Over the years of reading biographies and interviews with many highly talented and creative people, it has often struck me how many of them talk about being self-critical and having poor self-esteem.
For example, writer Larry Kane commented about his bio Lennon Revealed: “People would be surprised at how insecure John Lennon was, and his lack of self esteem. Throughout his life, even during the height of Beatle mania, he had poor self esteem, even though he exuded confidence.”
Self esteem is basically positive self-regard, a realistic acknowledgment of our talents and value as a person.
It is not the absurd and trivializing efforts over recent years to make all children in school feel they are “special” and have high [often meaning bloated] self-esteem, as in: “We don’t want anyone to feel left out, so everyone wins a spelling bee award” or “The valedictorian will be chosen by lottery.”
In my earlier Psych Central post Elaine Aron on Creativity and Sensitivity, I quoted Dr. Aron that many highly sensitive people “have squashed their creativity because of their low self-esteem.”
And that probably applies to anyone, sensitive or not.
Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, PhD notes that people with inflated high self-esteem “think they make better impressions, have stronger friendships and better romantic lives.. but the data don’t support their self-flattering views. If anything, people who love themselves too much sometimes annoy other people by their defensive or know-it-all attitudes.” [From his article: The Lowdown on High Self-Esteem.]
But many gifted and talented people – like John Lennon – suffer at times from a lack of healthy self esteem.
Another example: Nobel Prize laureate poet and writer Czeslaw Milosz confessed: “From early on writing for me has been a way to overcome my real or imagined worthlessness.”
Stephanie S. Tolan – co-author of the book Guiding the Gifted Child – finds that “Many gifted adults seem to know very little about their minds and how they differ from more ‘ordinary’ minds. The result of this lack of self-knowledge is often low, sometimes cripplingly low self esteem.”
[From her article Self-Knowledge, Self-Esteem and the Gifted Adult.]
Marilyn J. Sorensen, PhD, author of the book Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem, says “People with low self-esteem generally find themselves at one of the extremes of achievement, either as an overachiever or as an underachiever.
“Some take the road of continually channeling their energies into attempts to receive recognition, approval, and affirmation, and become highly successful in their careers and educational endeavors; they are driven; they are ‘overachievers.’ Others slink back in fear, never realizing their skills or talents.”
So how do we counteract unhealthy self esteem?
A start is to honestly recognize your abilities and accomplishments, without qualifying or deflating them, as in “Oh, anyone could do that.”
Another effective approach is the cognitive therapy strategy of getting aware of demeaning statements you make about yourself (or accept from others), such as “I’m no good at doing that…” – then arguing the logic, validity, merits and faults of the statement, such as: “Well, maybe I am not as skilled as whoever.. but I have been told my work is good and I can get better if I choose to work at it.”
Dr. Valerie Young notes that chronic self-doubt robs you of your successes, creative and otherwise, and “ultimately your own happiness and fulfillment.”
She has developed an ebook program on the Impostor Syndrome titled How to Feel As Bright and Capable As Everyone Seems to Think You Are – available from her site Changing Course.
If you or someone you know could use help with low self-esteem, take a look at her site, and these other programs:
Natural Confidence Program by Morty Lefkoe (see testimonial by Jack Canfield)
Self-Confidence Creator Program, by Dr. Robert Anthony
Also see my list of Self concept / self esteem articles
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Last reviewed: 13 Dec 2010