Self-esteem is about our sense of what we have going for us. Self-respect is more about what we have done with our gifts. And both reflect the kind of relationship we have with a “higher power.”
Our narcissistic culture has fueled much ego inflation. Healthy self-esteem will flourish when society decides to make character matter again.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about disturbed characters it’s this: They all-too-readily take ownership of what they haven’t earned or merited.
What really makes you extraordinary – and warrants both recognition and affirmation – is what you do with your gifts and how you conduct yourself in your relationships. This is the very essence of merit.
If you want to help make a person more narcissistic, give them lots of recognition, praise, and reinforcement for their natural “gifts.” But if you want them to have more healthy self-regard, be sure to recognize them for what they do with what they’ve been given.
Praising or affirming children for things they cannot legitimately claim credit (e.g., their looks, their intelligence, their innate talents, etc.) is the way we most often foster an unhealthy narcissism in them (because the aforementioned characteristics are nature-conferred as opposed to self-developed), an unfortunate circumstance only compounded by the fact that we rarely recognize and reinforce our children for what they can rightfully claim credit: the responsible exercise of their will. Recognizing and reinforcing these things helps engender healthy self-respect.
Because we live in the age of entitlement, there are far too many among us who think that respect is a fundamental right as opposed to something that rightfully need be earned. Folks with an entitlement mentality often demand respect, even when they’ve habitually conducted themselves in a manner that doesn’t merit it.
Who we really are and what determines our real worth has less to do with what we’ve been endowed with and much more to do with what we’ve done with what we’ve been given.
Properly balanced self-esteem and reinforcement for the conscientious exercise of one’s will are of paramount importance to the process of healthy character development.
If you really want to help bend someone’s ego pathologically out of shape, send them the constant message that it’s what they bring to the table that really counts, not how they conduct themselves when they’re at the table.