Is Your High Self-Esteem Actually Holding You Back?

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Strange as it sounds.

Woman in casual outfit standing in "star" pose in corner of two colorful walls in sunlight.

Forget everything you thought you knew about what it takes to be successful and listen up: your soaring self-esteem might actually be holding you back. Let’s just digest that for a second. Contrary to the popular adage that confidence is king, there is actually compelling evidence to suggest that as our self-esteem levels increase, so too does the likelihood that we will fail to live up to our full potential. Here’s why.

Fear of failure

While having low self-esteem can be problematic in its own right, having high self-esteem isn’t the automatic path to success we might have assumed. At the crux of it, our self-esteem is determined by how we value ourselves – yet most of us seek that validation from outside sources, such as praise and other accomplishments. In these instances, our self-esteem is intrinsically entwined with a fear of failure.

This means that unless we’re fairly certain that we’ll achieve the goals we set out to – whether it’s winning a competition or landing our dream job – we’re reluctant to even attempt them as the judgement of others has the potential to shatter our confidence and self-worth.

Insecurity reigns

Do you have high self-esteem? If so, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that when we do try and “fail” at something, feelings of depression and anxiety are common side-effects. As Dr Kristen Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas points out, “We tend to eviscerate ourselves with self-criticism when we don’t meet our high standards. As soon as our feelings of superiority slip – as they inevitably will – our sense of worthiness takes a nose dive,” she explains. “We swing wildly between overly inflated and overly deflated self-esteem, an emotional roller coaster ride whose end result is often insecurity, anxiety and depression.”

Switch up your mindset

Instead of placing emphasis on our self-esteem, concentrate instead on your self-compassion. Here’s the difference: while we’ve already established that some of us with high self-esteem will shelve our dreams until we’re certain we can achieve them (whenever that might be), those with high self-compassion are actually going for theirs without giving outside judgement a second thought.

Why? Because those with high levels of self-compassion don’t punish themselves when they fall short of their goal. “Self-compassion doesn’t demand that we evaluate ourselves positively or that we see ourselves as better than others,” explains Dr Neff, the author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. “Rather, the positive emotions of self-compassion kick in exactly when self-esteem falls down; when we don’t meet our expectations or fail in some way.”

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