Mel Schwartz, LCSW

Self Esteem or Other Esteem?

In my previous article, Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis, I proposed that a devaluation of one’s self lies at the heart of most psychological and emotional disorders. Let’s now explore more deeply what the term self-esteem denotes and come to appreciate what we mean by it as well as what gets in our way of attaining it.

I have come to believe that the way the term self-esteem is used is actually a misnomer. The first half of the expression, self, would seem to indicate that esteem, the second half of the expression, is derived from one’s self. Yet if we look closer, we find that most people seek a sense of worthiness from that which lies outside of them. For a student, it might come from good grades; for a businessperson or worker, it’s derived from a promotion or a raise; and for most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide a temporary increase in esteem. Our society generates billions of dollars in revenues from inducing people to seek the quick fix of vanity as a means toward feeling better. Yet none of these actually contribute one iota to self-esteem. Ironically, they may even get in the way.


Other Esteem


Since the self-worth described above is paradoxically sought from external sources, we confront a dilemma: What we call self-esteem is, in fact, other-esteem. Admittedly, being approved of or valued by others may make us feel good, but if we betray our authentic self in order to achieve these results, we decimate genuine self-worth. Some individuals become people pleasers and go to great lengths to keep the peace or avoid displeasing others. In such cases, they are not invested in properly valuing their own sense of self. The self becomes subordinate to others’ considerations. 

Our culture as a whole induces us to conceal aspects of our genuine self – as we are taught to hide our insecurity and vulnerability – and mask it from others, which is utterly destructive to our investment in our self. We modify and mold so much of our behavior and, even more, our personality to achieve other-esteem. We actually create personality masks through this harmful endeavor, many of us presenting to others the person we think they would approve of.

Not only is this a self-deprecating experience, but it also sabotages our relationships, for these masks that we now wear impact them. When we act in this manner, we are truly taking our well being and serving it up to other people. It then becomes the other person’s duty to decide if we are worthy. This is not a healthy place to be, and it is a soul-defeating exercise. We should never judge ourselves based upon how we think others see us. Yet many people are so sensitive to the judgment of others that they alter their behavior in the drive for other-esteem. Still people need to care of their self esteem and do what’s best for them to feel better, from exercising to keeping their body and hands clean, or even using other treatments for hands and nails from other sites .


Who is the Judge?


The simple truth is that others can’t judge us. People can have opinions of you; that is entirely natural. To elevate their opinion to the status of a judgment, however, is simply ridiculous. No one can judge you unless you grant him or her the power of being your judge. Why would we put a judge’s robes on an ordinary person and confer such power upon them? The only person who arbitrarily has such power presides in a courtroom; all others are people with opinions. With a healthier measure of self-esteem, we might more easily tolerate others’ opinions without elevating their beliefs into construed judgments and objective truths.

Esteem must be generated from within and can then radiate outward. When we focus outwardly for approval, we are seeking it in the wrong place. And, in so doing, we subordinate our authentic being in a vain attempt at happiness. Such fulfillment is dependent and superficial, and it undermines our personal evolution. This seeking of externalized affirmation is what I call other-esteem.

When we set up this drama regarding approval, we create issues around notions of rejection. The concept of rejection can be misleading. With a healthy self-esteem, one doesn’t consider rejection. Another person may not like you or may disapprove of you, and you may feel badly about that. But it shouldn’t induce you to offer yourself up to the altar of approval.

When we solicit approval from others, we are actually rejecting our own self – and concurrently debasing our self-esteem – by seeking it from others. If that approval isn’t granted, we have a habit of claiming that we were rejected. In truth, we have rejected ourselves when we set others up as judge. The degree to which we are overly reactive to others’ opinions of us is inversely correlated to our level of self-esteem.


Reframing Self-Esteem


A reconsidering of our understanding of self-esteem might be helpful in reframing our cultural expectations of happiness. Almost all parents would claim that they are thoroughly invested in their children’s self-esteem. Educators and guidance counselors also place great value on the development of children’s self-worth. Yet I would argue that most don’t begin to comprehend self-esteem. If an A student becomes depressed by a B, it is abundantly clear that their esteem is contingent upon their performance. Performance should be seen as the icing on the cake, but the cake, so to speak, is your relationship with your self. Similarly, athletic achievement or popularity are things that we may understandably encourage in our children. When put into proper perspective, we might see that these factors might enhance their lives. But it is critical that they not be the cornerstones of how they see themselves. For in that case, the average student or the mediocre athlete is relegated to the imprisonment of low self-esteem.

