A Healthier Sense of Self


Can you please elaborate on an inflated self-esteem?

This month’s Ask a DEI Professional question is about self-esteem. Our questioner writes:

Can you please elaborate on an inflated self-esteem and give suggestions on how to help feel a healthier sense of self? I guess it has to do with unacknowledged shaming messages?

Thanks for your question! We have replies from two of our Dynamic Emotional Integration® professionals.

Jamila Ahmed answers:

Jamila Ahmed, a smiling woman with curly dark hair.
Jamila Ahmed

How contentment, shame, and anger work together can be an indicator of how self-esteem presents in a person. Contentment comes up when one has done something well and there’s a sense of pride around it. This emotion is not only about work well done, but also about how one treated oneself and others on the journey of doing their work.

An inflated self-esteem might crop up when one compares their efforts or accomplishments to someone else (and have a sense that they are better than others). It might be, after receiving enough feedback, the person with an inflated self-esteem might feel motivated to examine how contentment feels within themselves.

Thinking you’re better than others

Perhaps there is a shame message or a contract around how the person sees themselves in relation to others? For example, there could be messaging learnt in childhood around being the best, or “in this family we do things better than others” – such messages may have carried through into the person’s life and now need reexamining.

I’d be curious to learn more: in what areas of their life is this person experiencing an inflated sense of self? Is this a prevailing sense in all aspects of their life or is it connected to a particular area like their work, health/body, personal relationships for instance? This may provide a clue about where contentment, shame, or anger could work more in balance. When these emotions work well together, then shame and anger have done their job of setting clear boundaries. This helps the person behave honorably towards themselves and others, and to be conscientious in their actions.

~Jamila Ahmed

Sherry Olander answers:

Headshot of Sherry Olander, a smiling white woman with brown eyes and brown hair.
Sherry Olander

There are many factors that affect how a person feels about themselves, and I find the emotions that tend to be the most involved with self-esteem are shame, anger, and contentment. So my first thought in exploring why someone might have an inflated sense of self is to look at how these emotions show up for the person, and how (and if!) they work together. Is there a sense of balance between the shame, anger, and contentment when looking at the emotional ecosystem as a whole?

How much self-esteem is healthy?

However, something that also occurs to me when thinking about your question is this: what do you mean by an inflated self-esteem? Inflated compared to what? A person might have a very high self-esteem and as long as they are still respectful of others and able to acknowledge their mistakes, I think it can still be healthy.

But I’m going to make the assumption that there is a problem here in the treatment of others because of your mention of unacknowledged shaming messages. And I agree that if there is a sort of unhealthy imbalance, where a person’s inflated self-esteem causes them to disregard others’ needs, values, etc., then I wonder why their shame isn’t showing up to interrupt this.

There could be so many reasons why a person doesn’t have access to their shame in healthy ways. Perhaps they were overly shamed as a younger person in a way that was abusive. If this happened, they might learn to compensate by bolstering themselves and repressing their shame completely. Or it’s possible that a person has contracts (or agreements) with themselves that say that shame is unnecessary, useless, or toxic.

My suggestion to investigate what is going on here would be for this person to start with listing their ideas and values about what is right and wrong and who they want to be in the world. Reviewing this list with a critical eye and determining where the different values originated might help their emotions start to shift. Also, if the person can answer themselves truthfully about whether or not they are living up to their ideals and values, this might help them start to welcome shame in a helpful way.

~Sherry Olander

In this video, Karla talks briefly about the balance of shame and contentment:

We hope this is helpful!

Thanks so much for your question and for working to welcome and understand your emotions.

Have you ever felt a similar struggle to what our person asked about above? How did you deal with it? Share your thoughts and comments with us below!

Each month, we’ll choose a question or two for our licensed Dynamic Emotional Integration® professionals to answer right here on our Empathy Academy blog.

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