The Trouble With Self-Esteem

Don’t get me wrong.  I feel as good about self-esteem as the next gal. In fact, I cultivate it in myself (and others) as much as possible.  Who couldn’t use a little additional self-esteem?

After all, people with high self-esteem (will call them/us HSE for simplicity) are confident and feel good about themselves pretty much all the time.  HSEs are accustomed to being talented and accomplished and they know stuff/do stuff/get stuff done.  It’s all good, right?

Well.  Sometimes HSEs can go a bit over the top.  Everyone knows someone who is never wrong, who is always doing the most fascinating and interesting things, does everything perfectly, is incredibly successful, knows everything… and doesn’t mind telling you about it.   Ad nauseum.  Endlessly.  Tirelessly.  Without taking a breath. Or perhaps we’re not telling you about it directly; we might intimate our obvious excellence, superiority or cool-ness in indirect ways.  That smirk, that tone, that choice of words.  We don’t even know we’re doing it.

So, think CAREFULLY and answer these questions as honestly as you can.

  • When was the last time you complained about what a slacker or loser someone else was?
  • When was the last time you described another as clueless, awkward or on the wrong track?
  • When was the last time you told (or implied to) someone about your accomplishments, qualities or talents without them asking? (this may masquerade as fishing for compliments)
  • When was the last time you interrupted someone because your idea or thought was better or more important than theirs?

We are all imperfect and flawed humans.  We all have less-than-charitable or -honorable feelings and we exhibit behaviors we are not proud of.   And sometimes we need to self-promote and self-advocate if we’re trying to market ourselves intentionally.   To me, the question instead is whether we are in denial or aware and accepting of our human imperfections and flaws (over the top HSE in this case) and use that knowledge to try to grow.   Denial results in poor self-awareness and failure to understand how we are perceived by others.  My own self-acceptance of my flaws is much better of late than in my youth (OK, as a younger adult), but it is still a struggle sometimes to avoid my know-it-all condescension.

With that in mind, let’s consider your responses to the questions. If you quickly listed many examples in answer to the questions, then perhaps you are already very sensitive to how you are perceived, and are not the braggart/bore that you might think you are.    Consider the possibility that you’re too hard on yourself.  Instead of focusing on how you’re falling short, perhaps accept or even embrace the fact that we’re all flawed and imperfect.  Consider forgiving yourself for being, well, human.  Having these feelings are natural and unavoidable.  What you do with them is what you can control and manage.

If you took your time and then listed a surprising number examples to the questions, then perhaps you just had an Aha moment.  Consider continuing to improve your self-awareness of your behavior in regards to your feelings of self-worth.  Next time you want to brag, interrupt, complain or teach, then stop and observe the urge. Where does that come from?  Or, you might already be aware of this tendency in yourself and have already been working on improvement.  Good job!  Keep it up!

If you were unable to think of any examples of the above, then perhaps consider the possibility that such behaviors are so ingrained and natural to you that you are unaware of them.  Perhaps you need to improve self-awareness and your willingness to consider that you’re wrong, acting judgmental or superior, or just being plain inappropriate.   If you are feeling defensive now, stop and consider the source of that feeling (remember:  I don’t even know you.  Nor am I really “talking” to you.  This is a blog.)

To me, these exercises in self-awareness are a battle where my warm, snug cocoon of  denial is battling my fear of confronting my flaws.  Warm cocoon vs. Fear.  Seems like a no-brainer.  On one hand, in my cocoon I feel so good about myself and am self-righteous.  I’m confident.  I’m certain.  I’m all alone and annoying as hell in my holier-than-thou little bubble. On the other hand is me summoning my courage to look objectively at myself.

If my courage wins, then I can acquire wisdom.  Wisdom, in my definition, is being willing to learn from our mistakes.  In this scenario, I trade my cocoon for the courage to be  vulnerable and say, “I’m sorry,”  “I was wrong,”  “That was insensitive of me.”    Being authentically human (with all the attendant flaws) will actually deeply and genuinely enhance my feelings of self-worth.  Thus, I learn to balance HSE with humility, one battle at a time.

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