Thinking has been defined as the ability to manipulate and organize elements in the environment by means of symbols such as gestures, words, pictures, diagrams, and abstract entities such as numbers. Adult thinking ranges across a whole spectrum of relationships to the external world. At one end of the continuum, an individual may be coping realistically with the environment through reasoning and creative effort to change the environment or adapt to it. At the opposite end, autistic thinking may focus on the inner person-on fantasies, daydreams, and responses to the need for self-gratification. Cognition refers to both the process of knowing and to the product of the act of knowing. Cognition includes images and words. Images are mental pictures of actual sensory experiences. Imagery is not essential to thought process, but some people experience strong visual imagery. Imagery has the capacity of being as clear and accurate as the original perception.
Some psychologists have described the cognitive activity in which we give ourselves certain messages as "self-talk". Statements made to self may be self-defeating thoughts, beliefs, and expectations that reflect automatic and illogical assumptions. Self-talk tends to overemphasize painful events and the significance of others comments. Cognitive behaviorists emphasize the need to get more information before reaching conclusions about what others may think, thus allowing for disconfirmation of those harsh conditions. This often involves the monitoring and challenging of thought content. (See Cognitive Restructuring steps at bottom.)
Ellis(Ellis & Grieger 1977) has identified a number or irrational assumptions that often are a part of self talk. These commonly held statements need to be identified and confronted when they occur:
1. I need to be loved by everyone.
2. It is terrible when things are not precisely the way I want them.
3. Painful things which happen to me are due to circumstances or other people outside of my control.
4. I need to get upset about threatening things and focus all my attention on them.
5. It is better to avoid my problems than to face them.
6. I must be totally competent in every situation.
7. If something at one time has affected my life, it will always affect me.
8. I must be totally self-controlled.
9. Doing little or nothing about a situation will make me happy.
10. I cannot control my emotions and need not assume responsibility for how I feel.
11. There is always a right and perfect solution; there will be a catastrophe if I cannot identify it.
The above self statements are irrational assumptions and need to be confronted.
Cognitive self-talk often derives from the more generalized concept of the self a person has. Oneís self-concept begins to develop in early childhood and becomes more elaborated and stable during adolescence and adulthood. Yet the self-concept may become less than optimal as a result of feelings of inferiority or poor self-esteem.
Most people have been told in many ways, throughout their lives that they are inferior. These messages are both verbal and nonverbal, intentional and unintentional. They threaten the development of a strong sense of self-worth. Without such a sense of self-worth, individuals will not only have a miserable life, but also will be unable to reach the potential to which God has called them. A major factor in the development of self-worth is the influence of parental value systems. No matter what parents say, their actual focus may be on materialism, athletics, good look, intelligence, or humanitarianism rather than godly character.
What a difference it would make if parents would praise a childís good character and behavior. Parents who value and praise good character will help their children learn to behave properly while developing the feelings of self-worth that are vital to good mental health.
Many people carry hidden resentment toward God for not designing them the way they would have designed themselves. Yet God lovingly designed us the way He did because he wants to develop within each of us a Christlike character so that we can experience life abundantly.(Ps. 139:13-16). While our bodies were being formed within our mothersí wombs, each "inward part" was designed exactly as God intended-including both our strengths and weaknesses. We have the responsibility of living up to our potential, correcting any correctable defects. Our self-worth as well as our Christian witness will benefit from praising God for designing us the way we are. Each person, however endowed, is a vessel made according to Godís divine plan. Each person is also covered, to some extent, by the dross of human error, including parental error. Underneath that dross, none is inferior to any other, though each may have a unique design. Christians should strive for spiritual and emotional maturity, placing themselves in Godís hands so He can remove that dross and produce a vessel of honor rather than dishonor.
Is it really Godís plan for us to love ourselves? If love of self means vanity and pride, the answer is definitely not. Sinful pride and vanity have nothing to do with loving ourselves in a healthy way-in the way that pleases God because He loves us and wants us to experience the abundant life. True self-love makes us more useful to God.
A legal expert asked Jesus which of the commandments was most important. "The most important one,í answered Jesus, Ďis this: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." The second is this: "Love your neighbor as yourself." There is no commandment greater than theseí".(Mark 12:29-31) Individuals who have a negative self-image will also be critical of others. Individuals who do not love themselves in a healthy way will find it impossible to develop genuine love relationships with others. Psychiatric practice bears out Scripture on two important points: (1) you cannot truly love others until you learn to love yourself in a healthy way; (2) lack of self-worth is the basis of most psychological problems.
A person who becomes a Christian is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), but is still far from sinless perfection. Sanctification, the process of becoming more and more like Christ, is almost always gradual. The new Christian is like a spiritual infant.(1 Pet. 2:2). Daily devotions are a must for spiritual and emotional maturity. Prayer and Bible study are especially important during the traumatic years between ages twelve and sixteen, when sons and daughters grow into men and women, with all the associated hormone changes, impulses, craving and feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
Paulís assurance that God will help believers overcome temptation(1 Cor.10:13) can be of tremendous comfort to young teenagers. God will supply all of our needs(Phil.4:19). Human beings have a multitude of needs through which Satan continually tempts us. Christians may be called on by God to deny some of their wants, but God has promised to supply all of our needs (Phil. 4:9). He wants to supply them in His way, according to His principles of love. Satan keeps offering to supply our needs in his way, according to his principles of selfishness, greed and hate. Needs are not temptation; it is Satanís way of meeting them that constitutes temptation. Our fallen tendency is to meet our needs in Satanís way. With the new birth and spiritual insights, we see how to meet these natural needs in Godís way, producing much greater ultimate joy and satisfaction.
Children (and adults) should neither deny their natural needs nor meet them in Satanís way. These methods of dealing with needs, including our sexual needs, in Godís way, takes away Satanís power to tempt us. Children should be taught that God loves them and is concerned about their everyday needs. God also is understanding and accepting of the struggles and temptations we go through.
Self-worth comes from doing what we know is right and not doing those things we believe are wrong. When we do things we know are selfish and sinful, we inevitably lose self-worth. Emotional problems are sure to follow as our self-worth continues to depreciate in value.
God refers to those who are called by His name as His own sons and daughters whom He created for His glory(Isa. 43:7). Even the vast complexities of our human bodies teach that we are of great importance to the Creator.
Meier,Minirth,Wichern,Ratcliff-Intro to Psy, & Counseling(second add.) Copy. 1982,1991 by Baker Books