Self-Esteem and Being Wrong

Business woman riding scooterWhich of the following statements are true?

People with high self-esteem:
A. Are convinced they can never be wrong
B. Don’t usually appreciate negative feedback
C. Think whatever they do is great
D. Couldn’t care less what others think of them
E. All of the above

Answer: None of these are true of people with genuine self-esteem! The truth is, the higher your self-esteem, the better you tolerate criticism and disappointment.

Let’s go over these again and get the real scoop on people with high self-esteem:

False: They’re convinced they can never be wrong
True: People with healthy self-esteem aren’t delusional; they know and accept that sometimes they mess up.

False: They don’t usually appreciate negative feedback
True: They appreciate all feedback, because they want to know the truth. They can take it. They don’t need to be “propped up” by positive feedback, because they’re already standing comfortably on their own two feet.

False: They think everything they do is great
True: Again, they’re not delusional. Sometimes they disappoint themselves. But unlike people with injured (i.e., low) self-esteem, these feelings are situational and temporary, rather than deep and chronic.

False: They couldn’t care less what others think of them
True: They do care, just like the rest of us. But they don’t begin with an assumption that others will find them stupid, unattractive or annoying.

We can all take a page from the high self-esteemers when it comes to being wrong. Here are a few things to remember…

You may be wrong about something, but you’re not wrong as a person.
Low self-esteem makes us believe we’re inherently worthless, bad or wrong as people. So when we’re wrong about something, it feels like reinforcement; it feels like we really are wrong in ourselves. So we guard against admitting we’re wrong, even to ourselves.

But if you think about it, every single one of us on this planet – including the greatest heroes, heartthrobs and role models – is sometimes wrong. So being wrong can’t be a measure of worth as a person, because if it is, we’re all unworthy. In which case, you can relax and enjoy the good company you’re in.

Take the risk today of admitting you made a mistake. Admit it to someone with a kind heart, and pay attention to how they respond. The more you can admit that you’re wrong without experiencing rejection, the more you’ll realize that perfection isn’t required.

When you receive negative feedback:
1)    Think about who it’s coming from. Your feedback-giver is a person with his or her own motivation for saying what they said to you. Even if they say, “I only want to help you,” how much do you believe them? Depending on the person, that might be true, partially true, or completely false. Do they have a legitimate reason for wanting to help? Do you experience them as caring and helpful most of the time? In other words, be discerning when it comes to people whose feedback you take to heart.

2) Ask yourself, Is the feedback accurate? It may be 100% wrong. It may in fact be the opposite of what’s true. Or it may be right on the money. What do YOU think in your heart of hearts? If negative feedback seems accurate, it doesn’t mean you’re bad. It means you have something you can work on, if you choose to do so. Ask the feedback-giver for help. For example, if you write a story and someone doesn’t like it, ask them what they think would make it better. As long as you’ve got someone offering you feedback, you’re never alone.

3) Remember it’s about what you did, not who you are. Even if someone complains that, for example, they were hurt by something you did or said… they’re complaining about your behavior, not you. The feedback gives you information about how something you did affected someone else. And then you have many options as to how to respond.

If you receive negative feedback about something you can’t change, like your facial features or your family’s origins, you are being bullied. People who criticize things that can’t be changed are not offering constructive feedback. They are simply displaying ignorance or being cruel. Realize that you don’t deserve to be treated with cruelty, no matter how often it’s happened in the past. You can choose to seek other companions who will value those very things about you that were criticized.

Being wrong sometimes and receiving negative feedback are facts of life for everyone. We all care what others think, because we’re social beings. But when receiving negative feedback, be a discriminating consumer of that information. Never let negative feedback make you feel smaller than you are.

People with high self-esteem are lucky enough to know that, even when their mistakes bring them criticism, they can never be wrong as people. And that’s a comforting bit of truth for all of us to remember.

© Copyright 2011 by By Tina Gilbertson, MA, LPC, therapist in Denver, Colorado. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 17 comments
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  • lori

    lori

    April 18th, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    um ok so I see I have really low self esteem because all of the first statements could be talking about me!

  • mandy

    mandy

    April 18th, 2011 at 7:21 PM

    a person who is genuinely self-confident would not be high headed or something.he or she is confident about whTever they do but at the same time knows that it is only human nature to make mistakes.a person with half self-confiddnce wouldn’t know this because they are generally brash and think they are always right,no matter what.

  • Calvin

    Calvin

    April 19th, 2011 at 4:13 AM

    I’d just like to say this-Shifting the blame onto someone else and thinking you are perfect is not self esteem,it is foolishness; Standing up for yourself and your actions,whether successful or not,shows you have good self esteem.

