derived from low self–esteem. These behaviors resulted in unhealthy and unproductive home, school, work, or social relationships. These behaviors taxed you so much that many of your relationships were void of health, stagnated, or dissolved. Examples of these behaviors are need for approval, fear of rejection, avoidance of conflict, lack of assertiveness, poor problem solving, inability to develop intimacy, and overuse of power and control. The distortion of behaviors is covered in these books: Tools for Relationships and Tools for Handling Control Issues.


The end result of distorted thinking, feelings, and behaviors was low self–esteem which resulted in the development of a personal behavioral pattern or role, we call old unhealthy personality traits. These old unhealthy personality traits are compulsively driven ways of acting learned in family of origin, school, work, socially, or in the community. You can have just one of these nine patterns or a blend of them. You could have one pattern as a child, another one as an adolescent, and one or more different patterns as an adult. The nine behavioral patterns are: looking good; acting out; pulling in; entertaining; enabling; troubled person; people pleasing; rescuing; and nonfeeling. These personality traits are explained in greater depth in Laying the Foundation. These unhealthy personality traits are the basis for your personality make–up. They unfortunately contribute to your lowered self–esteem. In recovery the goal is to retain the positive and healthy aspects of the behavioral pattern and convert or eliminate the negative and unhealthy ones.


Directly related to these nine personality traits emanating from low self–esteem are seven negative behavioral consequences: unresolved loss and grief issues; self–destructive behaviors; problems with control; unresolved anger; faulty communications; personal adjustment problems, and interpersonal relationship problems. Each of these seven problem areas not only results from low self–esteem but contributes to low self–esteem in its own way and to your compulsively driven, unhealthy personality traits.


Unresolved loss and grief occurs when you repress or deny feelings. Because of low self–esteem and the need to "look good'' for others, you may have never gone through the wrenching emotional response to: a death of a loved one; a lost relationship; a failure experience; the inappropriate way you were treated by others, or your nagging doubts about the quality and success of your life. The loss and grief response is addressed in Tools for Handling Loss. The void in your life created by the lack of accepting and letting go of the loss may have created emotional barriers which affected your thinking, feelings, and behaviors resulting in lowered self–esteem.


Self–destructive behaviors both contribute to and are the result of low self–esteem. A complete list of self–destructive behaviors is contained in Tools for Anger Work–Out, "Self–Destructive Behaviors.'' A complete review of the self–destructive pattern and ways to remediate it are contained in the SEA's Tools for a Recovery Lifestyle,  Many self–destructive behaviors such as overuse of: alcohol; drugs; food; gambling, or sex need specific and direct help to overcome the addiction. These behaviors can leave a devastating impact on your home, work, and social life. They are often only the visible symptom of the bigger problems emanating from your low self–esteem. These behaviors require a lot of energy, persistence, and self–love to overcome. It is almost impossible to eliminate these behaviors unless you fall in love with yourself, forgive yourself for your past self–negating behaviors, and enhance your self–esteem.


Problems in handling control is a direct result of low self–esteem. In order to keep your sanity, you may have tried to over–control people, events, and circumstances. On the other hand, you may have found greater acceptance for yourself by being helpless and dependent on others. In either case, these control behaviors were unhealthy and negatively affected your self–esteem. The road to recovery emphasizes letting go of the uncontrollables and unchangeables. It also emphasizes taking self–control over your thinking, feelings, and behaviors so that you assume personal responsibility for yourself and enhance your self–esteem. The control issues are explored in Tools for Handling Control Issues.


Anger is a healthy emotion which gets distorted as a result of low self–esteem. You may have beliefs which block your expression of anger leading you to be depressed. Or your anger is so hostile and explosive that it hurts others. You may have denied anger so much that just the thought of getting angry scares you. Because unresolved anger contributes to a faulty belief system, inadequate emotional life and unhealthy behaviors, it contributes to the lowering of your self–esteem. Anger work–out, which is vented on inanimate objects, doing no harm to any person or thing, is a way to regain an emotional balance, gain emotional energy, and free yourself up to love and enjoy yourself. Coverage of anger issues is contained in Tools for Anger Work–Out.


