I’ve been doing some reading on self-esteem lately, particularly how it relates to codependency. According to Pia Mellody, people with codependency tend to have “other-esteem”, not self-esteem. Other-esteem happens when we base our self-worth on external things. This could mean the type of job you have, the kind of car you drive, if your spouse is successful, or if you perform well at a particular task.
The trouble with other-esteem is that it is fragile. For example, if you base your self-worth on your job, car, or ability to play basketball, then what happens if your company downsizes, your car breaks down, or you have an injury? Often what happens is your world comes tumbling down which is likely to bring on feelings of worthlessness and helplessness.
People who rely on other-esteem are more likely to feel bad about themselves if someone has a conflict with them or if they can’t achieve at a task. They might feel shame or embarrassment if their spouse drives a beat up car or chooses to wear an outrageous outfit in public. They may become depressed if they lose their job due to a disability. In general, having other-esteem makes a person less resilient and less likely to “bounce back” after life throws them an unexpected blow.
Self-esteem, in contrast, deals with your innate worth that you are born with and is not dependent on what you do or achieve. If we have good self-esteem, we feel that we are fundamentally good and valuable, with or without all those external things. A good, worthy person does not need to “do”, they can simply just “be”.