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Self acceptance or self esteem - in memory of Dr Albert Ellis

By Giulio Bortolozzo - posted Thursday, 26 July 2012

Inevitably failure and rejection are part and parcel of our experience. It is very energy sapping to protect our children from every vagary of human existence. Such vigilance also denies our children the opportunity to deal with disappointment and build their own resilience to tough situations. Children need our support and guidance but they also have to learn to stand on their own two feet and protecting them from the reality of rejection and failure does them no favours. "We have to give them self- esteem so that they feel good about themselves,' so has been the wisdom of the recent educational past. What is self esteem and how can you give it to someone? Albert Ellis who passed away five years ago this week said:

'Self-esteem is the greatest sickness known to man or woman because it's conditional.'

He was on to something here, people learning to esteem themselves according to how others viewed them or how well they did at tasks was the order of the day. "I'm good because so and so said I am or I am clever because my teacher said I was. Aren't I good girl?" No you're not! Your self esteem will evaporate quickly until the next time someone else tells you how good you are! You grow to need the approval of others and the fix of getting an A grade in your assignments but this doesn't make you good, clever or any other label you want to put on your sorry self!


No one can give you the worth you've always had and therefore no one can take it away and it is understanding this that gives you resilience. Dr Ellis calls this Unconditional Self Acceptance (USA) meaning 'I'm worthwhile EVEN if you don't think so and EVEN if I get an E in my English assignment.' So you can keep your 'warm fuzzies' to yourself!

Student A in High School A in Australia has four younger siblings and a mother who is dependent on her. Her father left many years ago. She is 14 years old and after she helps dress and feed her family she gets herself off to school everyday. She has dreams and aspirations and daily she 'steps up to the plate' ready for the next 'curve ball' that life will inevitably pitch her way. Will she be called home to help her mentally ill mother or will the local primary school ask her to come and help her younger sister because she 'misses' her so much? This is not a 'once upon a fairytale' situation, this is daily reality for this student. What benefit that she continue to seek the approval of others so that she can 'esteem herself' as a worthwhile person? None whatsoever! What can her school do about it?

Albert Ellis said that people who unconditionally accept themselves are less likely to suffer the ravages of extreme depression, anger and anxiety because they don't take what others think of them or how they perform at tasks TOO seriously. Why? Because what they think about themselves is more important than how others view them. 'Think as you will but don't expect me to agree with you' is another way to put it. This idea is embedded in the principles and practice of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy created by Albert Ellis in the 1950's and which is a core component of the new 'Positive Psychology' that has been touted in recent years. Albert Ellis was the original Positive Psychologist.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Education is the application of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy in teaching practice across all curriculum areas. A school that teaches students daily that their worth is not at question when they fail at a task or find that others reject them and that they are always worthwhile will be protected against Serious Approval Dependence (SAD). This (USA) is the antidote to 'self esteem sickness' and REBE delivers this to very child day in and day out.

Albert Ellis said:

'I think the future of psychotherapy and psychology is in the school system. We need to teach every child how to rarely seriously disturb himself or herself and how to overcome disturbance when it occurs.'


To student A above, though your life is tough and it is difficult to get to school every day and because you may feel so desperate at times is not reason to avoid your studies and to give in. Hang in there and remember you are always worthwhile no matter what! This is the REBE philosophy.

In memory of Dr Albert Ellis creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy who passed away on July 24th 2007 Vale

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About the Author

Giulio Bortolozzo is an education consultant and counsellor.

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All articles by Giulio Bortolozzo

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