In our previous blogs we discussed the concept of self-esteem--your valuation of your own worth that results from your assessment of your ability to live up to your personal and social standards. Optimal self-esteem is a healthy, balanced sense of inner comfort and security that reflects confidence and satisfaction in your sense of self. Your self-esteem naturally fluctuates as a result of your moods, experiences, and interactions.

In order to regulate your self-esteem, you may depend on external sources in healthy or unhealthy ways. Being close to others, gaining acceptance from those you love, seeking admiration or validation from others, and using controlling behavior or power tactics in your relationships may elevate your self-esteem temporarily. However, an excessive reliance on external sources for self-esteem regulation puts you in a very vulnerable position.

Katherine, an overly-empathic white knight, realized that she relied on reassurance from her partner to positively alter her self-esteem. If a telephone call ended without her receiving the validation she was seeking, she felt bad about herself for hours. If her partner did provide validation, her mood immediately became elevated. As we've discussed previously, your self-esteem naturally fluctuates as a result of your moods, experiences, and interactions. However, an excessive need for reassurance may indicate a need to develop stability in one's sense of oneself. In contrast, Joel, a tarnished white knight, would habitually point out to others his affiliation with important members of the community in order to bolster his own self-esteem. Joel required admiration from others as a mirror for his own self-worth. And Ashley, a terrorizing-terrified white knight, would denigrate her partner at social events whenever she imagined that someone else might be interested in him. Her controlling behavior and power tactics enabled her to feel securely attached and important to her partner.

Healthy self-esteem will give you the ability to be authentic, honest, and autonomous, and it will help you to maintain a solid sense of self. You can examine and work on the factors affecting your self-view, either through self-help or by seeking professional assistance. We've provided some starting points below.

Starting Points for Optimizing Self-Esteem
Think about the times when you felt good about yourself. What commonalities do you see?

What external sources do you depend on for your self-esteem? Consider what you get from those sources and find a way to provide it for yourself.

Think about the last time you suffered a slight to your self-esteem either from an internal or external source. What actions did you take to feel better about yourself? Did these actions work?

About the Authors

Marilyn Krieger, Ph.D.

Marilyn J. Krieger, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Marin County, CA.

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The White Knight Syndrome