Here is some counterintuitive advice on self-improvement: Stop working on improving your self-esteem.

Instead, aim for true self-acceptance. Too many people base their self-esteem on competent performance of tasks as judged by the outside world and then define themselves based on these opinions and reactions of others.

As I write in my book “Pack Leader Psychology”, low self-worth drives the need to seek external approval: “The more parts of ourselves we reject, the more important it is to feel accepted.”

I believe we should stop emphasizing self-esteem because it is often taken to mean other-esteem. Yet a person who is overly concerned with the external judgments of others or who values measures of success based on competence often has very low self-acceptance.

For example, narcissists self-report and are measured to have very high self-esteem. Yet they are on an endless search for approval and actually have very low feelings of worth and self-acceptance.  This is what leads them to be attention-seeking, to act superior, and to brag.

Intrinsic self-acceptance, free from the fear of judgment or rejection by others, will bring true inner confidence that is not dependent on the opinions of others. Pursuing the approval of others leaves one lacking in confidence, because one’s self-esteem will always be at the mercy of others — a very weak position to put oneself in.

On an emotional level, if a person feels “less than” or unworthy, this may trigger a feeling of shame, which then may lead to a fear response or anxiety. People who are hyper-vigilant for criticism and shame, then spend a lot of time in the “fight-or-flight” or emotional brain, with resulting behaviors of Submission, Dominance or Avoidance, as I explain in depth in my book.

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