To be proud of our self, to be more than satisfied with our current state of being, to be prideful of who we are: a mere semblance of that which is meant by the utterance “self-esteem”.
And it is those feelings of pride that make willing participants of us all in the pursuit of esteem. We all yearn for confidence, pride, and respect in some fashion or another. Like journeymen on an exploration, we have a thirst which can only be quenched by a source of richness.
Intellectual achievements, physical feats, and social status are all instances of things upon which we may very well derive our esteem from, as these sources of esteem are common amongst the many: the common source of richness. Publishing an original book, winning a sporting event, or becoming adorned by the masses can all manifest within us, if we so choose, a sense of pride, a sense of confidence, or a sense of respect: a self-esteem. But ought we derive our esteem from such sources?
In addition to that, there are also various psychological determinants of esteem, some of which are rather common and some of which are remarkably uncommon. Broadly speaking, these determinants stem from either internal or external factors, and they can either be heavily influenced by social comparisons or left entirely untouched by social comparison. More shall be said in regards to determinants later on.
Moreover, if these sources and determinants are indeed common, then perhaps some skepticism is justifiably warranted herein; think momentarily of just how prevalent problems of self-esteem in fact are amongst society. From that we can reasonably infer that the common sources and determinants are, in some manner, flawed sufficiently enough to contribute meaningfully to the issues of esteem amongst the masses.
And I am of the belief that such sources and determinants are indeed flawed, as they are seldom rooted in something I deem necessary for a strong esteem.
To be clear, beyond doubt, there are indeed some among us who derive from those previously mentioned sources and determinants their esteem. And by all means, doing so is perfectly legitimate, for some do rather well in deriving their esteem from said sources. So, I have herein no intent to belittle or denigrate anyone who derives their esteem from them. However, I do believe those sources and determinants, of which the masses derive their esteem, to be less efficacious than the determinant that I shall soon propose.
Determinant: that which determines the means by which our esteem is derived (e.g., social comparison).
Source: the medium used for the expression of some determinant (e.g., being good at writing books).
Extrinsic: not part of the essential nature of someone or something; coming or operating from outside.
Intrinsic: belonging naturally; essential.
Determinants of Self-Esteem
Many concepts rely upon presuppositions for their validity; for example, the idea of a “decision” being made, in particular cases, presupposes free will. Which means, to understand the concept “decision,” at least in those particular cases, requires the comprehension of the presuppositions used to support the concept.
As an example, consider the following utterance: “I chose to drink coffee rather than tea, today”. That utterance has one of two presuppositions about free will. Either the person was the original source of causation, meaning no precedent variables had determined the decision, or the person was completely or partially determined by precedent variables. In the former, libertarian free will is required, but, in the latter, either a compatibilism or determinism are required(1).
So, the notion of a “decision” can presuppose either free will or determinism, but which view is presupposed is seldom clear at first glance. And in order for us to understand what was meant, in any rigorous fashion, by the example utterance mentioned above, we have to uncover the speakers presupposition.
Now, the same can be said for self-esteem; that is, for us to grasp the concept of self-esteem, we must first understand the presuppositions involved with the concept of self-esteem; namely, that which I have thus far called the “determinants” of esteem.
How Others View you
One such presupposition involved with self-esteem is how others view you. A great many people have at the core of their esteem the value others assign to either them or their contributions to the world.
People indeed believe that their worthiness, their value, and their desirability are linked or synonymous with how others view them; for instance, a celebrity may have no pride in themselves if others find it entirely unnecessary to pay any attention to their lives, for a celebrity more often than not has vested their esteem in the mere fact that others think of them: to be wanted by the many is synonymous with being valuable.
Likewise, an athlete can be prideful when they make contributions unmatched by others to their team, though less prideful when they make no significant contributions. One reason for such is that others value less a lack of contribution in comparison to a bountiful contribution.
