We humans have a need to see ourselves in a positive light. Sometimes, however, we become too protective of our self-esteem and fail to take responsibility for negative outcomes.
Ever heard any of these excuses (defense mechanisms) designed to protect our feelings of self-worth?
- The dog ate my homework—blaming another person or group for a problem
- Everyone does it—explaining away unacceptable feelings, thoughts, or motives
- My job is the only important thing—attempting to relieve feelings of inadequacy or frustration by excelling in other areas
My favorite is displacement. It goes like this: The boss yells at the husband who won’t yell back. Upset, the husband yells at the wife who stays silent. The angry wife yells at the child. Mad, the child kicks the dog. Basically, we find safe, less threatening people or objects and vent frustration on them.
Healthy self-esteem is important, but being too protective prevents us from being self-aware and reflecting on ourselves and our actions. Ultimately, we cannot reach our goals without fine-tuning our behavior and learning from our mistakes.
When you hear something that threatens you, before plugging into a defense mechanism, take time to explore the source of the anxiety. Remind yourself that it is OK to be wrong–learning from mistakes is a positive thing. Then review your strengths and what you like about yourself. Form a plan of action to deal with your anxiety.
Lastly, don’t forget to love and forgive yourself. And best of all, make way for personal growth!
Leslie Odom, Jr. Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning (New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2016)
Dalton, Hoyle, and Watts. Human Relations 4th ed. Mason, Ohio: Cengage Learning, 2011.