Social Question

janbb's avatar

How much should "outside" affirmation play a part in one's self-esteem?

Asked by janbb (43547 points ) March 6th, 2010

(Prompted by the pleasure I took in some compliments yesterday.) I was thinking about the fact that I have learned to like myself more over the years and don’t need outside feeding quite as much as when I was more insecure. Yet, I do still really take pleasure and get affirmation from compliments I deem valid. How do you react to ‘strokes’ and do you feel they play a bigger or smaller part in your self-esteem?

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32 Answers

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Compliments are very nice and appreciated but I don’t allow them to play a huge role because my self-worth doesn’t hinge on whether or not someone thinks I make a great meatloaf actually,I have never heard this before ;))

dpworkin's avatar

We are social animals, and we love to get approval. We need it, and we deserve it, unless we behave badly or hurt people, in which case we are less likely to get it.

marinelife's avatar

They are the icing on the cake of your self-esteem.

They don’t really play a role in it, because they are too iffy. Things can be up one day and down another.

You cannot count on outside reactions to keep you going.

strawberrypomme's avatar

I think you are correct in saying that the more insecure you are, the more weight you give to outside affirmation as a way to validate yourself. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just the way the human ego works. And sometimes we need to hear good things about ourselves to truly learn to love and appreciate what we have been given.

Bluefreedom's avatar

My own opinion of how I see myself will always be the most important of all and I suspect that is the way it might be with most people. I’ve certainly been happy with any time someone wishes to pay me a compliment because it makes me feel good. A healthy level of self-esteem is important for everyone and I believe liking yourself and being proud of who and what you are are paramount to everything else.
—————————————————————————————————————————

The Man In The Glass

When you get what you want and you struggle for self
And the world makes you King for a day,
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass,
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest
For he’s with you right to the end,
And you know you’ve passed your most difficult test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of life
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

I know that compliments are supposed to be meaningful, but to me they don’t mean much. The vast majority of people don’t understand my intentions, so being complimented for the wrong thing can actually be hurtful. Only my wife really understood my intentions and was very good at constructive criticism. I’d much rather have good constructive criticism than a half-assed compliment meant as an ego-stroke. “Good job” is all the compliment I need or want.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

To me, compliments and affirmation are very different things. Affirmation feels very important as a marker of positive action, result, intention, etc.

ChaosCross's avatar

None, complements can certainly help your self esteem, but ideally you should never need them.

liminal's avatar

I wonder how much the tying of self-esteem to outside affirmation is a conditioned response. I started thinking about this when I became a parent. All the sudden I noticed saying things like “good boy” when my son showed me his block tower building or “good girl” when my daughter showed me a drawing. I noticed parents everywhere doing this. It is also what I was raised hearing. We started changing our language and adding to our dialogue because, one, we didn’t want to tie value to personhood (and personhood to gender) and, two, we wanted them to experience motivation from within.

Examples of how we changed our language would be: Our son shows us a block tower and we exclaim “look how tall!!” Our daughter shows us a picture we ecstatically say “wow, so many colors!!”

It is probably more accurate to say we added questions to our dialogue. So my child works on something and asks me what I think. There was a time that I jumped in with all sorts of ooo’s and ahhh’s. Now, before jumping into praise, I usually lead with a notice and a question: “You are smiling so big, what do you think?” I then usually affirm their perception and add my own.

We have been doing this for years now and it has become an organic natural way to interact.

The surprise affect of this has been I respond differently to outside affirmations. While I appreciate them, I don’t see them as definitive of me or my work.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@janbb Oh jes, I had to come across this after I threw that penguin crack at you. Sorry, you can have one really mean crack at me and I can’t come back at it. Well maybe a little. Personally I don’t need much outside affirmation, but I still like getting the occassional stroke if I know its valid. Trying to blow smoke up my butt just ticks me off and doesn’t improve how I percieve the blower. When I can think to myself “I done good” and someone confirms it is a great feeling.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

People who depend on others to give them self worth will find themselves disappointed frequently in life.

wundayatta's avatar

I am intrinsically motivated. I do what I think is best for others and myself. I believe that I see things more clearly than others and that sometimes, the value of my thinking will not appear for a while—long after they can remember where they got the idea from. Sometimes I see my ideas popping up as if someone else thought of them. Which is nice.

But I also feel a strong need to be recognized and appreciated. I tend to believe there is something wrong with me when I don’t get appreciation. But my desires for appreciation are wildly out of touch with the realistic. I.e., I expect to be loved, which is rather unrealistic.

No, I don’t expect it. In fact, I expect not to be loved. Or even liked. That’s a kind of defense against being disappointed. But it is weird because when people do like me, I don’t believe it. It’s a twisted up, confusing way of being. I don’t recommend it to anyone.

I guess to sum up, I need more appreciation that I should, but when I get it, I don’t recognize it or believe it. Even when I give it to myself. I doubt everything. My advice? Don’t be like me.

mattbrowne's avatar

How about 50%? Reality checks are important. Individuals who want to grow need to take feedback from others very seriously, but they should also learn the skill of self-criticism. Personal development does not mean we have to please everybody. We don’t have to follow every hype to earn outside affirmation.

Cruiser's avatar

@lucillelucillelucille No need to disguise the fact that is your meatloaf down range.

Just_Justine's avatar

I know it’s better to work on internal self worth, as opposed to external feedback, but I think a bit of both goes down well!

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Just_Justine They’re both good, and in this world, grab all the good you can get.

MrsDufresne's avatar

If a person lived alone for their entire life, isolated, without any living being ever telling them, or showing them that they loved them, would they have self esteem?

I don’t know. I don’t think so.

They may have a strong sense of self-reliance through succeeding at tasks they may have found difficult.

But if they do not have the means to share their feelings with others, then I don’t think they would have a concept of self esteem.

