Low Self-Worth Masked as Overconfidence

Or why you should feel empathy for people like Trump

Photo: Christopher-Windus (Unsplash)

Leading a satisfying life

Having a healthy sense of self-worth means you are a well-balanced person neither too sensitive to criticism, not too dependent on praise. Confident people feel comfortable in their skin. They do not look down on anyone and they do not feel threatened by those who know or earn more.

People with healthy self-esteem are content and satisfied with themselves. They do not obsess over becoming famous or climb the corporate ladder only to prove themselves to others. They know they are exactly where they need to be and desire no more than that.

Truly confident people set goals that feel right for them. They do not crave attention, they do not create drama, they do not wish to become famous for the sake of being famous, they just do their own thing and enjoy doing it.

Not everyone is so lucky

While having self-esteem is a blessing, the lack of it could be seen as a curse. People who lack it are never happy and content with who they are. They are in constant need of approval and admiration since their sense of self-worth is not internal, but depends on what others think.

This lack of self-esteem can manifest in a surprising way —as overconfidence and boasting. Behind the facade, though, there is extreme unhappiness. People who have no sense of self-worth find it hard to believe in themselves and their intrinsic need to feel like a valuable member of the society is rarely met. That hurts deeply.

Overconfidence is an attempt to compensate for this massive lack of confidence. It’s a defence mechanism of the ego trying to overcome a debilitating sense of worthlessness and insecurity by continuously convincing oneself and others of one’s greatness.

Trump’s repeated claims how he is the best at everything can be seen as an example of this:

It’s ‘fake it till you make it,’ but does it work? From the look of it, not really. Have you ever seen Trump happy? Has he ever, on one single occasion, looked content, relaxed, and at peace with the world?

Even his grand victory didn’t make Trump happy. He had to stress out and make a huge fuss over losing a popular vote despite just becoming a President. He was unable to enjoy what most of us see as a massive achievement and a pinnacle of success. But was it enough to make him feel content?

Nothing is ever enough for an insecure person who suffers from low self-worth. Such people are not capable of trusting even their own spouses, for deep down they cannot believe anyone could truly love and care for them.

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Can you imagine a life worse than that? Life with no happiness, no trust, and with fleeting moments of success that are always instantly ruined by nothing ever being good enough? It’s a sad and painful story.

Can you now feel at least some empathy for the man?

Hopefully, you can, so we can stop the hate, for hate never leads to solutions. That certainly doesn’t make someone’s behavior acceptable, but we can at least recognize the problem as a maladaptive response to low self-esteem.

Signs of maladaptive responses to low self-worth

  1. Putting others down and making fun of them to feel better about oneself.
  2. Feeling hurt when disliked by others. Even one single person’s lack of approval is seen as a major problem.
  3. Not being able to enjoy and celebrate one’s achievements, due to not being able to achieve even more.
  4. Being upset and envious when someone else is more popular or successful and resenting that person.
  5. Any criticism, no matter how good the intentions, is unbearably painful, making one hostile and revengeful.
  6. Failures are seen as confirmations of worthlessness instead of learning experiences. They cause distress and rage.

How to deal with it?

Never laugh at people who suffer from personality disorders. If it’s true that Trump has a Narcissist Personality Disorder, making fun of him is the worst you can do, for that will only escalate his rage and vindictiveness.

Unfortunately, a lot of people are doing just that. Ridiculing a person who has mental health issues, however, is no different from making fun of a physically disabled person. Is inappropriate, to say the least.

Therapy can be of great help in overcoming the low self-esteem issues, rebuilding a more secure sense of self, and developing functional coping mechanisms. The problem, however, is that one has to ask for help first.

This is contrary to what’s at the core of the maladaptive coping mechanism. People who are using it deny having flaws and find it hard to admit they have problems since that would be a threat to their fragile ego.

That’s why narcissists find themselves in a vicious circle and why it is so hard to break it. It’s a form of self-sabotage that begins to develop early in life and can be a result of certain parenting styles. The causes are deeply rooted and it takes time to uncover and change maladaptive responses.

Due to the need for recognition and admiration that can never be fulfilled, it’s not uncommon for narcissists to develop depression and only seek help due to that. That’s one of the ways to enter a therapy and make the change that can lead to a more fulfilling and healthy life.

Until then, it’s best to have compassion for people who are suffering from the disorder and try to understand why they behave the way they do. That doesn’t mean condoning unacceptable behavior, but it does mean learning how to cope with it without causing any more damage than necessary.

There are many people who have personality disorders and the way we treat Trump says a whole lot about how our society treats those who are also afflicted. Psychology and psychiatry are young sciences and we still have a lot to learn about how to best deal with these issues. Perhaps having Trump for a president is a great opportunity to do so.

Mateja started to write short stories at the age of ten and later found herself in the role of a freelance journalist, radio personality, and grief counselor. Her life resembles a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs and some pretty wild turns. Among other things, her car was destroyed by tanks and she survived several brushes with death. She graduated summa cum laude in psychology from Arizona State University and is now working as brain whisperer at Transform the Pain and Personal Brain Whisperer. Connect with Mateja on LinkedIn.