Thus, a presupposition of esteem is how others view you or your contributions to the world. When others think positively of either ourselves or our contributions, we become prideful: we have a high level of esteem. And when others view negatively our person or our contributions, we become shameful: we have a low level of esteem. Such is one psychological determinant of esteem.
How you View Yourself in Relation to Others
Another presupposition involved with esteem regards how we view ourselves in relation to others. We can consider ourselves better or worse than others, and our being better or worse determines how prideful we are.
For example, the mathematician who solves more equations and at rate faster than his or her colleagues can, upon such facts, derive an esteem far greater than the mathematician who seldom solves more than a handful of equations per year; only because the task which we are better at is valued by either ourselves or others. Thus, we may suppose: if we are better at the task, then we ought to have a higher self-esteem because we are more valuable.
Of course, there are instances wherein which the thing performed, though we are infinitely better at, is, unfortunately, valued less than other tasks; and so, being good at that particular thing fails to entail a high self-esteem. For example, few among us ever think highly of professional whistlers, even though some among them perform well while others among them perform horridly. And so, being an adept whistler would lack the entailment of a high esteem because whistling itself has a low value.
But irrespective of the skills that we assign degrees of respectability to, our comparisons to others is in many ways a determinant of our esteem. When we perceive ourselves as lower in the hierarchy of social life or competency, our esteem is negatively impacted, and vice versa.
Pride in Conditions
Another determinant of esteem pertains to satisfaction with one’s environment. This is very similar to the previously two mentioned determinants, except there is a lack of social comparison.
We can be proud of what we have, irrespective of what others think or what we think of others. So, although there are times wherein which we either compare what we have to others or consider what others have to say about what we have, it need not be a logical necessity todo so. For example, we can be proud of some painting we produced simply because we find it aesthetically pleasing. And our esteem in such cases is derived from the condition of something either we manifested or achieved and that is located within the environment.
To further clarify, consider a student who is deductively climbing the branches of mathematics. They spend countless hours learning formulas that are well understood by many, and so their comparative importance is, as a result of being well understood, less than that of a novel breakthrough in mathematics research. However, said students, upon finally understanding the formulas of study, are filled with pride and joy, nonetheless.
Thus, as we now see, esteem can be derived from the conditions of our external environment, especially when those conditions are heavily influenced by our effort to change them.
Closing Comment on the Determinants of Self-Esteem
I believe there is one last determinant of esteem, but I shall present this alongside my doctrine of esteem. For now, we need only consider the previously mentioned determinants, as these are what seem common in determining the esteem of the many.
Critique of Sources
Sources of esteem that are rooted within intellect have numerous flaws. There are both extrinsic and intrinsic flaws that make intellect a less than preferable source of esteem.
When we think of how others around us take some intellectual feat of ours into consideration, it becomes readily apparent that, on average, others seldom consider matters of intellect. Compared to a moment of embarrassment or social blunder, not much praise or notice shall be granted to notable books, notable poems, or notable proofs. Feats that require intellect, unfortunately, lack the extrinsic qualities of popularity.
In addition, there is another problem, of which is intrinsic to possessing great intellect, that arises for those who seek to derive their esteem from intellect; that is, those who derive their esteem from a great intellect are as much the same as those who derive their esteem from being tall: relative.
For many years, one might pride themselves on being a good chess player, better than anything else on the planet, or even pride themselves on being the best mathematician; however, since we cannot increase our natural intellects in proportion to the rate of development which external intellects possess, such as the intellect of machines, we shall soon, comparatively speaking, be considered fools.
Thus, intellectual sources of esteem have both extrinsic and intrinsic flaws, and although said flaws fail to ruin the entirety of all sources intellectual, they are, nevertheless, good reasons to avoid any attempt to derive one’s esteem from an intellectual source.
As with intellectual sources of esteem, social sources also have imperfections, of which are sufficient enough to justify an abandonment of their use.
