Our weird relationship with self esteem.

One thing people dislike in others more than almost anything else is boastfulness, ie. expressing satisfaction in one's own achievements. Yet we also value those who have good self esteem.

How weird is that? We can't stand other people expressing satisfaction in their own achievements. We all know how good it feels to do something well or to be good at something, yet to express it openly is taboo.

(I am not excluding myself from this observation. I am put off by boastfulness as much as anyone else.)

A person doesn't even need to actually express their sense of self-satisfaction, they can just act like they are self satisfied and it is still repulsive. We have all probably heard the criticism: 'that person acts like they think they are cool'.

But most of us don't feel their is something wrong with feeling that we are cool. A key part of happiness is viewing oneself positively. Most of us want others to have a positive sense of self, we just don't like it to be expressed by them, even non-verbally. Even if that person is obviously very good at something, their articulating it is distasteful.

Why is humility such an admirable trait? Why do we love those who don't express their self satisfaction? Is it so hard for us to take pleasure in other people's sense of achievement?

When people are boastful, it feels draining. Most of us are okay with giving others compliments, but not when that person has already complimented themselves. When people boast it is as if they are taking something that feels as if it can only be given freely. As if someone boasting takes something from us.

Maybe it does. Maybe some part of us feels threatened by other people's achievements. Maybe it is because as much as we might not want to admit it, we are all deeply concerned about our status relative to those around us and when a person is boastful it is an attempt to take status upon themselves. While it would be nice if their were equal status to go around for everyone, because of how we evolved their usually isn't. We have evolved to fit within hierarchies and they develop quickly within most groups. When one person has higher status another will then have lower status. Perhaps when a person boasts it is felt as their trying to get status they do not have, thereby challenging the status of those around them. Since the greater our perceived status relative to those around us, the more serotonin we have, it is understandable would feel threatened when it is challenged.


Chris Almond said...

A thousand kudos to me for this entry.

Vincent said...