How do I react to compliments? Hmm, I’d have to say, skeptically. During my formative years, “compliments” usually equaled lies. EEw.

Great question.

janbb's avatar

@Just_Justine I do think you need some of each.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@MrsDufresne I hadn’t even considered that circumstance. That’s a GA.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Would they need any self esteem?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

They’re the highest ranking, the lowest ranking and middle ranking members of their society all the time. If you don’t have a soccer ball around.

MrsDufresne's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe If they were isolated completely, I don’t think so. I think they would need companionship more, because isolation will take its toll. Self esteem comes later after one has shared themselves (thoughts, ideas, feelings and even affection) with another.

“WIIIIILLLLSSOOOOON!!!” lol

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I think so too. Although the thought of being the only member of the society gives me the willies. I need some (slaps to the foreheads of other members on here) alot of personal interaction.

MrsDufresne's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Yep, the thought of being totally and completely alone for my whole life makes my stomach turn too. It seems downright unbearable.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

But a person alone like that could never be considered insane, because they also determine what’s normal for that society.

wundayatta's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe What society? There can be no society of one.

In any case, there are a number of children who have grown up with not stimulation whatsoever, locked in closets and such. They can’t speak; they don’t know how to see; and are utterly lost when someone rescues them.

I’m sure they have no idea who they are, or even that they are. We can differentiate ourselves from nature, whether as a group, or alone. But we can’t differentiate ourselves from others of our kind alone.

When we have others to compare ourselves to, we can get positive and negative feedback. I believe we have to be taught how to esteem ourselves. If we are never taught, it is not there “naturally.” We need to understand that it is possible to be of value to others. That can only happen when others tell us we are of value.

Self-esteem is irrelevant without society. Self-esteem is a matter of comparison. You compare yourself to others, and find yourself to be doing just fine. It doesn’t matter whether this perception is accurate or not. All that matters is that you believe it.

People who are brought up by caretakers who give them a judicious amount of positive feedback, I’d guess, are more likely to have higher self-esteem. People with no positive feedback, or those with too much positive feedback, I believe, are likely to have lower self-esteem.

People seem to believe they can be important regardless of what feedback they get. I am very skeptical of such a claim.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I’ll have to think on this for awhile. Its extremely interesting. Even though the individual is all alone, that would still be his society wouldn’t it. Just because he has no one else in his society doesn’t make it not exist for him. Depends on how we define society. GA

talljasperman's avatar

I respond to strokes with 911 and defibrillator panels…Or I start flirting with the person

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

It all depends on who is giving me compliments – there are only a few people that matter.

partyparty's avatar

It certainly is lovely to receive a compliment, but it doesn’t affect my self-esteem.
I know my own worth without having to be told.

phillis's avatar

I’ve paid close attention to this over the years, both in my own responses, and in society, in general. I have to admit, I had some internal tweaking to do. Just because I know what emotional/mental health looks like doesn’t mean I am always in compliance. I felt it necessary to make changes in order to more closely resemble the “ideal” health picture.

The difficulty I faced in meeting that goal was compounded by the fact that I had never seen that behavior appropriately modeled in any adult I was bonded to while growing up. This is the exact same problems that children face today. This is a generational legacy.

I am firm in my resolve that people are inherently good. It is the rare person whose vitriolic responses show not pain, but a void where there should be a soul (I don’t like it, but I can still face that some people are born psychopaths). But I think that otherwise well-meaning parents did not (could not) teach us how to life manage, or even how to build self-esteem from within. Entirely too much emphasis has been placed on outside opinions.

So, then…...what happens when parents expect results from a tiny person who doesn’t come pre-packaged knowing how to complete a given task successfully? Childhood is about learning, not already being able to perform as expected. When we pay attention only to end results to the exclusion of effort, even children who were very, very loved go on to develop a skewed, undeserved negative self image, and are then set loose in the world carrying unrealistic, even destructive, expectations of themselves and others.

Another contributing factor has been that, instead of learning to appreciate the uniqueness of who they are, children have been taught to squash those unique gifts and talents in order to better “fit in” to society. Imagine a world with a few little Copernicus’s running around touting that Earth is not the center of the universe, while his society was a great big Catholic world where everybody swears that it is.

Now, imagine how being excommunicated from a church (your whole society) can make someone feel hated, and what that does to a person, psychically. Is it any wonder we’ve grown up with a self-esteem deficit? Copernicus was an adult when that happened, and even HE didn’t do a great job handling it, emotionally. How likely is it that a child, who is utterly dependent on adults around them for their identity and self worth, would fare any better?

The systematic deconstruction of the intrinsically positive self image has cut deeply. It has thus spread exponetially within societies as each generation begat the next. This has created a wide chasm between how one views themselves and thier capabilities, and the actuality of who they are. In short, we remain forever conditioned from an early age that the adults were right, which is the platform from whence our adult actions spring.

In essence, we have precious little confidence that what is left inside us is worth much of anything, and that our gifts, which we originally saw as beautiful and interesting and wonderful, are merely worthless baubles. If we want any positive at all, we end up forced into looking for it from outside ourselves, making us extremely vulnerable to the whims, miscalculations in judgements, and dysfunctions, of everybody around us. When society and our loved ones let us down, we end up feeling tossed about in life, totally at the mercy of “fate”, which, in turn, forces us back toward seeking the approval of others in a never-ending cycle of negativity.

Outside affirmation is a valuable source of feedback, but with the problems outlined above, how we view that input can be as corrosive as the environment we came from. If there is any hope of fully escaping the destructive cycles we carry forward from childhood, we must examine ourselves, clean house, and start all over. This question is a good one, but is premature by it’s very nature, coming in secondary to the primary issue of self-image. Ideally, the question would have been asked in reverse.

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