Faulty communications arise as a result of having received faulty communications role modeling in the past. Your inability to express feelings openly was due to low self–esteem. The ability to listen to others and reflect back their feelings was also a missing skill. These faulty communications resulted in poor problem solving with a sense of failure and lowered self–esteem. In order to gain new skills at communication, you need new role models of healthy interaction. You will need to learn to focus on feelings rather than the content of what is being said by another person. An overview of a model for healthy communication is presented in Tools for Communications.


Your personal adjustment is affected by low self–esteem because you lack the self–confidence to believe in your own abilities and worth. As a result you have either worked harder to prove yourself or you have given up to a sense of failure. Because of your low self–esteem, you have sabotaged your own efforts to be successful in life. You may have problems dealing with stress and burnout and don't know how to relax and have fun. You may have severe insecurity and lack of trust in self which inhibit your ability to take a risk. You may find yourself going in circles with no way out of lowered self–esteem. Negative self–scripts may have you captive in a lack of belief in and hatred of self. Self–affirmation and changing old behavioral scripts not only leads to enhanced self–esteem but also to the ability to accept personal responsibility for a healthy self. Personal adjustment issues are discussed in Tools for Personal Growth.


Relationship problems at home, school, work, socially, and in the community result from low self–esteem. These unproductive and unhealthy relationships contribute to the lowering of self–esteem. Low self–esteem is often the root cause of failure of most relationships. It takes two people to make a relationship work and it takes two people to ruin it. Both parties in a relationship need to have healthy self–esteem in order for the relationship to be healthy. If they do not, then the relationship has barriers to its growth and productivity. People with low self–esteem seem to seek out others with low self–esteem to establish personal, work, or social relationships. These relationships start out on a fragile foundation which often results in disastrous consequences. As you work at loving yourself unconditionally and building confidence in your ability to sustain healthy relationships, then you will attract healthy parties in your personal, work, and social life. Interpersonal relationship issues are addressed in: Tools for Relationships and Tools for Handling Control Issues.


Low self–esteem has its origin in dysfunctional environments and other disastrous relationships. These negative situations distorted your thinking, feeling, and behaviors which resulted in low self–esteem. As a result you develop an unhealthy personality traits which exacerbated your low self–esteem. You then experienced unresolved loss, grief, self–destructive behaviors, control issues, unresolved anger, faulty communications, personal adjustment problems, and interpersonal relationship problems. These problems not only resulted from low self–esteem but also contributed to it. Low self–esteem has had a major impact on your life and stands as a barrier to your current personal health, serenity, and happiness.

Recovery from low self–esteem

It has taken many years for your self–esteem to be brought to its present low level. The recovery process to enhance self–esteem is long and slow. You have developed old habits which are hard to break. You have fantasy dreams of the way things are supposed to be and these dreams die hard. The path of recovery, as outlined in Figure 2, involves a lot of work and effort on your part. There are a lot of issues needing to be addressed and a commitment to personal recovery is needed in order to keep the focus clear and direct. As you read about the recovery process, review this flow chart to assist your understanding.

There are a number of sources of intervention to begin your process of recovery from low self–esteem. The first is individual psychotherapy in which you, with your counselor, explore ways of correcting your irrational thinking, distorted feelings, and aberrant behaviors to help you grow in self–esteem. Because of the nature of your specific problems, you may need marriage counseling to create a healing environment with your spouse or lover. Your family might need counseling to accept the changes in you and to rewrite the rules, roles, and behavioral scripts in the family which contribute to the lowered self–esteem of each family member. You may need group psychotherapy to work on self–confidence, anger or control issues in an environment where confrontation and honest feedback are used as tools to help you grow in self–love and self–caring.


The next source of recovery is to get into a peer support group which advocates the twelve steps of Self–Esteem Seeker's Anonymous (the SEA's Program) and the and Buddies at SEA support process. These peer support group provide you a laboratory to learn what "normal'' is, to learn to really feel and express your emotions, and to eliminate self–defeating behaviors.


You may need a short term stay in a residential or inpatient setting to get you started in getting in touch with your feelings and expressing them in healthy ways. If you are not recovered from the self–destructive acts of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, overeating, or gambling, you may need specific treatment programs to help you abstain from these habits. If you are locked into a codependent mindset, you may need a seven–to–ten day program geared to you. Once you leave these treatment programs, then you need ongoing support for these specific problems in other twelve–step programs like AA, NA, GA, OA, Alanon, ACOA, and CoDA.


