Low Self-Esteem Despite New Promotion

Reader’s Question

I’ve recently been promoted into a new position, but instead of being able to enjoy my recent success, I’m eternally feeling like a I’m going to be found out as a fraud…that I didn’t really deserve the promotion. This time, like many times in the past, I went into the position knowing I’d have things to learn — but for some reason I can never given myself the room/time to learn it…instead thinking I should always be at a further state than I think I am. My current boss keeps saying he knows everyone has different learning curves and he doesn’t expect anyone on his team to be the same as anyone else. It just breaks my heart every time he says this, as instead of encouraging words, it feels like a knife turning, saying “I know you’ve got some learning to do”. I don’t know why I keep taking this negatively — it’s affecting my performance though. I seem to be in a vicious cycle…some days I feel like I come off as a moron, which in turn makes me perform worse, which perpetuates the feeling of moronics.

I’m driving myself to worry every day…I don’t know if my perceptions are true, but the feelings they inspire are completely real…and very hurtful. What can I do to revisualize or think differently about my situation?

Psychologist’s Reply

We normally think of stress and depression as related to negative or even traumatic events. In truth, most stress is related to our level of responsibility and obligation. While you’ve received a promotion — it’s added more stress and responsibility to your life. This “good thing” is actually a very stressful event.

Stress amplifies/increases our normal personality traits. Slow-movers move more slowly under stress. Hyper folks become more hyper under stress. Here’s my theory… You’ve probably always had a low level of self-esteem and self-confidence — despite evidence that you are talented and respected (You’ve received another promotion!). I may be wrong here, but I also suspect you’re a bit on the shy or introverted side. The stress of the new position amplifies these long-standing self-doubts and concerns about social appearance. When this happens, your self-doubt tries to convince you that you don’t deserve the promotion and that you’re going to fail.

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In truth, those around you are not hindered by your self-doubt when they look at you or evaluate you for a promotion. They see your talent, skill level, and potential. When they tell you there’s a lot to learn — that’s true of any promotion. You do have a lot to learn, but you might want to learn about yourself and your self-doubts first. Keep in mind that very famous and highly talented individuals are often tormented for years with self-doubt — as when the actress Sally Field won an Oscar, cried and finally stated “You Really Like Me!!!”

I would suggest counseling to explore your self-esteem issues. With the talent and potential everyone else sees in you, we certainly don’t want the company to have an eventual CEO with poor self-esteem. Try to look at your new job as “an adventure”, something exciting with lots to learn and do. You’ve got a new job…people will be teasing you about it…that’s part of the cost of a promotion. Don’t take their comments personally…it’s just an initiation rite. Research the Internet for tips on building self-esteem and self-confidence. Review your upbringing to see if your low self-esteem can be traced to your past. Children from homes where parents were hypercritical often express your feelings as adults.

Learn the new job and learn about you. As Sally Field discovered, they really like you. Accept that and work toward the next promotion!

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