Pseudo Self Esteem

Pseudo self esteem is low self esteem in disguise. Low self esteem can generate a lot of anxiety and insecurity, which can be a very painful way to exist. To get away from this discomfort we find ways to dodge it. We deny the fear we feel, find plausible excuses for our actions and create the appearance of self esteem that doesn't really exist. Nathaniel Branden refers to this as pseudo self esteem.

It might seem ok on the surface. Some people who don't know you intimately might even be fooled. But it doesn't quite work.

What others tell you about yourself might seem daft or wildly unapplicable to you, from your perspective.

You might tend to see only the positives and simply blank out undesirable information, operating with an incomplete idea of who you really are. This can play havoc with work, love and every aspect of your life that involves other people. One blank spot can affect areas of your life that seem completely unrelated.

Chasing The Illusion

Pseudo self esteem usually relies on values that do not actually support real self esteem and self respect. For example, a large house or smart car is mistaken for proof that you are 'ok' or acting effectively. Belonging to a particular group, or organisation might provide a sense of security, even if temporary.

It is pointless to try to find self esteem in things that cannot provide it. Money, fame, popularity, expensive belongings, physical beauty and sexual conquests cannot provide self esteem. Nor can it be gained from being seen in the right places, belonging to the right organisations or manipulating and controlling people.

Your Best Friends Are Your Best Mirrors

Low self esteem in disguise can cause a lot of misery. People will fight hard to defend their beliefs about themselves. Some will even go so far as to end relationships that threaten their 'version'. In some tragic circumstances people have hurt or even killed those they felt were insulting or threatening their un-earned positive estimations of themselves (e.g. as is seen in gang warfare or some violent crimes.)

There is no way of dealing with something you are unaware of. First you have to become conscious of it. Your best allies in this type of situation, are people who are willing to tell you the truth.

Our friends and partners tend to point out the cracks and highlight the contradictions of behaviour that often show up. Also, we tend to find ourselves attracted to people who have similar levels of self esteem to us. So you might see things in your partner that you deny in yourself.

Another good ally is your body. Your body does not lie. When something is wonky with your thinking it often eventually shows up in the body.


I spent many years grappling with various personal difficulties only to discover, in my mid thirties, that I had been operating with a massive blind spot. Throughout the years I sought all sorts of explanations for the troubles I was encountering, never seeing the real truth. This was because I thought I was ok.

I generally felt good about myself. I had accomplishments, I had skills, others saw me as confident and I felt confident in most situations. Of course, there were some things I avoided, but I always had good, logical reasons for this. They made sense to me and made sense to others.

But there were other parts of my life that didn't make sense and that was the trouble. I couldn't figure out the problem. I didn't know that at least some of my self assurance was based on pseudo self esteem.

No matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find the answers. And I had means at my disposal that most people don't. I studied psychology and worked as a Psychometrist for many years. Psychometry is the use of psychological assessment tools to help guide people in their careers and other areas.

Every psychological assessment questionaire I used on others I tried on myself first. I studied them. I used tests that were no longer on the shelves. I asked my manager to do a full scale assessment and provide me with feedback. I pored over the results myself.

In the assessment results there were signs that some part of me was hidden. Some of the tests can show this, but they can't show what is hidden. I had absolutely no idea what this meant. Years went by full of discontent and questions about my purpose in life. I accomplished things, but nothing satisfied.

If it wasn't for my body and the physical symptoms that pressured me into looking more closely at areas I had unknowingly spent my whole life avoiding, I would never have progressed.

I had an experience that caused the blinkers to fall off and I could suddenly see what had previously been outside of my awareness. Issues with physical scars affected my self esteem and all areas of my life including my work relationships and career choices. It was quite a shock.

Not so much the information I discovered, but the fact that I had been able to operate for so long, not ever seeing how everything fit together or the huge impact these factors had on my life.

My mind found a way to protect me so effectively that while it was working, I mistook this pseudo self esteem for the real thing.

Poetry And Peas

A side effect of this opening up was that I suddenly found myself able to do things I had not done before. For example I've always written poetry, but rarely allowed anyone to read it. After this change took place I began to attend poetry open-mic sessions to read my work and found it highly enjoyable.

Writing poetry appears to have nothing to do with the accident I had or the scars on my body, but while this part of me was 'under cover', so was my creative writing. When it came out into the light, so could my poetry.

Incidentally, I also suddenly began to like peas, a vegetable that I'd detested and avoided ever since I was a child! I've no idea what the connection is, but I find it amusing that I now get to enjoy something that previously revolted me.

Pseudo self esteem and the denial that underlies it is a self-protective mechanism, but it still means you live your life with an incomplete view of yourself. As a result, you make mistakes without intending to. When you are grappling with pseudo self esteem, building your self awareness is key.

You need to claim the events of your life
to make yourself yours.
Anne-Wilson Schaef (from The Artists Way)

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