The professional and self–help sources of recovery are essential if you are to recover fully from low self–esteem. Individual counseling plus the SEA's program peer support model is a typical combination. The combination of professional therapy modalities and twelve–step groups depends on the unique problems arising from your low self–esteem.


The first goal in the recovery process is to address the distorted thinking, feelings, and behaviors which resulted from the sources of your low self–esteem. To accomplish this goal you and your counselor need to establish a trusting relationship in which these three issues can be addressed.


To correct your thinking, you will need to learn what "normal'' is and to get in touch with what is reality in your life. You will need to dispel your irrational beliefs. You will need to identify, discard, and replace negative self–scripts with daily self–affirmations. You will need to let go of your intellectual opposition to the notion of a Higher Power in your life. You will need to define a relationship between you and your Higher Power that is healthy and works for you.


To heal your feelings you will need to be taught how to identify and label your feelings. You will need to give yourself permission to have both negative and positive feelings. You will need to be encouraged to get in touch with how you are feeling about the reality in your life. You will need to feel the power of self–affirmation which results in your growing in self–love and self–caring. You will need to open your feelings up to the healing of your Higher Power's will. You will need practice in expressing feelings and listening to others express their feelings.


To change your unhealthy behaviors you will need to begin to act only on rational thinking and true self–felt feelings. You will need to accept personal responsibility for your own actions and no longer  blame others. You will need to identify your self–defeating behaviors and change them. You will need to hand over to your Higher Power the uncontrollables and unchangeable problems in your life.


As a result of corrected thinking, healed feelings, and healthy behaviors, your compulsively driven behavioral pattern can change. This will occur by rewriting the old behavioral scripts. In your new script you need to keep the positive elements of your personality and replace the unhealthy aspects. You can change your old pattern by getting in touch with the feelings you have for too long ignored. You can "let go'' of the compulsive nature of your old unhealthy personality traits and work at thinking before you act. You can redefine yourself by letting go of self–defeating behaviors with their negative consequences.


As you work at rewriting and changing your old personality trait's self-scripts, you also need to work at addressing seven problem areas. This will be done in your counseling sessions, in the peer support and SEA's program Buddy support, by writing in your daily recovery journal, working through the Tools for Coping Series books, using  and doing aggressive anger work–outs. The goal of recovery for each problem area is as follows:


Loss issues — to let go of the unresolved grief over losses you have experienced in your life.

Self–destructive behaviors — to eliminate these behaviors and gain outside support to ensure your continued abstinence.

Control issues — to let go of the uncontrollables and unchangeables in life and to accept self–control over your behaviors and feelings.

Anger issues — to let go of unresolved anger through systematic anger work–out efforts and to recognize that anger is a healthy feeling with an appropriate place in your life.

Faulty communications — to learn how to focus more on feelings than on content by active listening, reflecting of feelings and problem solving based on the expression of honest feelings.

Personal adjustment — to let go of self–defeating behaviors and to adopt new, healthy behaviors by accepting personal responsibility for self.

Interpersonal relationships — to work on improving personal behaviors so as to improve personal, work, and social relationships.


The road to recovery is a slow and tedious one. It requires a great deal of effort and energy. Your collaboration with your therapist and SEA's buddies will be of invaluable support on this journey of recovery. The twelve steps of the SEA's program provide you additional assistance in your goal of recovery. Hard work, persistence, patience, and a sense of faith and hope will pay off in the end as you begin to feel the glow of healing self–esteem. This process is filled with setbacks and relapses and you must accept this as part of the human condition. If you fall off the wagon of recovery, get right back up and keep on going. No one but you can keep you from your goal of increased self–esteem.

Healthy adult self–esteem

The goal of the SEA's program is to assist you to increase in healthy self–esteem. Healthy self–esteem results from your accepting yourself for who you are. Self–esteem is a consequence of your recognition of your self–worth by the self–affirmation of your competency, intellect, talent, skills, and abilities. Refer to Figure 3 as you proceed with the description of healthy adult self–esteem.

Adults with healthy self–esteem hold themselves as: worthy to be loved and to love others; worthy to be cared for and to care for others; worthy to be nurtured and to nurture others; worthy to be touched and supported and to touch and support others; worthy to be listened to and to listen to others; worthy to be recognized and to recognize others; worthy to be encouraged and to encourage others; worthy to be reinforced as "good'' people and to recognize others as "good'' people.