When we consider how others take view of us, as when others consider us worthy of friendship, worthy of praise, or worthy of love, we can very well pride ourselves on their considerations. To be befriended, to be praised, or to be loved can all represent some level of importance, and how important we are to others can greatly impact our esteem.
But upon the decision to allow that which others consider of us to influence in any significant fashion our esteem, we externalize the control of our esteem. We place into the hands of the many our pride.
Put otherwise, those who have many friends, receive much praise, and enjoy much love shall have the highest of esteem, but those who lack friends, receive no praise, and are widely hated shall have the lowest of esteem. Esteem becomes a function of how others view you.
I caution against such an outcome simply because esteem is far too important for one’s own wellbeing to simply externalize it. Much like the direction of the wind, the judgements of the masses can change in a rather drastic fashion, a shift in whim can occur on a weekly or daily basis; which means, our esteem can vary from high to low in but a few short hours, if the many so dictate. Thus, the whimsical judgements of the many ought never control, in any significant fashion, how prideful we are.
Moreover, we can likewise consider how we compare ourselves to others, which is still within the social realm of sources from which to derive one’s esteem. What psychologists have come to dub social comparison is what I have in mind.
We can take it upon ourselves to derive how prideful we are by considering how we compare to others; are we more popular, are we smarter, or are we happier? if we are in fact better in some domain of life than another, then we are likewise more prideful; and if we are in fact worse in some domain of life than another, then we are indeed less prideful.
Such a method of deriving one’s esteem can certainly work, especially if there is but one and only one domain of life, of which we are adept at, that we compare ourselves to others within. However, many of us seldom care about just one and only one domain of life.
Naturally, we concern ourselves with social status, wealth, physical beauty, and intelligence, among other things. And more often than not, someone will rank higher than us in one or more of these domains; thus, we can never truly have a maximal self-esteem if we are to abide by the method of comparing ourselves to others.
The externalization of our esteem to social sources is, I conclude, less than preferable. It relinquishes all control of how prideful we are to those who are around us. From the whimsical judgements of the many to the malevolent intentions of those around us, all have some sway in our esteem if we so externalize it.
Physical beauty is another source from which some derive their esteem. But I think it to be fickle and blinding when joined with the common determinants of esteem.
With regard to our physical beauty, to take the opinions of others into consideration is, beyond doubt, careless; only because that which constitutes attractive changes generation by generation; year by year; and month by month: it is fickle.
The opinions of one generation dub the aesthetic of the previous generation as incredibly hideous; the opinions of this year dub the aesthetic of the previous year as strange and odd; and the opinions of this month dub the aesthetic of last month as dated and out of fashion. The high esteem derived from one period shall not translate to another if said esteem is derived from what others find aesthetically pleasing. One cannot escape the extrinsic fickleness of the crowd.
And when we compare our own aesthetic to someone else, we become blinded by the surface; only because we pay greater attention to our visible strengths and weaknesses rather than our less visible traits. So, if we derive our esteem from aesthetic comparison, then we shall become fixated on either our aesthetic superiority or inferiority. No attention shall be given to either the intellect or the heart.
Hence, social sources of esteem are both intrinsically and extrinsically flawed. And although social sources can very well serve their purpose as sources of esteem, I find the flaws found within to be far too great to justify them as a source of esteem worthwhile.
Critique of Determinants
Incompatibilities as a Critique
Much of what has been said about each individual source can likewise be said about each individual determinant of esteem. But I will refrain from re-applying those criticisms, despite them being perfectly legitimate herein.
Instead, the incompatibilities between determinants and sources, as well as between human nature and determinants, shall be discussed more thoroughly, as I believe these incompatibilities are themselves a justification to abandon the common determinants.
Of course, I will have to ponder each determinant in isolation, which some will consider unfair. However, the determinant which I shall soon propose is immune to the soon to be made critiques, irrespective of its functioning in unison or independent of other determinants. And thus, I believe any criticism of my analyzing each determinant in isolation to be insignificant to my main point: namely, that my soon to be mentioned determinant is better, overall.
