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Why Isn’t S/He More Like Me?

In working with individual patients, I’m often intrigued by the fact that individuals with low self-esteem can be quite critical about others with whom they interact.  It’s actually quite paradoxical but frequently observed that a person with low self-esteem is bothered by the fact that some of their peers choose to act in ways or have opinions that are different than theirs.  In essence, they criticize others for not choosing to adopt behaviors and attitudes that they reject in themselves. 

Whether it is articulated this way or not, they are essentially saying, “Why isn’t s/he more like me?”  The obvious answer is another question, “Why should s/he be more impressed by you and like you more than you like yourself?”  A better question to be asking is, “Why does s/he think or behave the way s/he does?”  Trying to accept and understand individual differences in others is a necessary component for personal growth.  It does a few things for the person asking the question:  (1) It enables us to acknowledge that the motivation of another person doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with us; (2) It can help us to understand and appreciate the other person as an individual who has unique characteristics that are different than ours – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; (3) It enables us to work on our own self-esteem and related issues without triangulating somebody else into the process.

While the person(s) to whom you are reacting may very likely have issues of their own and aren’t necessarily paragons of emotional health, that’s part of being human.  In order to effectively function in human society, however, we have to learn to effectively deal with others without having a need to change them – especially when we’re working on changing ourselves.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t have disagreements, disappointments, and even ruptures in our relationships with others, but those should happen for the right reasons – such as experiencing emotional growth at different paces, having conflicting interests or philosophies, or inequality in the emotional giving and receiving process.  But it can be quite surprising to see how much some relationships can change for the better when we give up the need to have someone accept those parts of us that we have difficulty accepting in ourselves.

Ron Kaiser, Ph.D. Psychologist, Educator, Author, Podcaster

Ron Kaiser, Ph.D., is a positive health psychologist, coach, author, podcaster, educator, consultant, and speaker. He has been in practice for more than five decades, including 25 years as Director of Psychology at the world-famous Jefferson Headache Center at Thomas Jefferson University. As an innovative thought leader in the field, he has developed the concepts of THE MENTAL HEALTH GYM, GOAL-ACHIEVING PSYCHOTHERAPY (GAP), THE TYPE P PERSONALITY, and REJUVENAGING®.

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