Understanding the Power of Attitudes

Dr. Karyn Gordon is no stranger to rejection and self-doubt. Before she became one of Canada’s leading authorities on understanding youth, interviewing hundreds of stars on TV for MuchMusic and acting as resident therapist for Life Network’s The Mom Show, she was turned down no less than 500 times.

Gordon engaged a large audience of mostly teenage girls at the 2007 Women’s Health Matters Forum & Expo in Toronto with her presentation on self-esteem.

She revealed that the number one response famous musicians give to the question “What is the biggest obstacle you experienced as a teen? is No confidence.” Gordon presented a video that showed some excerpts from her interviews and quotes from people like Angeline Jolie, all laying bare their own insecurities.

The key to all of this is attitude, Gordon said. The way we think or feel will affect all of our decisions.

Gordon brought four young women she had briefed earlier to seats on the stage to act out some common attitudes. They represented four sisters aged 12 to 25. The oldest sister said that her sisters were all stupid, fat and ugly, while she was much smarter and better looking. Gordon asked her why she thought so, and her answer was, “Well, just look at me!” Gordon then asked the two middle sisters what they thought about what the eldest had said. Both responded that they thought they were OK, that their sister loved them and they knew it wasn’t true that they were stupid. The youngest sister, however, said that she knew it was all true. She was fat and ugly.

The four sisters represented the three attitudes — or three ‘seats’ — of self-esteem.

The eldest sister put others down as a form of false self-esteem. She was cocky and arrogant but it was a cover up for low self-esteem; putting others down to make herself appear more important.

The youngest sister had low self-esteem and could easily believe every negative comment she heard about herself. Both of these are examples of poor self-esteem.

The middle sisters who sat in the middle seats, however, represented healthy self esteem.

We typically look for mirrors of ourselves in our relationships. And, not surprisingly, people like the oldest and youngest sisters often seek each other out, fuelling each other’s need to either put down or be put down. Healthy esteem doesn’t tolerate being disrespected and rarely matches itself to unhealthy esteem. She reminded everybody that friends are supposed to love you. “Which seat are you sitting in?” Gordon queried the audience.

Often we tell ourselves if we get to this weight, or have this much money, or get this guy, we will be happy. These ‘if’ statements are conditional and make us feel powerless. Respecting yourself and your body mean there no ifs and no conditions. However, even though there are three chairs, we rarely sit in one of all of the time. So how do we get to the middle chair at all? This can be answered by three 'S' statements:

  1. Stop blaming. No matter what challenges we face in life, we must learn to accept what we can’t change. You can’t control a disability, for example, but we can control how we respond to it and ask ourselves what we are going to do about it.
  2. Set realistic goals. Make small attainable goals for yourself. When you reach one, you will feel awesome and be ready for the next one. Start today!
  3. Seek people and resources to help you sit in the middle chair. This sounds easy but can be difficult. Always look for and surround yourself with people who sit in the middle chair.

Gordon ended with these thoughts: “Do you want to be in a relationship with someone who puts you down? Are the people you know helping you, or pulling you away from that middle seat?”

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