Your Most Powerful Self-Esteem Lifter is You

You're not the boss of me and my self-esteem.

Posted Jul 21, 2009

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." —Eleanor Roosevelt

"You're not the boss of me!" asserts the three-year-old, rebelling against parental limit setting. When it comes to regulating our self esteem, we should all be so three-years-old, refusing to give that power away.

All of us are subject to transitory ups and downs in our self esteem--the ongoing evaluations of ourselves. Our fluctuating self views are constantly modified by feedback about how and what we are feeling, thinking, and doing. That feedback comes both from outside the self, and from the inside. Positive internal feedback leads to high self-esteem; negative, to low self-esteem.

Types of feedback and how they affect self esteem

Suppose someone makes a false criticism of you. For example: "Yuck, your green hair is really disgusting," when your hair is really brown. Would you think less of yourself? Not so much. More likely, you'd either laugh at the absurdity, or think they were a bit daft (or colorblind) at the least. Why wouldn't it lower your self esteem? Because you have to agree with a criticism in order for it to deflate your self esteem. The comment about your hair is an example of noncredible negative external feedback.

On the other hand, let's say someone compliments you. Let's suppose someone said, "You look so well rested." Ordinarily you may like this, but if you had spent the morning bemoaning the bags under your eyes and didn't sleep until 3 am, would your self esteem be raised up? No, you would probably just dismiss their opinion, internally at least. This would be an example of noncredible positive external feedback.

Categories of feedback are either positive or negative, either internal or external, and either credible or noncredible.

And the most powerful combination of these qualities for raising self esteem is credible, positive internal feedback.

So that you can see more clearly why your internal feedback to yourself has more effect on raising your self esteem than outside feedback, let's look at more examples.

Credible negative external feedback example. An admired boss scowls, "The document was supposed to be delivered by Monday, and it didn't get here until Tuesday." While, you probably wouldn't like to hear about the missed deadline, it wouldn't lower your self esteem as much as if you said to yourself, "I am always late. I'm sabotaging myself-again. I'm such a loser."

Credible positive external feedback example. Your niece says, "It meant a lot to me to have you at my graduation." You would probably feel pleased to hear her say this.

Credible positive internal feedback example. Using the example of your niece, above, suppose that internally you say to yourself, "I really did manage to organize my schedule so that I could be there for her. It took a lot, but I did it!" Notice which has the more powerful effect on your view of yourself.

In the example above, clearly, the internal feedback has a greater impact on your self esteem. Your own opinion has the most powerful effect on your zestiness and self esteem. So your self esteem boils down to what feedback you give yourself--what you say to yourself about yourself.

It also follows that how you talk to yourself depends upon the meanings you make about yourself according to what you think, what you feel, and what you do.

In the next post, I'll write about one of the biggest self esteem smashers-the way you talk to yourself (internal negative feedback) about your emotional states. That feedback is so often noncredible, because it was formed from messages passed on to you through the limitations of your early caretakers.

To learn more about Dr. Bolton's work, visit her websites at: and

About the Author

Jane Bolton, Psy.D., M.F.T., is a supervising and training analyst and adjunct professor at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles.

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