How Others View you
As a determinant of esteem, the way others view you is fundamentally incompatible with a great many things. To depend on the views others have of you will entail, necessarily, that all solitary tasks cannot provide one with an esteem. And as far as I can tell, no esteem is as miserable a condition as low esteem.
Therefore, in matters of introspection or solitary problem-solving, or even in matters of creative thought, seldom can a proper esteem be derived from those sources when using the views others have of you as a determinant. People cannot praise what they cannot see.
How you View Others
Besides being more incompatible with those who are less than social, since others entails some minimal level of social contact, this determinant also lacks solid foundations. In addition to that, how we view others is skewed by our own biases, which is not inherently bad, though can be a potential danger. Lets consider these two issues more thoroughly.
With the first criticism, namely, the lack of solid foundations, I am in reference to the intrinsic relativity of looking at others. When we compare ourself to others, we have access only to our limited data set. We can look at someone we know and suppose we are smarter than them, but such supposition, if it is used to derive esteem, lacks an exhaustive understanding of all other people; and so, our derived esteem’s actual value might in fact be worthless. We will have simply tricked ourselves into being prideful.
Of course, being tricked might be preferable to some; only because there is perhaps little distinction between genuine and artificial esteem. But upon the introduction of someone who is truly intelligent, a hard collapse in esteem shall be expected.
Moreover, with the second criticism, namely, the biases which skew our perceptions of others, I believe to be inescapable. When we truly are intelligent, we seldom think highly of ourselves and often think highly of others; that is, we presume too much competency of others and not enough of ourselves. Likewise, when we are pessimists, we have an overly negative view of ourselves and, thus, an overly positive view of others.
The traits of our character have a significant impact on our perceptions of both ourselves and others, and so they also impact our esteem; but only when we so choose to adopt how it is we view others as a means of determining esteem. Thus, our inability to have, in all cases, an accurate perception makes us incompatible, if so we want an efficacious method to derive our esteem, with the current method of esteem.
So, our limited set of information makes incompatible to us the possibility of any exhaustive analysis of where we stand next to others or how we compare to them, whether it be in intelligence or status; and our biases of both ourselves and others makes incompatible to us, in a considerable amount of instances, the method of comparison.
It is ultimately better to have something to derive one’s esteem from that is intrinsic to ourselves; to root within ourselves our esteem is to possess control over our wellbeing. By having control we gain a say on which direction we travel; we can henceforth influence the outcome of our efforts.
However, when we rely on conditions as a determinant of our esteem, we externalize and make extrinsic our esteem; it is no longer an essential part of who we are, but a mere consequent of something within the environment.
To place one’s esteem in the conditions around us is, thus, much like losing an element of who we are; doing so entails that we surrender both some degree of control over our wellbeing and that which makes us different from everyone else; only because external conditions will determine our essence. Therefore, conditions as a determinant are incompatible with individual responsibility over one’s own esteem, and that I perceive to be less than preferable.
Circular Doctrine Of Self-Esteem
The optimal determinant of esteem, insofar as it is immune from the flaws thus far mentioned, is our own experiences.
To clarify, the other determinants of esteem were indeed rooted within experience; however, they pertained to some constituent aspect of experience. That is the mistake which many make when attempting to construct their esteem; they ask, “what ought I derive my esteem from, what makes me feel proud?”. And these questions begin to lead them astray, they begin to look inside hyper-specific aspects of experience rather than step back and glance at experience itself.
As opposed to deriving one’s esteem from some form of social comparison or particular condition, circular esteem derives esteem from the entirety of experience. Essentially, circular esteem posits: “I have esteem because I rooted my esteem in the fact that I have experiences”. Circular esteem takes the whole of experience rather than the smaller features within it.
And so, since no one can be better at being us than us; since no one can have the same experiences any given individual is having; and since no one can compare their own experiences to another set of identical experiences, it thus follows that one has a high esteem. We are proud to be whatever comes from our being.