GUEST COMMENT: High self-esteem is not all that

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If you've been out of the market and unemployed for a while, your self esteem has probably taken a knock. As we've discussed previously on this site, this can make it difficult if you're applying for a new role. Depression induced by unemployment has emotional effects which reduce the tenaciousness of your job search. To keep going when looking for a new job you have to take rebuttal and dispiriting knock-backs in your stride.

If you're in this situation, you may therefore be pleased to hear that high self-esteem is overrated. New psychological research highlights the negatives rather than the positives.

You are NOT fantastic

People with high self-esteem tend to personalise success. They assume that their achievements are down to merely being fantastic human beings. They neglect other factors and therefore fail to learn about the true determinants of success and failure. The complexity of variables involved, including luck, are ignored; they assume success is always because they are wonderful.

Indeed, you could fairly place the blame of much of the underlying causes of the credit crunch on some previously successful financiers suffering from excessively high self-esteem. This led to over-confidence and therefore a failure to understand what was truly going on.

The pursuit of high self-esteem impairs true learning. You can only learn if you take a dispassionate interest in why you were successful or failed without all the emotional entanglement of self-esteem being wrapped up in the analysis.

Don't try to prove your superiority over others

The pursuit of high self-esteem also seems to detract from relationships. This is not just because you become difficult to be with as you tend towards self-obsession, but also because those pursuing high self-esteem often appear constantly on the look out for opportunities to prove their superiority over others.

The latest thinking in psychology is instead of high self esteem, that the pursuit of autonomy, connectedness and competence are superior goals in terms of overall psychological health.

Your sense of autonomy takes a knock when you lose a job because you feel you now have fewer choices. Yet those in work are also controlled by their jobs and bosses. Now that you have free time, take the opportunity to do things that you just couldn't do while working. This could be as simple as a walk, or a visit to a museum.

Nurture connectedness

Connectedness is about a deep human need to engage in relationships. Again losing a job often makes us feel terrible because we lose colleagues and relationships at work which make us feel part of a team. Being part of a group with a common purpose is something almost tribal that is a deeply wired need into our brain and biology.

You can partly restore this sense by making new relationships that just wouldn't be possible because of the busyness of work: look up old friends you never had the time to connect with before. Get involved in a charitable or political cause.

Finally, a sense of competence is something that obviously takes a knock when we lose our employment. Here again, any simple task that you can do regularly which restores a sense of competence is a useful counterbalance to the indignity of unemployment.

If you enter the interview room radiating a sense of competence, connectedness and autonomy, then the panel are likely to be much more impressed than if you bound in radiating high self-esteem. Devise a way of demonstrating these things by giving practical examples in which you have used them both while you were in employment, and since. You will then go a long way to beating the competition, no matter how high their self-esteem is.

Dr Raj Persaud is a Consultant Psychiatrist working in the NHS and in Private Practice. www.drrajpersaud.com

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