I've been reading a lot about self-esteem recently as part of trying to figure out how to help a family member overcome a serious addiction. I came across some interesting research that looked at the difference between having good self-esteem, compared to just high self-esteem. "… I didn't feel like there was any gain for me. Even if that sounds selfish, it was really justified, because I was a better student and he was not a good student. I felt good about not wanting to help him." This statement is from someone with high self-esteem. What she is doing is reacting defensively to a question she perceives as a threat to her sense of self. Researchers, who performed the study she took part in, call this ‘fragile self-esteem’. It is high, in that she a good opinion of who she is, but it is also shallow, and not grounded in reality. This means it is easy to feel threatened when asked to talk about personal shortcomings. Fragile self-esteem is part of an emerging realization that there are more than just the high and low varieties and that not all kinds of self-esteem relate to positive psychological functioning. People with the fragile type often reveal themselves by showing strong verbal defensiveness, and without constant validation, their self-worth can crash. The opposite of this would be ‘secure self-esteem’. This is when a person feels comfortable presenting their authentic self to the world, and is able to accept that they have both strengths and weaknesses. Being secure with yourself means that your self-image is not threatened by other people or events that may expose things you can’t do well. What is needed is to ensure that when trying to develop self-esteem in ourselves or others we are not hiding failures or shortcomings. Worse still is avoiding challenges and dumbing things down to make sure no one’s feelings are hurt. The message we need to be sending is that regardless of how well someone performs they are still a person deserving of respect and love. Self-esteem should come from being at peace with who we are, and not from comparisons with others.