SELF-ESTEEM HAS BEEN a hot topic for years.
And for a good reason: Low self-esteem is a source of trouble
bad marriages, social isolation, violence, lack of success,
depression, conflict in the workplace, etc. Low self-esteem causes
The obvious solution is to try to improve
peoples self-esteem by pointing out their good traits.
Psychologists told us we could give our children high self-esteem
by complimenting and praising them often. And they said you could
protect yourself by making an effort to think well of yourself
say good things to yourself, repeat affirmations, acknowledge
your good traits, etc.
Recent research at Wake Forest University
might be turning that popular philosophy completely upside down.
The funny thing is, when all the smoke has cleared, what we have
left bears a remarkable resemblance to simple common sense.
According to the research, self-esteem
appears to be an internal guide to how well were doing
socially, somewhat like our internal guide to the temperature.
When you feel hot, you take off some clothing
or open a window. When you feel cold, you bundle up. Although
you might be able to repeat to yourself over and over I
feel warm, I feel warm, there are better things to do with
your time. Might as well just put on a sweater and get on with
it. Its useful to have an internal guide a feeling
that lets you know whats happening in the world
around you, and gives you some motivation to do something about
Apparently, thats exactly what self-esteem
The feeling of low self-esteem is apparently
nothing more than an indication you arent getting enough
positive feedback from other people. You may not be getting rejected
or criticized, but to really feel good about ourselves, we need
something more than that. We need acknowledgment, compliments,
appreciation. We need people to notice us and like us.
This is where it gets tricky. As a parent,
you might want to improve your childs self-esteem by giving
him lots of compliments. But watch out. If you exaggerate your
acknowledgments or if you sometimes make a big deal out of a
small thing or resort to puffery, you may be setting your childs
internal gauge off the beam. Youve set his
social-status meter too high, and it no longer measures the situation
accurately. Your child then grows up and goes out into the world
and has difficulty dealing with people.
Some new research at Northeastern University
showed that people who think well of themselves regardless
of how others feel about them tend to be perceived by others
as condescending and hostile.
Given this new information, a different
approach to creating self-esteem seems in order: Giving honest
and accurate feedback to our children, our spouses, and
our employees. Its relatively easy to compliment and praise
people. It makes them feel good, and it makes us feel
good to make them feel good. Its more difficult
to find something you genuinely appreciate and to say
it without the slightest bit of puffery, but it just might do
We can also help people do better.
Of course! If someone is getting along well with her peers and
shes succeeding at something trumpet, hobby, schoolwork,
job, athletics it will improve her self-esteem. So find
a way to help her accomplish something. When people do
well, they tend to feel better about themselves.
When you want to build your own
self-esteem, it appears your best bet is to change your behavior.
Do your tasks well and treat people well and youll
feel good about yourself. Dont worry so much about how
you think about yourself. Change what you do to make yourself
more appreciated by the people around you. Increase your value
to other people and to the company you work for. Watch the reactions
of other people. Pay attention to the reality outside your skin.
Do more of what works. Do less of what doesnt get the response
you want. Your self-esteem, your internal sociometer
will rise as an accurate reflection of your true abilities and
where you stand with the people in your life.
To improve the self-esteem of
Give unexaggerated feedback and help them gain ability.
To improve your own self-esteem:
Change what you do to make yourself more appreciated by
the people around you.