Consider the Source of Your Self-Esteem Wounds

Recognizing the True Nature of Those Who Hurt You

Most people with self-esteem difficulties can trace their wounds back to a family member or caretaker who was yelling_parentharshly critical, rejecting, abandoning or abusive. Those people’s behaviors toward the child conveyed messages that he or she was defective, bad or not good enough.  Later, those self-esteem wounds were deepened by a few relationships where the individual received similar negative treatment.

Often, the individual can identify others in their lives who treated them with love and respect, but the negative messages seems to dominate. I’m not sure why this occurs, but the child’s self-esteem seems to be impacted more by the negative caretakers than by the positive ones. Oh, they love the positive people and enjoy spending time with them, but their self-beliefs tend to be molded by the negative people.

A few years ago, I created an exercise where I ask clients to compose a list of people who have conveyed positive messages about them, and a list of people who have been negative about them. The lists can include people from their past and present. They can also include family members, friends, co-workers and teachers. When finished, they have two lists of names; those who made them feel valuable and competent and those who made them feel inadequate or unimportant.

Try doing this now. Write down (or at least mentally identify) your personal list of positive and negative people. You may have some people who could fit on both lists, but try to put most on one side or the other. Now consider the following questions.

  1. Which group would you say that you like the most, the positive or the negative? You may love people on both lists, but which do you like most?

Almost everyone says that they like the positive people most. The choice isn’t difficult.

  1. Which group would you say that you trust the most, positive or negative?

For example, if you needed an opinion about someone you had never met, which group’s opinions about the person would you trust most? Most choose the positive group.

  1. Which of the two groups are the most mentally healthy or stable?

In your estimation, which group demonstrates characteristics of mentally healthy people? Most say the positive.

  1. Do people in the negative group treat others negatively as well, or are they just negative toward you?

Have you seen them treat others as they treated you? Do you recall thinking that their treatment of someone wasn’t fair or warranted? Most say the negative people treated others negatively as well.

  1. Which group’s opinions of you do you seem to think about the most?

Which group has had a more powerful impact on your perceptions of yourself? Which group most deeply influenced the way you defined yourself? Unfortunately, most people say the negative group. The wounds of the negative group seem to dominate.


So, the end conclusion is that most people allow their self-esteem to be defined by people they don’t like, don’t trust, consider to be mentally ill and who treat others badly as well. Read that sentence again. Does it surprise you?

This exercise is designed to help people “consider the source” of their negative self-esteem beliefs. Hopefully, it will help you put the negative messages they conveyed in a more proper perspective.


Comments: How did this exercise impact your perspective on the negative people in your life?

Helping Yourself by Helping Others

The Benefits of Serving Others


I have said many times that the best therapy I could ever get is to provide therapy for others. My occasional feelingshelping_hands of discouragement or self-pity soon disappear when I turn my focus toward helping someone else.  My personal concerns fade into the background as I work to serve them.

This, of course, isn’t a new idea. We’ve long known that serving others is good medicine. We feel better when we put someone else above ourselves. We are created for community, and personally benefit from acts to take care of those around us.

We know this truth, but often forget it when we most need it. When we’re down, we become focused on ourselves. We dwell on our difficulties. We review our mistakes or failures, and anticipate future catastrophes.

Because of this internal focus, we imagine that other people are free of such problems. We assume that others are happier and more satisfied. We believe them to be more self-confident and comfortable with themselves. On some level, we know better. We just forget.

I even apply this principle of “serving others” when doing public speaking. Since publishing the “Parables” book, I have done a lot of speaking engagements. I truly enjoy doing workshops or presentations, but I do have a secret.

Before I begin speaking, I deliberately shift my focus to the audience. I ask myself why they are there. What are they looking for in this workshop? What might be going on in their lives? How can my material serve them? How can I help them? By focusing on them, I lose myself. I become more comfortable. This principle holds true when speaking to a group or to one person.

It is impossible to be self-conscious and other-conscious at the same time. When you are fully conscious of another person, you lose consciousness of yourself. When you are truly thinking about them, you stop worrying about what they are thinking about you.

Research shows that volunteering improves the health, happiness, and in some cases, the longevity of the volunteers. Studies also show that people who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, happiness and psychological well-being.

So give it a try. Reach out to someone. Think of someone you know who could use a visit, a phone call or a card. Identify an organization that could use your help. Call them and ask if they accept volunteers. Focus your attention on serving someone else. I’ll bet you’ll find that helping them helps you.

Can One’s Self-Esteem Be Too Good?

Why do some people act arrogant?

Is it possible for a person’s self-esteem to be too good? What if a person is arrogant or conceited? What if someone arrogant_manthinks too much of themselves? I hear these questions a lot.

I don’t think it is possible for a person’s self-esteem to be too good. To understand this, we need to examine what it means to have a good self-esteem. Let’s look at the relationship of self-esteem to arrogance or conceit.

Consider the following graph:


Bad Self-Esteem                                       Average Self-Esteem                              Great Self-Esteem


I’m worse than others.                           I’m equal to others.                              I’m better than others.

I’m not good enough.                            I’m as good as others.                                      I’m the best.


If you accept this graph, it would be possible for someone to have an inflated, arrogant or conceited self-esteem. I believe this graph to be inaccurate, and would substitute the following graph.



Bad Self-Esteem                                                                                    Healthy Self-Esteem


I’m worse than others.                                                                         I’m equal to others.

I’m not good enough.                                                                           I’m as good as others.

I’m better than others.

I’m the best.


According to this graph, a truly healthy self-esteem means that the person perceives herself as equal to others, not better or worse. A bad self-esteem is characterized by the attitude of inferiority or superiority.


So where does arrogant behavior come from? I believe it stems directly from a low self-esteem. When someone has a low self-esteem, he can react by acting inferior, or he can hide the self-esteem wounds by acting superior or arrogant.


His outward behaviors may appear conceited. He may even tell himself that he is superior. But his behavior and thoughts are simply efforts to deny inner self-esteem wounds. His arrogant behaviors are attempts to draw attention to himself and present a positive impression on others. He often puts others down to elevate his own position.


Think about it. If one truly has a healthy self-esteem, he has no need to act arrogant. He feels comfortable with himself and doesn’t need to build himself up. He doesn’t need to brag or elevate his position, because he realizes he, like all other people, has intrinsic worth. He doesn’t compare himself with others, because he knows that he, like others, has strengths and weaknesses, that he will perform better than others in some areas, and worse than others in other areas.


From the Christian view, a healthy self-esteem means that the person recognizes the reality of self. She knows that she is a sinner like everyone else, and that she can do nothing in her own strength. However, she also knows that she is precious and loved by her Creator. She rests in the knowledge that she is unconditionally loved and not alone. This perspective leaves no room for arrogance or conceit.


The individual with good self-esteem tries to treat others with respect, recognizing that she is equal to others, and that they are equal to her. Given this perspective, wouldn’t it be a better world if everyone had a good self-esteem.



Question: Do you agree or disagree with the position that arrogant behavior is actually a cover up for low self-esteem? Please share your thoughts.