Externally driven self-esteem is attaining value and worth outside of one’s self. There are three primary ways in which we judge ourselves and look to receive worthiness.
Performance based Self-Esteem: I have worth based on what I do.
Achievement, performance, and success establish the measurement of my worth. This may include my skill at performing an activity such as athletics, dance, music, art, or sports. It may be about what I accomplish or how successful I am at a career, attaining a degree or level of education, how much money I earn, how productive I am, how many promotions, publications, awards, trophies, or accolades I have that prove my skills, talent, success, intelligence, or achievement in any endeavor.
Am I at the top or the bottom of my field? I can be a perfectionist and strive to be the best. I evaluate anything less than perfect performance harshly and my self-esteem declines. Sometimes, I give up or quit if I believe I will not succeed. Other times, I doggedly pursue my goals until exhaustion. I am concerned about what the culture perceives as being highly accomplished. If I don’t live up to my standard of performance or success I feel deflated and see myself as a failure or underachiever. My fallibility is devastating. I may judge how successful I am at having and maintaining relationships, how many friends I have, and how socially adept I am. I am driven and relentless in my pursuit to perform and achieve in many arenas. I am only temporarily satisfied with an accomplishment. Doing is my modus operandi. Being is foreign. It is difficult to be still, to have space or time with nothing to do. I do not feel worthwhile if I am not engaged in an activity, striving towards a goal or having a purpose.
When a Performance-based individual is not dependent on success or accomplishment for their self-esteem, the upside is they have a consistent level of motivation to accomplish their goals while achieving a balance of inward spaciousness and relaxation. When caught in doing to uphold their sense of worth, they quickly succumb to overdoing by working more hours, studying longer, and striving for perfection. Their physical and mental health suffer. A study by the University of Michigan found that thoughts of failure and loss of esteem in students increased anxiety and stress, caused distracted attention, reduced performance and productivity, and interfered with their memory.
Attribute based Self-Esteem: I have worth based upon what I have,
which establishes my identity. Possessions, causes, or groups with exclusive status give me a sense of importance and prestige. I feel better about myself when I own a particular car, motorcycle, RV, house, live in a certain neighborhood, travel to the most awesome destination or belong to a specialized group. My identity is enhanced by what I own, what I wear, by the gadgets, electronics, equipment, and tools that I acquire. I am quick to purchase the newest and most updated “thingamajig” whether it is a device, mode of transportation, apparel or the latest and greatest trendy item. When I join a sport, I am outfitted with all of the gear and clothing that define me as one who participates in that activity.
I keep company with those who reinforce the attributes and values I deem bring status and importance and eschew those with differing values. I join clubs, causes, groups and activities that uphold the view of myself as being special, distinct, unique, or “at the cutting edge.” I may tie my identity to the privileged upper class or to shirking the status quo and living an alternative or minimalist lifestyle and conforming to the attributes characteristic of that niche. My appearance identifies me with my “peeps” and/or beliefs. Outer symbols are displayed, such as tattoos, hairstyle, piercings, uniforms, business suits, designer clothes, or other attire, to indicate, “what I have, who I affiliate with, and thus who I am.”
Even if I am a loner, I identify myself with a specific image, status, cause or ideology. My identity is dependent upon the acquisition of possessions, titles, prestige, philosophies, causes or membership in distinguished groups. With each acquisition or identification, I receive a boost to my ailing ego and a false sense of superiority. The thought is, “if I own this, if I obtain this notoriety, if I belong to this group or level of consciousness, I am somebody and above the fray. I will be safe." Without these, I am invisible, I am nothing, I don't exist, I have no meaning and am at a loss to know who I am or how I can survive. When the external validation through these means fails to materialize, my self-esteem plunges into despair and depression. Without an outer identity or status, I see myself as vulnerable and worthless.
The upside of Attribute-based Individuals is there industriousness and creativity. When they learn how to value their intrinsic worth, their skills can beget amazing innovation. When in the unhealthy state of acquisition and possession, their focus is purely on filling up the emptiness inside of them. They have little regard for the well-being of others creating distance and separation.
