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When Self-Esteem Goes Awry

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
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People with high self-esteem recognize their own importance and expect to be treated with respect. However, they’re also aware that they’re not unique; others expect to be treated in a respectful manner as well. Hence, when they’re frustrated, they do not lash out at others, demeaning them or disrespecting them.

In contrast, there are people who believe they have high self-esteem, but may actually be more egotistical and self-righteous than they know. Such folks carry the self-esteem banner too far, responding to their own hurt feelings with retaliatory rage, diminishing others as they act out: “I deserve to be treated better, how dare you!”

A few examples:

  • The exasperated customer who arrogantly chews out the waiter, humiliating him because “I didn’t get what I ordered. What kind of terrible service is this?”
  • The annoyed friend who ridicules you, telling you what “a dimwit you are” because you don’t know what she knows.
  • The agitated spouse who screams that “you don’t do anything right, what’s the matter with you?” when you neglected to do what she expected.
  • The peeved parent who shouts that “something’s wrong with you” when you act in a way that he doesn’t understand.
  • The provoked professional who chastises his patient for questioning his expertise, accusing her of “undermining my competence.”

When egotistical people are upset, they pay no attention to the other person’s psyche and just strike out. They become angry, outraged, even furious, turning an unpleasant incident into a felony, rather than letting it be a simple traffic violation or misdemeanor.

In contrast, when people with genuinely high self-esteem are upset, they feel annoyed, even angry but they do not have a need to strike out and disparage others. This doesn’t mean they remain passive, taking whatever insults come their way. They constructively take care of themselves by speaking up, clearing up misconceptions, using humor to lighten the situation and/or seeking a solution to what’s annoying the other person. If the interaction is still bothering them, they’ve learned to bounce back by speaking about the incident to a trusted friend and by nurturing themselves with an uplifting reminder of their own worth.

What they don’t do is to escalate the situation by putting the other person down with demeaning, denigrating or disparaging remarks. They have no need to counter-attack with words or actions to restore their feelings of adequacy.

So, the next time someone says or does something that’s disconcerting to you, see if you can find a way to feel better without attacking them. The ability to do so will provide you with more genuine self-respect rather than simply getting down to their level, hurling insults back and forth.

Copyright © 2019: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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