Self-esteem is one of the most important concepts in psychology. In general, having high self-esteem is deemed as desirable. There are some standardized rating scales to measure the degree of self-esteem. They are often used to examine the effect of an intervention such as a series of psychotherapy or seminar.
However, self-esteem should be cautiously treated. It contains a risk of maladaptation. Kristin Neff, a professor at the University of Texas, warns that pursuing higher self-esteem is often harmful.
The Atlantic: Why Self-Compassion Works Better Than Self-Esteem
According to her, there are two main pitfalls in indulgence in self-esteem. The first maltreatment is to compare yourself to others. Feeling superior to other people raise your self-esteem easily. However, it will betray you soon, because you cannot be superior to others in all aspects. As a result, your self-concept will rather be unstable. The second trap is to consider you should be special. You can never accept yourself as an ordinary person. Being unique is a key for successors in some contexts. But feeling that you are special causes a kind of narcissism. In the long run, being arrogant is no good for you. It will get you rid of your friends, reputation, and finally self-confidence.
Neff recommends you to take self-compassion rather than self-esteem. It means to treat yourself as if one of your friends is inside you. When you fails, you have to touch you with kind and compassionate messages. You should admit humans are imperfect and often fail.
Her suggestion makes sense. In the modern world, especially in Western countries, people are told to be independent, wise, responsible, and unique. They are indeed important factors to be successful. However, it is never guaranteed that everyone will be successful. Rather, most people will suffer from incompleteness in themselves. In this case, someone has to loosen your pressure temporally.
Actually, people with quite a high self-esteem never be struck by a failure. Even if they see others who are superior to them, they never feel themselves miserable. Established self-esteem is not originated from comparison with others. In real, however, many people misunderstand this concept, to be willing to compare with others for better self-esteem.
I think the recipe for people with the curse of self-esteem is simple. Do not compare to others, but watch yourself.