People naturally want their thoughts, feelings, and experiences to be consistent. If someone interviews for a job, for example, that pays them more than they thought that they would ever earn (even though they are capable of and deserving of the job), their thought that they are incapable is inconsistent with their experience of being offered the interview. Ultimately, they will likely feel very nervous about the interview. As a result of this anxiety and worry, they will not likely interview well. Therefore, they will likely be rejected for the job. This rejection can be internalized as “proof” that they are undeserving, thereby added to their lower sense of self and self-esteem.
Immediately after their aforementioned rejection, their initial anxiety will likely ease, because their experience (getting rejected) is now consistent with their untrue thought (that they are not deserving). Nonetheless, they will likely continue to feel inferior and earn less money. The true reality, however, is that they were and are capable. As they understand this truth (no matter the etiology of the original belief) both in how he/she thinks and feels about themselves, they will perform much better in the future. This improved performance (based upon this change in perception and healthy understanding) will likely lead to ongoing approval and acceptance. This positive experience will likely lead to an overall improved sense of self, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-image.
Another common “cognitive distortion,” as described by Dr. David Burns’ popularized information on cognitive behavioral therapy, that influences self-esteem is known as the “binocular trick.” If one has ever looked into a pair of binoculars the wrong way, everything looks far away. In essence, people sometimes use this phenomenon upon themselves, while comparing themselves with others. One might look at one’s own accomplishments as if through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. Conversely, one may examine another’s accomplishments as if through the right way through the same binoculars. When looking at one’s shortcomings, there may be a tendency to examine these deficits as if looking at them properly though binoculars. On the other hand, others’ shortcomings are examined in the opposite way.
Since most publicly embellish personal strengths, while minimizing weaknesses, the etiology of this discrepancy becomes self-evident. When comparing out, it is ultimately vital to remember that our self-knowledge far exceeds our understanding of others. This imbalanced perspective creates an illusion that can be overcome, therefore, by means of an awareness of the role of the binocular trick and the realization that everyone has his or her own set of shortcomings and strengths.