Other based Self-Esteem: I have worth based upon what others think about me.
I have worth when I receive approval from others or receive recognition. What other people think about my body, appearance, intelligence, ideas, decisions, abilities, and personality affect how I see myself. When someone tells me I am wrong, doesn’t agree with me, debases me, ignores me, or thinks I am flawed in some way, I sink into feelings of rejection and my inner critic flares up adding even more disapproval. I feel attacked and go into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. I flee and appease by deferring to the opinions and decisions of others rather than acknowledging what is right or true for me or I may attack by angrily and defensively pushing back to protect my sense of esteem. Sometimes, the disapproval is so devastating to my sense of worth that I freeze and withdraw completely. I may suppress my knowledge, intuition, intelligence, or believe that I am stupid, incompetent, weak, ugly, no good and “I don’t matter.”
I seek approval to feel loved and attempt to protect my sense of worth by surrounding myself with only people that approve of me. I have weak or no boundaries and tend not to assert my needs. I may take care of others' needs so they will like or approve of me. I listen and pay attention to beliefs about what is considered beautiful, strong, talented, intelligent and ideal. I compare myself with others and may be envious of those fitting accepted norms of appearance, talents and abilities. I am hyper critical of my physical appearance and body image. It leaves me open to public scrutiny and derision. If I think my body, appearance, talents or intelligence do not meet a perception of perfection, my inner critic has a field day of self-loathing and self-deprecation.
The upside to Other-based Individuals is their orientation towards relationships and people. When they find a balanced internally based self-esteem, they can be good listeners, empathetic, compassionate and create intimate relationships. However, when they are seeking others' approval it creates a very precarious and fragile emotional state.
Our culture fervently reinforces receiving Adulation and Worth from outside ourselves
It is common for us to receive our esteem from outside sources because we are taught to value success, achievement, possessions and the opinions of others. These are all worthy pursuits, which enhance, add great value and meaning to our life. Our culture fervently reinforces receiving adulation and worth from outside ourselves. It becomes problematic when we base our value and worth as humans on these sources and disengage from our internal truth and knowing of our inherent worth. If you are thrown into despair or turmoil every time you fail to obtain what you think you need, it behooves you to be aware of the external source, your judgments about yourself and what you fear. Unfortunately, receiving your self-worth from the outside is fundamentally unstable and insubstantial. It is a vulnerable and limiting position to be at the mercy of fluctuating achievement, performance, and status, or maintaining an identity based on acquisition or others approval.
External drives may lead you into behaviors and actions that are detrimental to yourself and others preventing you from knowing and expressing your true self.
Uncovering Your Most Prominent Type of Externally based Self Esteem
The next time your Inner Critic starts nagging notice what it is saying.
- Which externally driven source of esteem is it commenting about?
- What effect is it having on my self-esteem?
- Notice your energy. Am I feeling small, diminished, weak, or contracted?
- Do I feel overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, vulnerable, angry, fearful or need to protect myself?
- Am I feeling “Less Than” others, “Superior” to others, or Equal to others?
- How often does my Inner Critic arise around a particular theme?
- Is my self worth based more on what I do, what I have, or others opinions of me?
Internally Based Self-Esteem: Authentic, Stable, and Secure
Internal self-esteem comes from the inside; you authentically know that you have intrinsic value and worth simply by being born. You value yourself as a unique being. There has never been or will be another human exactly like you. When you develop internal self-esteem, you have an inner resource of stability that doesn’t get buffeted about. You have a deep sense of security and like yourself with all of your frailties, foibles, and idiosyncrasies. You are confident in your ability to meet life’s challenges and have the resilience to cope with failure and loss. You know you have the ability to make choices, to express your true self and to assert your needs. You know you are capable of being successful and happy. You value yourself for whom you are rather than for what you own, achieve or if others approve of you. You do not feel superior to or lesser than others. You see yourself as an equal without the need for constant validation. There is a deep acceptance of yourself.
Inner Critic Part 1