California Psychologist, September 1992
Developing Healthy Self-Esteem
James O. Henman, Ph.D.

    The California Task Force To Promote Self-esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility (1990) defined self-esteem as "the process of appreciating our own worth and importance, having the character to be accountable for ourselves, and to act responsibly toward others." This characterological view has lead to an integrated model of self-esteem presented in Changing Attitudes In Recovery - A Handbook On Esteem (Henman, 1990). This recovery oriented model incorporates a diversity of psychological and philosophical concepts/theories into an integrated process of change.

    Wounded esteem results from the rejection of parts of self in the process of growing up. How we perpetuate this ongoing self-rejection becomes a central question in the change process. The focus is on the emotional ecology rather than the specific content related to the actual wounding experiences in the person's life. The apparent oxymoron "adult child" reflects this emotional ecology in which parts of the self have been rejected or painful scenes have been blocked in the process of growing up. This dissociation process leaves the rejected parts of self with their original perceptual and cognitive "filters." This adult child character becomes a significant contributor to such psychological problems as depression, panic/anxiety problems, the gamut of addictions and relationship problems. The emotional turmoil and internal stress are associated with physical symptoms such as headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and sleep difficulties.

    The C.A.I.R. model of developing healthy self-esteem has its theoretical roots in Cognitive Behavior Modification, Client-Centered Therapy, Family Systems Theory, Analytic Psychotherapy, the hypnotic patterns of Milton H. Erickson, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, the Twelve Step Anonymous Programs, and the model of change presented in the Christian Gospel. This C.A.I.R. model combines and integrates these varied approaches into a unifying philosophy and style of change.

    The Handbook defines recovery as "the process of building healthy self-esteem, of reclaiming lost ground which allows health. Recovery includes accepting and working with any problems that may have robbed us of quality living, for example: codependency, chemical dependency, eating disorders, other addictions, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, troubled personal relationships, etc. It is an imperfect process. Abbott and Costello expressed it best many years ago: 'I've got it, I've got it, I ain't got it.' What really matters is the commitment to the journey, not how well we are doing at any given moment" (p. 8).

    The Handbook proposes a set of esteeming principles designed to affect the ecology of the adult child character. This New Program includes a growing commitment to the following attitudes:

1. Being non-judgmental, open and accurate;

2. Believing that we are all fallible human beings;

3. Understanding that we react to life through our perceptual filters rather than directly to "reality;"

4. Acknowledging and accepting the reality of the present;

5. Believing in mutual respect and valuing;

6. Nurturing a healthy parenting relationship with the "wounded inner child;"

7. Nurturing a growing relationship with a loving Higher Power; and

8. Maintaining a continuing commitment to recovery, both our own and others.

    This integrated model allows people with a broad range of presenting problems to focus on the shared goal of developing healthy self-esteem rather than getting caught up in the content of their problems. Changing the emotional ecology of the adult child character to reflect the principles of New Program allows recovery to be the path of least resistance.

    Further information about the C.A.I.R. Model of developing healthy self-esteem is available from Psychological Associates Press.