When it is high, we reflect what we believe about others.

When it is low, we reflect what we believe about others.

Let me explain: 

We are all confident, self-assured, and accomplished in various areas of our lives. We may be an accomplished artist, or actor, credit controller, or driver, or baker or whatever. If our self-esteem is high about our accomplishment, we will see equal competence, or even higher competence in others. If our self-esteem is low about or own accomplishments, we will not be able to acknowledge the accomplishments of others – whether they be in our same area of expertise or a completely different areas of expertise. 

Therefore, if our self-confidence is low, we would tend to make others’ accomplishments seem lesser than ours in order to feel elevated above them – or even equal to them. Note to self: “Hilda, watch your behaviour in the traffic.”

This should not be confused with habitual negative behaviour patterns that haw been cultivated to mask low self-esteem. This could occur when we give another a compliment about something in particular, and we don’t really mean it. We may do this because we have learned that if we do this, we are elevated in that person’s perception about who we are. 

We could identify this type of behaviour if we monitor whether our feelings about giving someone a compliment are the same in public as they are in private. For instance, if you meet a friend in shopping mall and you compliment her on her hairstyle, and as soon as she is out of earshot, you tell another friend that you thought the hairstyle did not suit her at all – this would be a great indication that the compliment you had just given is inauthentic and was simply given as a habitual behaviour mechanism. This type of behaviour could occur if we were conditioned to flatter others when we were growing up. 

Whether this type of behaviour emanates from a conditioned response or low self-esteem is in fact irrelevant. In both instances, we would be out of integrity with ourselves. 

So, how do we reflect low self-esteem or insecurity? I have had several discussions with a friend about God. She believes in the Holy Trinity as taught in Christianity. She asked why I had statues of Buddha in my house. I explained that I enjoyed the teachings of the Buddha and that there were many belief systems that others follow and that all belief systems hold truths. We had had many discussions about this. 

Recently, when she was upset with me, she interpreted my explanation about belief systems in a way where she felt I as if diminishing her belief system. She suggested that her God was the only true, living God. I sent a message back saying, “All Gods are living.” She responded angrily that her God was the one true God and that all other gods were false gods and pointed out that I should note that she spelled the word with small letters to denote the other gods. She felt angry that I “belittled” her God.

This is not a discussion about whose God is the right God but a discussion about self-esteem. My feeling is that if we are supremely confident that we are right, it would be completely irrelevant if others do not believe as we believe.

Our self-esteem causes us to reflect almost exactly what we believe others are doing to us. 

Another way we can reflect our self-esteem in a situation is if someone is sharing something about their passion or accomplishments. For instance, a friend may talk about a recent painting that they have sold at an upmarket gallery. We may interject that we have sold thousands of copies of our book. We do this to show that we are also accomplished in our field, since we may feel that our artist friend is somehow diminishing our accomplishments by discussing something that they do well. Or, that our friend ‘arrogantly believes’ that they are the only one who is accomplished. When we do this, we show that we are not self-confident enough to allow our friend to have their own moment of glory. If we felt truly confident about our accomplishments, we would have no need to bring our accomplishments up during a conversation that is centered around our friend. When we are confident about our accomplishments, the need for external validation becomes obsolete. That does not mean that we do not enjoy a compliment every now and then but that compliments are not a requirement in order for us to feel good about our work. 

This type of behaviour becomes very evident if we are dealing with a subject that may be in the public limelight and Donald Trump is a case in point. Let’s see how this may play out. 

Someone might mention that they are not a Trump fan and may mention a negative news clip. Those who are confident in their love for Trump may simply say, “I think he is wonderful,” and that may be the end of the discussion. However, if there is a measure of insecurity around this, the person may deflect the negative statement about Trump and remind the speaker of the shortcomings of another by saying something like, “Well, I think Biden is a clown.”

If we have internal insecurities, or low-self-esteem, we may find ourselves in a group situation where several conversations are happening at the same time. We may believe that some people are discussing us, ‘behind our back’, which they may or may not have been doing. If we are confident and secure, we will simply leave it alone with perhaps a shrug. If we are insecure and feel judged, we may confront the group and challenge them. It is only when we feel insecure that we will feel the need to confront or challenge – the higher the aggression or outrage, the lower the self-esteem. In my experience it is those people who habitually judge or discuss others ‘behind their backs’ who feel judged and talked about. Thus, we reflect what we believe about others. If we are confident about who we are, we will know that what others have to say about us has nothing to do with us (whether good or bad) but what they say about us say is a reflection of their self-esteem.

Another way we reflect our self-esteem into the world is perhaps to remind others consistently about our accomplishment or qualifications. If we are confident about who we are, the results of the work we do is our only required reflection. If we have to remind others how good we are – this emanates from a space of insecurity. This does not mean that we should accommodate patronising behaviour from others. How we react to the patronising behaviour, would be a reflection of our self-esteem. If we are outraged and fail to set firm but kind boundaries around such behaviour, it reflects insecurity. What we may do if we are feeling insecure is to discuss it ad nauseum with our group of friends rather than confront the patronising person. 

Even boundary setting is a reflection of our self-esteem. If we have a need to set boundaries in an aggressive or ‘brutally honest’ way, it shows a distinct lack of self-esteem. If we are able to set boundaries with clarity and kindness and if we are able to maintain those boundaries without flying into a rage if someone transgresses them, it reflects high self-esteem. If our boundaries have been transgressed and we bemoan our lot to our friends instead of having a discussion with the person who has transgressed those boundaries, we are again showing how low self-esteem manifests. 

Self-esteem is not static or constant. We will have days where we reflect high self-esteem, and we will have days where we reflect low self-esteem. The trick is to recognise our own low self-esteem when we interpret someone’s confidence as arrogance. Or to become aware when we are reflecting our insecurities onto a specific situation. When we often feel belittled and judged, we could perhaps have a deep, sincere look at ourselves to see if we ourselves are not judging and belittling others. 

Self-confidence and self-esteem is something that need consistent care, self-awareness and development. It is not something we can just leave to chance.