Proud of Yourself?

Hard times can lead to hard feelings. An article on the financial news site says, "A tidal wave of anxiety is washing over America, from Wall Street’s concrete canyons to the lettuce fields of California, propelled by the mortgage industry collapse, costly gasoline, tight credit and rising unemployment."


Authors Rob Waters and David Olmos write that phone calls to mental health lines are way up, as are counseling and therapy appointments. They report on a poll taken for the American Psychological Association in April 2008, which found that three of four Americans are under stress because of money woes, and the majority of them said it was affecting their lives negatively.

A recent article in The New York Times addressed these issues for unemployed people. Called “When All You Have Left is Your Pride,” the article reports on some interesting responses to job loss.

Some people who have lost jobs continue their life patterns as if nothing had happened. They get up and commute every morning, even if it’s to a coffee shop or a bar. While there, they look through want ads, network, and do whatever they can to feel productive or at least hopeful.

The Benefits of Pride
Most of us would probably pity someone who went to such great lengths to keep up appearances. But psychologists are finding that keeping a sense of pride helps people get through tough times.

David DeSteno, PhD, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston, says, “we are finding that pride is centrally important not just for surviving physical danger but for thriving in difficult social circumstances, in ways that are not at all obvious.”

It turns out that a sense of pride draws other people to you. They tend to treat you better. In one interesting study in British Columbia, subjects were shown pictures of various members of a team and asked who ranked highest. Subjects ranked a water boy with a proud expression higher than a team captain who looked ashamed.

Pride helps us function better in other ways. In another study, Dr. DeSteno and a colleague had student subjects try spatial relations puzzles. The trouble was, the puzzles flashed by on the screen too fast for anyone to solve. Then he told some subjects they had done great, the best he’d ever seen, while others got no feedback at all.

Then all subjects worked together to solve similar puzzles. According to Times reporter Benedict Carey, “the students who had been warmly encouraged reported feeling more pride than the others. But they also struck their partners in the group exercise as being both more dominant and more likable than those who did not have the inner glow of self-approval.”

“We wondered at the beginning whether these people were going to come across as arrogant jerks,” Dr. DeSteno said. “Well, no, just the opposite; they were seen as dominant but also likable.” They also were found to try harder at follow-up tasks. The moral: Feeling good about yourself is attractive to others.

Keeping up appearances can easily go too far. Some people don’t even tell their families that they have lost their jobs. They feel too ashamed or don’t want to burden others with their problems. By doing that, they cut themselves off from valuable support. But keeping up pride in yourself apparently has major benefits.

How Diabetes Relates
I sometimes think that having a chronic condition is like living in a permanent recession. How do you feel good about yourself when your body doesn’t work right, or doesn’t feel well? Perhaps you aren’t able to work at as high a level as you used to, or as you would like to. Maybe getting through the day sometimes seems more trouble than it’s worth.

Maybe you’re taking more pills than you ever thought you’d take, or spending more time in doctors’ offices than with your friends. Maybe you blame yourself for having diabetes or for not doing a better job of controlling it.

I certainly struggle with these issues. When I’m feeling bad, or getting worse, I tend to forget the good things I do and the abilities I have. When money’s not coming in, I sometimes feel I’m not doing anything worthwhile.

When it gets like that, how do you feel good about yourself? What makes it worth getting out of bed in the morning? How do you keep up your pride, and do you think it’s important to do so?

A Few Ideas
One thing is to make a list of all the things you do well, and all the things you manage to do at all in spite of illness. Another is to ask friends or loved ones for some good things about you. Add your own and make a list. Keep the list where you can see it.

These ideas come from Dr. Nathaniel Branden, the “father of self-esteem psychology.” He has more ideas at his Web site. I also give good resources in my book The Art of Getting Well.

Perhaps we should borrow a page from the out-of-work playbook. Try to dress nicely and look good as much as possible. Take pride in your self-management successes and reward yourself for them.

What else works for you? Please let us know by commenting here.

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  • Beth

    I have type 2 diabetes and am overweight. For many years, I was ashamed of both of these facts of my life.

    Then I began to reflect on my genetics, and my ancestors. The side of my family with diabetes came from Slovakia, in the lower levels of the Tatra mountains. They were farmers in a climate that has relatively long winters, and short summers in which to grow and store food. In addition, armies from outside the area came through this region throughout history, taking whatever supplies they wished. Every calorie counts when you and your family are living in these conditions.

    Yet my ancestors were marvelous survivors! Their bodies became very efficient, getting all the energy they could out of the food they ate. They were like a furnace that burns very efficiently, and so needs less fuel. And my body is like this too — beautifully designed for survival under food-shortage conditions.

    I myself have never experienced those conditions for which my body is wonderfully designed. So instead of helping my survival, those traits are threatening it. But I have learned I don’t need to be ashamed, I can be proud of that. I am a survivor, like my ancestors! So now I can use my brains and my love of being alive to survive in a different way.

  • texjohn

    Thrifty Genes!
    I have the opposite genetic makeup of yours — hard to keep weight on. Well I could use more insulin and pack away the carbs, but I do much better on a low carb diet that keeps my A1c at around 5.2 (from 12).

    There has been research in Canada with the Metis population and returning them to a more traditional diet. This has worked wonders! More than half the study group no longer has to treat for Diabetes. Even though this research was carried out by the University of British Columbia, the powers-to-be (like A.D.A.) says it needs more research…. even though your theory has been proven over and over again.

    Thanks for the great read Beth.