People with healthy self–esteem have a productive personality; they have achieved success to the best of their ability in school, work, and society. They are capable of being creative, imaginative problem solvers and risk takers. They are optimistic in their approach to life and the attainment of their personal goals.


People with healthy self–esteem are leaders and skillful in dealing with people. They are neither too independent nor too dependent on others. They have the ability to size up a relationship and adjust to the demands of the interaction.


Adults with high self–esteem have healthy self–concepts and self–image. Their perception of themselves is in synchrony with the picture they project to others. They are able to state clearly who they are, what their future potential is, and to what they are committed in life. They are able to declare what they deserve to receive in their lifetime. They have a sense of deservedness which allows them to reap good things in life.


People with high self–esteem are able to accept the responsibility for and consequences of their actions. They do not resort to shifting the blame or using others as scapegoats for actions that have resulted in a negative outcome. They are altruistic. They have a legitimate concern for the welfare of others. They are not self–centered or egotistical in their outlook on life. They do not take on the responsibility for others in an overresponsible way. They help others accept the responsibility for their own actions. They are, however, always ready to help anyone who legitimately needs assistance or guidance.


Adults with high self–esteem have healthy coping skills. They are able to handle the stresses in their lives in a productive way. They are able to put the problems, concerns, issues, and conflicts that come their way into perspective. They are able to keep their lives in perspective without becoming too idealistic or too morose. They have a good sense of humor and are able to keep a balance of work and fun in their lives.


Adults with healthy self–esteem look to the future with excitement, a sense of adventure and optimism. They recognize their potential for success and visualize their success in the future. They have dreams, aspirations, and hopes for the future. They are goal–oriented with a sense of balance in working toward their goals. They know from where they have come, where they are now, and where they are going.

Healthy adult self–esteem is supported in the family, peer group, workplace, and community. To sustain healthy self–esteem adults need to receive nurturing from the people in their environment, including:


Unconditional warmth, love, and caring: to realize that other people recognize them as deserving to be nurtured, reinforced, rewarded, and bonded to. The environment transmits messages of warmth, loving, and caring by physical touch, meeting the survival needs of food, clothing and shelter, and providing a sense of stability and order in life.


Acceptance for who they are: to recognize that other people see them as worthy individuals who have a unique set of personality characteristics, skills, abilities, and competencies making them special. Acceptance helps individuals recognize that differences among and between people are OK. This encourages the development of a sense of personal mastery and autonomy. Acceptance enables people to develop relationships with others, yet maintain healthy boundaries of individuality within themselves.


Good communication: being listened to and responded to in a healthy way so that healthy problem solving is possible. Appropriate giving and receiving of feedback is encouraged and rewarded. Communicating at a "feelings'' level is a mode of operation for these people, allowing them to be in touch with their emotions in a productive manner.


For any environment to support the development of healthy adult self–esteem, it must contain:


Recognition and acceptance of people for who they are. To base such recognition and acceptance on the condition that they must first conform to a prescribed standard of behavior or conduct is unhealthy. Unconditional recognition and acceptance given in the form of support allows individuals to reach their ultimate potential.


Clearly defined and enforced limits known to individuals with no hidden tricks or manipulation. Limits set the structure for the lives of individuals, allowing clear benchmarks of appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Limits enable individuals to recognize their responsibilities and to chart their course of behavior in a rational way.


Respect and latitude for individual action within the defined limits of the environment. This encourages individuals to use their creativity, ingenuity, and imagination to be productive within the established structure. Restrictions that suppress individuality can lead to a narrow focus, with people becoming stunted and handicapped in the use of their personal skills, abilities, and resources.


Established freedom within the structure. This enables individuals to develop a sense of personal autonomy. If they are too tied down and inhibited, they could become resentful and eventually rebellious against the prescribed structures in their environment. Being given the freedom of self–expression within the established rules and norms allows individuals to explore their potential to its fullest; thus there is a greater possibility of becoming successful, healthy achievers.


Healthy adult self–esteem is the goal of the SEA's program. Achieving and sustaining full healthy self–esteem is a lifelong project needing ongoing vigilance, effort and energy.