self esteem

The Twin Paths to Self Esteem – Solitude and Relationship

It often becomes apparent when talking to others with low self-esteem (SE) and low self-confidence (SC), that there is confusion about how to nurture, develop or heal this mysterious internal thing, substance, state, trait, or attitude (SE) and its external manifestation (SC).

There is no simple answer to this mystery for those who, as a child, have been significantly neglected, (not loved at all, or not enough), abused, (if one wanted to be generously callous about this cruelty, in opposition to neglect it would be called overstimulation), or loved too much (spoiled by being treated as royalty, often expressed in learning the cost of everything but the value of nothing.) Not to mention those with disabilities; another whole topic.

If these toxic developmental conditions apply the result is a deficient internal sense of self and security (SE) that otherwise could be counted on to deal with the obstacles, threats and trauma that occur over the course of life. If this internal security is near to or completely lacking it requires intensive psychotherapy (relationship activity) and/or immersion in creative activity (mainly solitary activity) or, a combination of both, to create hope for personal growth and healing.

In ordinary development where SE problems are significant but less severe and a person has some sense of self and some internal security, SE can be strengthened by understanding and implementing two principles along two lines.


  1. SE is developed, nourished and strengthened only through relationships that are reciprocal, respectful, cooperative and loving, and,
  1. SE is equally strengthened by developing personal interests with passion and creativity that often require solitude.

Relationships and solitude are neither good nor bad in a moral sense. It is important to highlight, that in the relationship case, obviously, others are required in order to build and strengthen SE, but poorly chosen others will weaken SE. Even healthy relationships cause pain by definition, but this pain, necessary for relationship growth, is different than the pain of too much or too little love.

In the solitude case SE is built yourself, by yourself, and while you still may interact to a greater or lesser degree with others, no one person is de facto required but you yourself; and at times this requires immersion in, and bearing beauty and ecstatic creative joy, and at other times bearing extreme pain and tantrums that can come when alone and separate. Confusion occurs in not being clear about the place of these two principles in your sense of self.

In order to clarify this confusion it is helpful to view the two principles along two lines.


As we look at these lines it is important to note again we are not talking about something good or bad in a moralistic sense.


It has two poles. At one end is the question: To what degree do I prefer solitude? At the other end is the seeming opposite: To what degree do I prefer interacting with people?

It is important to non-judgmentally decide where you fit on this line. It is perfectly alright to be a solitary person and it is perfectly alright to be a social person. And while most concur that, in a Buddhistic sense, the middle way, or some of both might be ideal, this isn’t true if it doesn’t fit with your own comfort and therefore with who you feel and know you are.

But at the same time, to build self-esteem one must be clear with oneself: I am more of a solitary person, or I am more of a social person. Because in the first case your self-esteem will be built mainly through working on interests and in the second case by working on social interactions.

A cautionary note: Problems arise as either end moves to extremes.  An example at the solitude end is someone who has become encapsulated, house bound or a hermit, who begins hoarding, drinking, drugging, bingeing or over eating.

An example at the relationship end is someone who panics if they are not with, or in contact with someone else nearly all the time, and who drinks, drugs, binges and purges, gambles, feels entangled and confused, is promiscuous or partying, just to not feel the pain of separateness and being alone. In both these cases not comfort, but discomfort is required to be who you are with growing autonomy and authenticity (SE).

If you are slipping into a capsule you must access your will and use decisive personal force to enable yourself to move forward and minimally socialize, this might initially include AA for example just to begin to be around welcoming others. Conversely, if you are becoming entangled and confused, have no time for yourself because you’re ‘so popular’ and have ‘so many friends’, and are ‘drinking almost every night’, you must access the same will to move backward toward a minimum of privacy and solitude, this might include individual therapy for example so you can stop and self-reflect.

Once you have established where you are on the first line, you begin work on the second.


This is a measure of your energy.