  • Joan

    Joan

    April 19th, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    I think that we have all found in the past that those with the lowest self esteem are the ones who are constsntly trying to convince other people that they are right and that the others are wrong. And quite honestly these people are impossible to be around! It can be so frustrating trying to get something through to them because it feels like you are arguing with a wall.

  • mel

    mel

    April 19th, 2011 at 8:49 AM

    I often find that the term self-esteem is a misnomer. As a culture what we call self-esteem is actually what I refer to as other esteem. You see, we gather this esteem from approval, recognition, popularity, achievements, etc. The difficulty is that until we develop a more authentic relationship with our inner self, we can’t possibly develop authentic self-esteem.

  • Marguerite Crain

    Marguerite Crain

    April 19th, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    I would rather speak of self-esteem in terns of healthy or unhealthy than of “high” or “low.”
    Basically it has nothing to do with how a person feels, but it has to do with how a person thinks about him/herself. Thoughts that are realistic are healthy, and thought that are unrealistic are unhealthy. Having listened to Dr. Siegel, I would think that an integrated person has a healthy appraisal of oneself, and the chaotic or rigid person is “mis-integrated” and has an unhealthy self-appraisal. Worth can be measured by accomplishment,and not by just trying to say the things that “make” a person “feel good.”

  • Jade

    Jade

    April 19th, 2011 at 7:18 PM

    Anybody with a strong character and health self-esteem would not have the “I’m the best” BS in his head. As only a follower can become a leader, only a humble person can be an all-rounder.

  • Jeni P

    Jeni P

    April 20th, 2011 at 2:38 PM

    It is much better to be able to admit when you are wrong and that you have made a mistake than it is to continue insisting that you are right- even when everyone else knows that you are wrong. I am all about sucking it up, saving a little face, apologizing, and moving on.

  • nelson

    nelson

    April 21st, 2011 at 11:38 PM

    I have two words of my own for someone I know that is convinced she’s never wrong, can’t handle negative feedback, and thinks she’s God’s gift to humanity.

    “My wife.”

  • Kevin

    Kevin

    April 23rd, 2011 at 6:31 PM

    @nelson: I guess love is blind after all eh LOL. ;) I don’t know if there really is a word for it, other than “one of THOSE people”, but they are the most annoying people you can meet. I know a couple who are both like that and I can’t stand to be in their company.

  • Vincent

    Vincent

    April 23rd, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    I like getting honest feedback. I’m going to be more offended by you not telling me my music sucks than just coming out and saying it. I am guilty of thinking I do everything splendidly however. :)

  • Rosemary

    Rosemary

    April 25th, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    A person with high self-esteem doesn’t let bad moods or negativity get to them. That’s the summary of the article, isn’t it? Or am I missing something?

  • Chase

    Chase

    April 26th, 2011 at 11:10 AM

    The worst offenders for blowing mistakes out of proportion are those with self-esteem issues. It doesn’t just affect you: it affects others, which in turn affects their own self-esteem if it’s not high, spreading it like a disease.

  • Sadie

    Sadie

    April 26th, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    @Chase. I hear you, Chase! My old employer was the biggest crab I’ve ever known. He found fault with everything. When I realized just how much he was affecting my mood on a daily basis, I quit my job. I don’t like spineless bully boys pushing their bad mood onto me just because they can’t get their own lives in gear. It wasn’t my fault he hated his job!

  • Tina Gilbertson

    Tina Gilbertson

    May 11th, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    Rosemary asked for a summary of the article, so here goes:

    People with high – or healthy – self-esteem realize that, like everybody else, sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong.

    They don’t feel worthless when they find out they’re wrong, and while very few people enjoy hearing criticism, they can handle it without disintegrating.

    Hope that helps. Thanks to all for your comments!

  • Mark Schmidt

    Mark Schmidt

    October 28th, 2012 at 5:34 PM

    The author doesn’t seem to be praising high-self esteem, or debunking high self-esteem myths. Rather, she is talking about having moderate levels of self-esteem, where you have confidence without hubris and a fairly realistic assessment of your situation.

    All of those “myths” are quite evident when you examine phenomena such as groupthink and confirmation bias, and an extreme, high or low, for self-esteem and almost anything else, is usually a bad thing.

  • TimL

    TimL

    March 25th, 2013 at 5:45 AM

    I really like reading the story understanding that people with high self esteem accept their fault, they are able to see that just the action is what is wrong not there self. so for me I’m a recovering addict with lower self esteem, my attitude and outlook runs from blaming others to blaming myself 2 looking to try to be better to not caring. people who are closer to me seem to hurt me more when they blame me for my mistakes, I take that more to heart and seem to be able to get past it.

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