Evolution of the Self

On the paradoxes of personality

Feeling Good--Vs. Feeling Good About Ourselves (Part 1)

Can feeling good lead you to feel bad?

drinkingFeeling Good--But Not Necessarily About Ourselves

I think it's safe to say that whenever we feel good about ourselves, we feel good, period. Of course, we could be sick (i.e., not feel very good), but we could still feel just fine about who we are. Barring any health considerations, our most potent safeguard against life's ups and downs is developing the most positive sense of self possible. Thus protected against the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," we can almost always feel good--regardless of what's going on in the day-to-day drama of our lives.

Too many of us unconsciously assume that the best way to foster happiness is to partake in as many experiences as we can that will promote feelings of euphoria. By nature, we're impelled to avoid anything painful and pursue (and maybe become addicted to) anything pleasurable. Unless our values and priorities have evolved beyond this elemental pleasure principle, we'll remain more or less "bounded" by this fundamental biological disposition. Natural-born hedonists, we'll follow any "feel good" path that presents itself, and be seduced by any immediate promise of pleasure. And this basic motivation will exist independent of any reflection as to whether what, momentarily, makes us feel good will actually be good for us in the long run--that is, will actually contribute to our feeling good about ourselves.

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What I'd like to expand on here directly complements one of my earliest posts for Psychology Today's blogsite. Called "From Self-Indulgence to Self-Nurturance," it emphasized our ultimate self-defeat if we devote ourselves to pleasure pursuits failing to provide anything in the way of self-nurturance. I sought to illustrate how finding ways to get high might look like an effective way to "inject" more joy into our lives, but that such pleasure-seeking really had nothing to do with the fundamental nurturance of self pivotal to achieving an enduring state of well-being.

Obviously, acting in a self-indulgent fashion is virtually synonymous with choosing things primarily on the basis of how good they'll make us feel. Also intimately linked are self-nurturing behaviors and behaviors consciously contrived to foster good feelings about ourself. Whereas in my earlier piece I suggested how to clearly differentiate between self-indulgence and self-nurturance, as well as how to move from one to the other, in this two-part post I'd like to describe how we can increase the likelihood that our choices--regardless of how much they may specifically make us feel good in the moment--will increase the likelihood of our ending up feeling better about ourselves generally. Additionally, I'll be discussing how to decide against doing those things that won't (and can't) promote these more lasting feelings of self-satisfaction--despite how much they might help us feel good in the present.

casinoBut first a caveat. Whether it's a substance, activity, or relationship, anything that we repeatedly turn to for pleasure (or to alleviate pain), we'll risk becoming addicted to. In such instances, it's doubtful that any of my suggestions for change will be very useful. And that's because whatever we consistently use to alter our mood or consciousness probably isn't much in accordance with our better judgment anyway. Moreover, since all addictive behavior is essentially compelled behavior, once we've become dependent on something to feel better, on our own we're not likely to be able to free ourselves from it--certainly not when it's come to seem like a lifeline. If this is the case, it may be crucial to obtain outside help to overcome behaviors (or habits) that--even though we're able to recognize them as bad for us--still hold us tightly in their grip.

Generally speaking, we can distinguish between actions that make us feel good--vs. those enabling us to actually feel good about ourselves--by considering their aftereffects. For typically, whatever we employ as a shortcut for feeling "up" brings us back down in accelerated fashion as well. When the initial high has worn off, we're right back where we started--if not a little bit below our personal baseline. Our feeling good has had almost everything to do with something outside us (whether it be the new outfit, the joint, the "bender," the food binge, our latest "conquest," the sexual escapade, or the quasi-hypnotic outing at Bloomingdale's, the racetrack or casino).

Consequently, when our "drug of choice" has worn off, we're no happier than when we started. The permanent form of whatever "fix" we received from without continues to elude us from within. The true "object of our desire" is to have a self-affirming, unconditionally loving relationship with our self--the one relationship that's absolutely vital to an enduring state of well-being. And although this relationship to self may not yet exist for us, it is (whether we're aware of it or not ) precisely what we all long for.

So if we're in an unhealthy relationship because we can't stand being alone (or are driven by a sexual addiction), we'll regularly be forced to face the fact that the relationship doesn't really serve us very well. Or if we're dependent on alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, or any other drug that alters our mind or mood (and such a "drug" may also include food, prescribed medication, or tobacco), it's safe to assume that our reliance on it keeps us from applying ourselves to--and ultimately achieving--the growth and change we require to feel really good about ourselves. And, of course, this is the same with any activity that we've come to depend on to comfort us or alleviate our distress--from compulsive shopping, gambling and working, to video games and pornography.


Note: Part 2 of this post will focus on how to get beyond choosing things that only help us feel good temporarily, to adopting alternatives that (regardless of how they'll  make us feel in the moment) will assist us in our lifelong quest to feel good about who we are.

 

 

Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., who holds doctorates in English and Psychology, is a clinical psychologist and author of Paradoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy.

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