One of the most favored buzzwords in parenting and education circles over the past 40 years has been the word “self-esteem.” In spite of this however, few people seem to understand that having “high self-esteem” is actually not a predictor of success, and in fact may be a significant barrier to growth and development.
Let’s explore this issue for a few minutes.
Self-esteem is largely an “outside-in” process related to how we think others feel about us. And if we think that others hold us up in a high social position, we then respond by thinking more highly of ourselves. Conversely, when we think that others disregard us, or hold us in a low social status position, we then think of ourselves as being less-than.
Hence, having “high self-esteem” has nothing to do with competence, capabilities, morality, or any other important social value. It is simply about our feelings about ourselves which are highly influenced by how we think others feel about us.
And therein lies the problem.
Our ability to accurately know how others feel about us and why is an area of vast cognitive distortion. Thus drawing conclusions about distorted assumptions is the fast track down a rabbit hole of confusion and disorientation. Self-esteem is therefore fragile, and just as capable of being destroyed by others as it is built up. In other words, self-esteem is unstable and mercurial.
On the other hand, self-regard is an “inside-out” process. It is about how we feel about ourselves based on our personal experiences living in the world, hence it is related to our memories associated with our sense of competence. High success in life activities equals high self-regard. And high self-regard functions as a bulwark against life’s most difficult challenges that could easily bring a person with “high self-esteem” low.
It is almost impossible for a person with high self-regard to have low self-esteem. But it is easy for a person who has high-self esteem to be hiding their low self-regard and lack of resilience.
It is also easy for a dentist to develop low self-esteem if he or she is an ineffective communicator with their patients, regardless of their intent and dedication to being a top level professional. This happens because so much of the feedback received from patients comes in the form of rejection; rejection of treatment plans, rejection of philosophy, or even rejection of them as a person, “you know I really hate dentists…”
Friedrich Nietzsche once said that if you want to completely demoralize someone, you don’t do it by punishing them for what they did wrong, you repeatedly punish them for attempting to do the right thing.
So, think about that for a minute. Consider how your capacity to communicate effectively with others and your ability to facilitate better choice-making on their part, influences everything else – including how you perceive yourself in this world.
And that has everything to do with self-regard and nothing to do with self-esteem.
Paul A. Henny, DDS
Thought Experiments LLC, ©2018
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