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Self-Esteem Does Not Come From Within

How guesswork determines your wellbeing.

Patrick Heller
2 min readOct 15, 2021


Surprising as it may sound, our self-esteem is only partly based on how we feel about ourselves. Confused? Find out what does determine our self-esteem.

Self-esteem is one’s feeling of approval, acceptance, and liking of oneself. We feel our self-esteem is based on our own judgment of ourselves, but American psychologist Mark Leary (1954) proposed — in his sociometer theory — that the judgment is primarily based on our perceptions of other people’s judgments of us. What you experience as your self-esteem, according to Leary, is your best guess of how much the people, whose opinion you care about, accept and respect you.

As evidence for this theory, Leary and others found — through research — that there is a strong correlation between self-esteem and the belief one is generally accepted by others. In a further study of real-life experiences, people felt higher self-esteem after praise and social acceptance, and lower self-esteem after social rejection. The most convincing evidence came from a study into the question of whether good or bad results on a test had any effect on self-esteem. As it turned out, the influence on self-esteem became a lot greater if the participant was made aware of other people learning about the test results. If self-esteem had been all about their own judgment, they wouldn’t have cared what other people thought of their test results — since they did, it subscribes to the sociometer theory.

In modern work environments, people are encouraged to keep themselves up-to-date on the latest knowledge in their field of expertise, for instance by taking courses and earning certificates. The encouragement is often accompanied by an intrinsic incentive along the lines of, “you’re doing this for yourself, for your own development”. However true that may be concerning the obtained knowledge, the sociometer theory hints at highlighting the achievements to colleagues in order to boost the self-esteem of the student.

So, put your colleagues on a pedestal every now and then and celebrate their accomplishments — because as we’ve seen before, increasing self-esteem will ultimately help in realizing better achievements.

If you are interested in psychology at work and want to go more in-depth, you can buy Essential Psychology for Modern Organizations from Amazon and other bookstores: