JWR Outlook

Jewish World Review June 4, 2002 / 23 Sivan 5762

Self-esteem in the
face of world terrorism

By Dr. Abraham Twerski, M.D.

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | In the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack, the American people and citizens of many Western countries have become painfully aware that we have become suddenly vulnerable to random attacks of terrorism. Government officials state that in spite of all security precautions, it is impossible to forestall a terrorist attack.

Our anxiety is at an all time high. We know that every bridge, every tunnel, every tall commercial or residential building and every place where many people assemble is a potential terrorist target. Shall we avoid all traffic, all tall buildings, theaters and ball parks? Of course not!

We must all participate in maximizing security. I do not object to removing my shoes at the airport security checkpoint and I am alert to mail whose sender is unknown to me. But this does not eliminate anxiety. Put simply, we must now learn how to live with anxiety.

Problems of low self-esteem are very common. Most people employ a variety of psychological defense mechanisms to deal with these unpleasant feelings , as I described in Life's Too Short. However, when any adversity occurs, the feelings of low self-esteem can be intensified, and if the defensive mechanisms are not adequate, it may result in dysfunction or depression. Thus, many people may be allowing the recent horrible events to incapacitate them, well beyond the acceptable level of "daily" anxiety.

Of course, emotional reactions often do not follow rules of logic. Even when the adversity is in no way indicative of a personal shortcoming, low self-esteem issues may be aggravated. Those with pre-existing low self esteem may find these tense times especially difficult to navigate.

Unless we cope effectively with anxiety, it may impact negatively on our work and relationships, both familial and social. It is recommended that we learn relaxation techniques, and there are books on this in the self-help section of your bookstore. It is crucial that we do not turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with chronic anxiety.

Good self-esteem enhances our coping skills and can diminish toxic anxiety. It prevents the anxiety from compromising our function. Good self-esteem enables us to continue living normally as we must, to relate, love, work and play.

No, self-esteem cannot diffuse bombs. But whereas the damage of an attack may be formidable, living in fear 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, may be equally damaging. Anything we can do to minimize the effects of toxic anxiety will improve our lives. Enhancing our self-esteem can be of great help.

This article is the first in a series

Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 30 books to his credit. He has recently launched a new 12 step program for self esteem development www.12steps2selfesteem.com Send your comments by clicking here.

© 2002, Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.