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3 Childhood Factors That Create Inflated Self-Esteem In Adults

Written by: Jason Polk, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


No one is born inherently better than or less than anyone else. We all have inherent worth that fundamentally can’t be added to or taken away from. If we have inflated or deflated self-esteem, it’s a product of our environment.

Unhappy young girl sitting at the steps outside

There are cultural factors that lead to inflated self-esteem, and our families live in that culture. More specifically though, we’ll explore 3 familial factors that can lead to inflated self-esteem in adults.

First, what is inflated self-esteem?

Inflated self-esteem is feeling better than others. It’s forgetting that we’re all imperfect human beings trying our best. It’s literally and figuratively having your nose up in the air looking down on others.

In the Pia Mellody and Terry Real schools of thought, it’s also referred to as being “1-up” or in grandiosity, which is the opposite of being “1-down” or in toxic shame. What is brilliant about their schools of thought is the understanding that the energy behind both inflated self-esteem and deflated self-esteem, is contempt.

If we’re in toxic shame, the contempt is going towards us (“I’m an idiot.)” If we’re in grandiosity the contempt is going towards others (“You’re an idiot.)”

We’re going to look at where this grandiosity and inflated self-esteem can come from.

1. It was modeled.

One parent may have often operated in the 1-up position with judgement and contempt towards their spouse (your parent or stepparent). They often devalued their spouse’s thoughts, feelings, or interests and they may have behaved overly selfishly putting their needs above the relationship and the family. The message that gets communicated to the child and young adult is: when you get older, this is how you get to act…

2. You were raised as if you could do no wrong.

Children need to experience the consequences of their actions in a healthy way. Children raised as if they can do no wrong often received the message that someone else was to blame for their shortcomings. For example, the poor grades they received were not their fault, but were the fault of the teachers, the school, or the system because they’re inadequate.

This sort of parenting disconnects children from the consequences of their actions, and they may begin to operate as if “above the law,” and take this belief into adulthood.

3. You were falsely empowered as a child.

Sometimes children can be elevated to a spoken or unspoken role in the family of something like, “You’re our star athlete or student, and you’ll make us look good as parents…” If a child is elevated to that role, like being raised as if you could do no wrong, they have special status and they begin to believe in this status.

The problems with this are not only inflated self-esteem, but the message of performance-based esteem which is, “I have value based on what I do, not who I am…”

Knowing where inflated self-esteem comes from can provide insight and motivation to change.

If you think you have inflated self-esteem, or most likely, it has been pointed out to you by someone else, it’s important to start practicing “same as.” This means remembering no one is fundamentally better or less than anyone else. Basically, it means not being quick to cast judgements of your partner or others because we’re all fundamentally trying our best.

I’ll share a quick practice that helps me come down to same as.

Say I come home and the kids are upset. Instead of immediately blaming and judging my wife for this, I ask myself the question: “What’s my part in this?” That usually does the trick because: I could have gotten home earlier, I could of have dinner prepared, I could have spent more time individually with my kids today, etc., etc.

Good news is that usually works.

If it doesn’t, I’ll then remember all the positive qualities of my wife. I mean, after all, I did marry her…

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Read more from Jason!


Jason Polk, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Jason Polk has been a couples therapist in Denver, CO for over nine years. He helps couples move away from disconnection and disharmony to harmony, connection and passion. He's been effective in helping clients experience and maintain results. Jason has been divorced and that's why he became a relationship therapist. Now he's been happily married for seven years and has two young kids. His mission: help you have harmony & passion!



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