Sivan 8
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Sivan 8

See, I ... [in see me] Moses alerted them to see him and emulate him (Or HaChayim, Deuteronomy 11:26).

In yesterday's message, we distinguished between a healthy and a pathological drive for approval, in that the latter is when one is totally dependent on constant affirmation of others in order to have a sense of self-esteem. The essential difference as described there may be misunderstood to be quantitative rather than qualitative; i.e. that the psychologically healthy person needs external affirmation once or twice a day, whereas the psychologically unhealthy person requires it fifty times a day. This view is not correct and requires further clarification.

A psychologically healthy person desires the approval of others because he wishes them to perceive his value. The psychologically unhealthy person expects others to create his value. It is not that he has a sense of self-worth and because of his insecurity needs to be reminded more often, but rather that he does not have a sense of self-worth until someone gives it to him. He is much like a light bulb which lights up only if the electric current flows. As soon as the current ceases, the room is in darkness again. Likewise, individuals who lack self-esteem may have a momentary feeling of self-worth, but it lasts only as long as the approval continues.

A man whom I saw on psychiatric consultation had been active in a leadership role in many community projects. "I have a wall full of plaques given to me as tributes," he said. "They don't mean a thing to me." The feeling of self-worth that he enjoyed when he was publicly recognized for his leadership lasted only for the few moments of the ceremony.

It is healthy to enjoy approval from others, but they should not be expected to create our identity.

Today I shall...

try to see if I have a sense of self-worth in the absence of other people's complimentary remarks.

With stories and insights, Rabbi Twerski's new book Twerski on Machzor makes Rosh Hashanah prayers more meaningful. Click here to order...

Published: May 21, 2009

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