Self-esteem is the legitimate foundation for a healthy relationship with others and ourselves. Genuine self-esteem removes the construct of neediness so prevalent in most relationship challenges and liberates us to thrive, as issues of rejection and judgment recede. If we seek our esteem from outside, we leave ourselves in a tentative and dependent place. When the sense of worth emanates from within, life unfolds in an empowered manner.


Vulnerability is Strength


Enormous percentages of people struggle with marginal self-worth. They have come to believe limiting and negative stories about themselves and therefore experience their lives accordingly. The more they do so, the more they may try to hide or disguise their insecurity. This is at the heart of the problem.

The pathway toward self-value requires embracing your vulnerability. We are culturally taught to act strong – and to hide our vulnerable side. In reality, this messaging promotes fear and exacerbates our insecurities as we hide our inner self from others. This decimates our sense of self-worth, for it is here that we defer to others as we abandon ourselves. It is only the most exceptional person who doesn’t struggle at some time with self-doubt, fear or insecurity. This is a normal human experience and we should engage it as such, without embarrassment or apprehension. One who is comfortable with their vulnerability has nothing to hide from others and is indeed genuinely strong. The person who acts strong is not authentic as they are acting. The key to a powerful self-esteem is found by embracing your vulnerability – your fears and insecurities. In doing so, you liberate yourself from setting up others as your judge, as you have nothing to hide. You must embrace your vulnerability to attain inner strength.


In my next article I will explore in detail how you can move toward deconstructing your negative beliefs and liberate yourself from the damaging torrent of old thoughts that imprison you.

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[…] an array of psychological, emotional, and relationship challenges, and then we looked at how we misunderstand what we actually mean by self-esteem, seeking it in futile ways. We’ll now turn our attention to how we can free ourselves from the […]

[…] an array of psychological, emotional, and relationship challenges, and then we looked at how we misunderstand what we actually mean by self-esteem, seeking it in futile ways. We’ll now turn our attention to how we can free ourselves from the […]

[…] our authentic self-esteem and invest in what I call other-esteem Self-Esteem or Other-Esteem? . This is not only ruinous to our actual self-worth it is nonsensical in terms of the relationship […]


Now, I got it, I thought “A Shift of Mind” will be another book, it is this blog.

As much as I agree, with your thoughts I want to add something. To grow up in society is like growing up in the air that I breathe. I’m surrounded day by day with expectations of family and society from the day I was born.

As well as you can develop other-esteem (and I was good at it *g*) you can embrace yourself with all feelings also the so-called unwanted ones (fear, anger, sadness, moments of helplessness, …). But don’t underestimate the powers of the outside. Let me give you an example.

Everybody has basic needs: having enough to eat and drink, clothes, a place to sleep. In Germany where I lived not long ago, many unempoyed people are treated like crap, even if they worked 20, 30 or more years before and didn’t cause their unemployment. They are told to be responsible if they don’t find work and that they have to do everything to get a job otherwise support for living can be cut down to zero. Some people are forced to work for 1 Euro the hour.

First of all: there is not enough work for everybody if everybody has to work 40 hours and more years until retirement. That’s a fact. Technology made a lot of work done by humans needless. This is good but not the way how to deal with this fact. This athmosphere of anxiety to lose a job or not to find another job, to become homeless, to need charity organizations for the basic needs doesn’t give space to think about self-esteem.

If you don’t lie in job centers and don’t behave like a good child, who always says yes to every single demand, they know how to extort you to be like they want you to be. I myself went to the job center one time and never again, I prefered insecurity though I spent 32 years good amount of money to get support if ever I fall into unemployment. In such a situation people have two opportunities: to serve the system and betray themselves or to quit the system and stand for themselves.

Who is able to do so, Mel? I had savings to do so. I’m in the minority of working people who could say, you can’t extort me.

And last but not least, how to find and keep alive self-esteem, if it is common in society to label unemployed as a species which only doesn’t try hard enough to find a job? What if you look into the mirror with all your self-esteem and the mirror day by day reflects a travesty. Would brain washing be possible if self-esteem would be enough to resist?

[…] to read more about it? Check out Mel’s article on the subject, and be sure to pick up Mel’s book The Possibility […]

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