Internal Sources of Self-Esteem
What is the contribution of the individual to his or her self-esteem and what is the contribution of other people and the environment?
Self-esteem is influenced by both internal and external factors. By “internal” I mean factors that reside within (or are generated by) the individual- ideas, beliefs, practices and behaviors.
Regrettably, teachers of self-esteem are no less impervious to the worship of false idols than anyone else. I recall listening to a lecture by a man who delivered self-esteem seminars to the general public and to corporations. He announced that surrounding ourselves with people who think highly of us is one of the best ways to raise self-esteem. I thought of the nightmare of low self-esteem in people who are constantly bombarded with praise and adulation– like rock stars that have no idea how they got where they are and cannot survive a day without drugs. I thought of the futility of telling people with low self-esteem, who feel lucky if they are accepted by anyone, to raise their self-esteem by only seeking the company of admirers.
The ultimate source of self-esteem is and can only be internal. When we seek it from external sources, in the actions and responses of others, we invite tragedy.
I do not mean to suggest that a psychologically healthy person is unaffected by the feedback he or she receives from others. Certainly it is wiser to seek companions who boost our self-esteem rather than work to diminish it, but to look to others as a primary source of our self-worth is dangerous. There are immense differences between people for whom positive feedback is the only important factor and people for whom the importance is considerably less.
The environment someone grows up in can support and encourage the healthy assertion of consciousness, or it can oppose and undermine it. Many individuals suffer so much damage in their early years, before their self is fully formed, that it is all but impossible for healthy self-esteem to emerge later without intense psychotherapy.