You can avoid the self-esteem traps that create unrealistic self-importance instead of healthy self-esteem. You should continue to build yourself up despite possible self-esteem traps because living with low self-esteem has many negative consequences as well. Low self-esteem can make you unwilling and unmotivated to achieve what you are capable of, averse to relationships that you deserve, and it can make you vulnerable to depression.1 In order to protect yourself, it is, therefore, vital to build your self-esteem. However, there are ways that build self-esteem that can end up fostering other negative outcomes in your life, or self-esteem traps. If you want to maximize your wellbeing and have more positive interactions with people, then it pays to be mindful of the self-esteem traps of narcissism, jealousy and resentment.
Does Building Self-Esteem Lead to Narcissism?
Dr. Kristin Neff has argued that working on self-compassion is superior to building self-esteem. She points out how the latter can lead to narcissism, for example. Following the self-esteem movement of the ’80s, many professionals have pointed to its apparent failures. Dr. David Sack said that the movement involved parents telling their kids they could do no wrong and showering them with unconditional praise.2 He says that “our modern emphasis on praise” might be making kids more self-obsessed.
On the other hand, researchers have underscored that it is not self-esteem3 in itself that is making young people increasingly narcissistic.4 An alternative explanation is that the methods intended to build self-esteem end up raising narcissism. Believing that you are unique and extraordinary is where the problem lies.
What we should practice instead is valuing and liking ourselves, without believing that we are special snowflakes and superior to others.
Healthy Self-Esteem Doesn’t Create the Self-Esteem Trap of Jealousy
When building self-esteem is based on social comparisons, rather than just internal evaluations, we become more prone to feelings of jealousy (Stop Comparing Yourself to Others to Improve Self-Esteem). If, for example, you value yourself based on how your career compares to other’s, then you may feel good about being more highly skilled than someone else; but, you will end up feeling jealous about those who have achieved more.
As a writer, I have often struggled with these jealous feelings. I might go on social media and see someone younger than me but who has managed to get his work published in a newspaper that has previously rejected my pitch. This kind of jealousy may not always be bad if it encourages me to improve myself. However, it’s negative to the extent that it prevents me from sincerely being happy for others and wanting others to do well.
When self-esteem is fuelled by jealousy, it makes it less stable and more prone to be swayed by the achievements and successes of others. Jealousy also encourages us to be dissatisfied with what we have, believing that we can only feel good about ourselves once we have what someone else has.
The Self-Esteem Trap of Resentment Towards Others
In upward social comparisons, when we compare ourselves to those who are doing better than we are, we can also end up feeling resentment, anger and bitterness towards those people. Like with jealousy, feeling this resentment against others because of their advantages can be a roadblock in your capacity to wish the best for others and celebrate positivity in the world.
Positive interactions with people depend on a genuine appreciation of who they are. In contrast, bitterness can cause our relationships to suffer. Holding onto anger can also end up affecting both your mental and physical health.5
Ultimately, if you want to build self-esteem that is strong, consistent, and optimal for your wellbeing, then it’s best to avoid social comparisons. Your worth does not depend on what others are doing.
- Harleytherapy.co.uk. Is Low Self-Esteem Causing Your Depression?
- Huffingtonpost.com, David Sack, MD. Could Your Child Have Too Much Self-Esteem?
- Scientificamerican.com, Eddie Brummelman. Does Raising Self-Esteem Turn Children Into Narcissists?
- Journal of Personality, Twenge J.M. et al. Egos Inflating Over Time: A Cross-Temporal Meta-Analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.
- Mind.org.uk. How to deal with anger.