Self-esteem and abnormality

William James proposed that self-esteem is the ratio of successes to pretensions. By this he meant that we judge the way we feel about ourselves by whether we attain our pretensions or fail to attain them. Pretensions are just another way to express the claims we make about ourselves. We certainly do make many claims. When we can attain those claims we are happy. When we cannot, we are not feeling well about ourselves. As such, our self-esteem suffers. The key to happiness then is to set appropriate pretensions and attain them, or modify those that are too lofty.

Psychoadaptation is about adapting to one’s constraints. Each context has its own rules governing what is considered success; constraints. These constraints set the thresholds to which we strive and hope to attain. For instance, in the academic realm, attaining a college degree is now considered a normative albeit lofty achievement. Indeed, having a college degree is becoming the new minimum acceptable academic accomplishment to be considered successful. Yet, even that is actually it’s not enough. The college one attends is a measure of one’s intellectual capacity. Have you ever noticed, my reader, how individuals attending a community college respond to questions about the college attending? It’s pure shame. As such, going to prestigious institutions like Harvard, Yale, Penn, Stanford, Berkley, or some other private institution is supposed to be an indicator of supreme intelligence and ultimate success. Those individuals who matriculate to and graduate from these types of institutions, whether private or public, wear a large but false medal on their chests they strut around with, shouting out with feigned humility, “I am special”. Indeed, by our societal standards they are, for they have achieved maximum adaptation to the highest of contexts. For that, they do deserve praise, but that praise is short lived, at least I’d hope.

Life is all about adaptation, and adaptation to one’s contexts is an awesome achievement. Indeed, it’s normative. However, being normal isn’t always the highest achievement. Abnormality has its place in the universe of achievements too. I posit that it’s not only interesting, but essential to move society forward. Abnormality means seeing the flaws in the macrosystem and finding solutions that stretch the limits of our current conceptions. Self-esteem comes from esteem. Esteem comes from being esteemed by others. Without that esteem, there cannot be self-esteem. Self-esteem is built on successes in normative endeavors; endeavors that are within say two standard deviations of the mean. Okay, well, that means that 95% of all individuals would agree that what was done is awesome, as 95% of population values are within plus or minus two standard deviations of the mean. However, moving beyond the normal means being in that other 5%; being abnormal. I love being abnormal.

Abnormality is a very uncomfortable place. However, the greats have always gone there. Most avoid abnormality because they cannot handle the insult to self-esteem and all the booty that one forfeits with abnormality. Imagine the praise one receives from peers for attaining some cultural standard. People propitiate the successful person as if she were a deity. What’s worse is that the successful individual takes that praise in as if it is fully deserved. I guess it is deserved if one likes being limited, but there is so much more beyond, so much more than what is seen. Even with infinity, there is a beyond. The person living psychoadaptation senses the beyond and challenges the limitations of the normative.

I love James’s definition of self-esteem. However, too many people set their pretensions based on the zeitgeist; the spirit of the times. Our economy is built on exploiting the needy to meet societal expectations. People believe that they must attain certain goals to be successful and base their self-esteems on their success at achieving these false goals. Indeed, they subscribe to the notion that we can be great if we graduate with the right degree from the right institution or drive the right car or have the perfect body, or have the right sneakers. However, that felt love is ephemeral and as uneasy as a wooden plank 15 feet above stormy water. Tastes change like the wind changes the ripples on a pond. What remains constant is our desire to achieve a higher Self. The Healthy Self finds new challenges to pursue and adapt to. It is actually easy to find flaws in the normative constraints once one has adapted to the contextual constraints of a given contexts. Some contexts don’t change their constraints. That should make it easy to find flaws. Indeed, it does. But the participant must want to find the flaws and rebel against them. Most people don’t because mastering the constraints and the praise achieved for that mastery is just too savory. I can see why one would want to perpetually bask in the praise, but that’s not for me. I have learned to praise myself for higher achievements.

People love being esteemed. Esteem from others translates to self-esteem, for one needs a context to adapt to, and others to establish the threshold for success. People may act humbly, but their fake humility is actually pride for their achievements. The healthy Self doesn’t share when sharing isn’t accepted. Those who want others to see their achievements wear them proudly. Living psychoadaptation means not only surpassing small achievements, but setting new goals that surpass what others comprehend. Hence, abnormality. Being normal means being within a standard deviation of the mean. The mean is another word for average. Since 68% of all population values are within plus or minus one standard deviation of the mean, most people want to fall within a standard deviation of the mean. However, some people are considered special, even if normative. Every population allows for outliers. These are individuals who are generally three standard deviations above or below the mean. Three standard deviations of the mean encompasses 99.7% of all population values. So, being outside three standard deviations of the mean makes one really different. Not really though, in my view; it just makes them at the extreme of the population of normal people.

Psychoadaptation loves adaptation. However, the adaptation is supposed to be temporary, at least for the special. When one adapts, one’s pretensions and successes are equal and self-esteem is maximized. However, the truly special person sees the flaws in the system and transcends them. This is difficult as transcending flaws means refusing to accept the praises rained upon them for more than a moment. Victory isn’t sufficient for the person seeking transcendence. What is favored is progress toward the ultimate goal; wisdom. Wisdom is a spiritual state that requires transcendence of earthly norms. The person living psychoadaptation is not satisfied with earthly achievements and desires to move toward a more universal consciousness. That is something far different from adapting to one’s earthly contexts. The college one attends doesn’t help achieve it. The car one drives will not achieve it. One’s physical appearance will not achieve it. To achieve this special state of a Healthy Self and to live psychoadaptation, one must continue to progress to higher levels of adaptation, until progression is no longer possible due to age, health, or death. This is not governed by earthly states. Not college degree, money, car, clothing, or looks will attain it. Only knowledge of one’s limitations and a pursuit of a better self, acknowledging those limitations, will achieve it.