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The Book

The Undervalued Self--A Radically New Approach to Moments or Years of Low Self-Esteem

The Undervalued Self book coverThis book assumes that unrealistically low self-esteem is so common that it must be an innate response. Thinking about my psychotherapy clients, I saw something true of all of us: When we feel worst about ourselves and most need love, we are least able to believe that anyone actually does love us. Why? We are stuck in what I call "ranking mode." We think, "He's only nice to me because he wants to use me to get ahead." "I don't care what you say--I know I was the least intelligent person there." Love and ranking are different mental worlds.

Comparisons are natural. Like all social animals, we live in hierarchies and need to know how we rank and whether we are ready to challenge or compete, or to handle another's challenge. However, in a challenge there is always the risk of defeat. After a defeat, research finds that all social animals become depressed, showing the same physiology and behavior as depressed humans have. If we could ask them, I'm sure their self-esteem would be low. Unrealistically low. "I'm no good at all." This innate "involuntary defeat response" serves to keep a defeated animal from continuing to fight and probably being injured.

These instincts work the same for us. Following a defeat, we tend to undervalue ourselves, leading to endless lost opportunities. After a divorce or breakup, you would naturally be a little afraid to meet new people, even though some would surely like you. After a questionable performance review, you might hesitate to offer a dramatically fresh idea in a meeting, only to hear someone else praised for the same suggestion.

Of course, life is not all about ranking. We spend as much time liking and loving each other. Mostly, however, when we are focused on rank, we are not feeling loving, and vice versa. So the easiest solution to undervaluing yourself is to get out of ranking mode altogether for a while: Focus on the people you like and whom you know like you. Switch instincts.

The switch can be easier said than done, however, and harder still after a major defeat, or numerous ones, or constant defeat in childhood. For a child, long separations, neglect, or harsh criticism, for example, are defeats. Those with all the power, the adults, do not seem to use it with love, and any power used without caring for those affected is abusive power.

After defeats, your instinctive undervaluing of yourself is usually unconscious, making it difficult to change. This book helps readers focus on "ranking and linking" so they can see it in themselves and others, and it provides tips for switching between them. Above all, it offers activities to reduce the effects of past defeats, using the methods of the best psychotherapists when working with the unconscious, something rarely found in self-help books. It took years to write this book - to make a complex subject simple and useful - and I'm proud of the results.