At the solitary end you will take the energy you have each day and devote most of it to your interest. If you’re Sidney Crosby you will be alone for hours on an ice rink skating and shooting pucks, if you are Ms. Rowling you will be alone writing another Harry Potter fantasy-thriller.

At the social end you will be contacting and connecting with other people individually in developing intimacy, or as part of a group organizing relief for your good cause, or doing whatever is required for your purpose in the group from simple conversing to fundraising to running for political office.

The daily challenge on both ends is to be in touch with your feelings as monitors of how much you’re being true to your own personal need to be social versus your own personal need to be solitary. At the same time it is essential in both cases to plan for the future and as carefully as possible, without obsessing, to manufacture an energy supply through proper diet, proper rest and proper exercise. To come to see the value of doing things ‘properly’, particularly if you consider yourself someone from an unconventional background or someone with ‘progressive’ ideas, can be a personally revolutionary experience.

With maximum energy manufactured and husbanded comes the equally important task of how am I going to spend my energy capital on social versus solitary activity. The key to not feeling tired, drained, exhausted, depressed, burnt out, empty, or overwhelmed, is to realize that each day you have only so much natural energy gifted to you and so much that you have manufactured by living ‘properly’. You have to use ‘a mind of your own’, to think, to make effective choices about how much energy each day you might want to save and how you’re going to distribute and spend your limited daily supply.

There is no right or wrong. There are only more or less effective ways to build your SE. Let your feelings be your guide: If you feel good you are on the right track, if you feel bad you need to stop and reassess. Your active ongoing awareness and use of these two principles and two lines will help you significantly to gather greater internal strength and security and trust your inherent capacities for growth and healing. Your individuation is a life time task.

Dr. Clark Falconer is a Guest Blogger for PickTheBrain. He is a practicing Psychiatrist from Vancouver, Canada and the author of the new, critically acclaimed book The Three Word Truth About Love And Being Well.

Photo credit: ‘Twins‘ by Big Stock

14 Responses to The Twin Paths to Self Esteem – Solitude and Relationship

  1. Shubham kale says:

    very good article. self esteem should be developed.
    i like this article very much. that’s the rezone this blog is in #1 position on Technorati. 
    thanks Dr. Falconer .for further, checkout 

  2. Jonathan Story says:

    Interesting article. It seems to me that just as depression can have a physiological as well as a psychological basis, the same may be true for self esteem. If so, then we should not feel reluctant to treat it as, at least in part, a medical issue — similar to how one might treat diabetes, for example. To extend the comparison, in the same way that a disease might impair our work and relationships, so too does a low self esteem. I wouldn’t be surprised if a low self esteem cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lifetime earnings.

  3. Clark says:

    Shubham: Thank you your comment is much appreciated. Clark

  4. Clark says:

    Jonathan: Yes, I think your comment is on the money so to speak. It will always be controversial whether to medicalize this kind of phenomena or not but it is still a model with significant value until we come up with something better; this of course doesn’t discount therapeutic strategies of all kind that can offer help, regardless of theoretical underpinning. But it is also buyer beware because like all medical procedures therapy has risks and side-effect. I think low self-esteem cost can equally be measured in the loss of a fortune in metaphorical, emotional dollars that contribute to quality of life and life style. Interesting. Thanks Jonathan. Clark

  5. My knowledge of which “type” of person I am is very, very situational, but a lot of the times farther to the extremes than to the middle. When I want to be a lone, I really just want to be alone, and get almost annoyed when I get home and both of my roommates are there. On the other hand though, when I crave the company of others, its almost as though I will get depressed if no one is available to spend time with me- this may be the feeling as though I don’t have anyone though. I think it’s hard to find  balance between the two as an emotional and pensive person. But I do think that my self esteem is more based on an internal feeling of contentment, rather than the expectations of others. 

  6. Danny says:

    This was a very interesting read. The main thing I took away from it is that it’s okay to be a solitary person, and even though I’ve known this for quite some time I still sometimes feel like I should be more social even though I don’t particularly get much enjoyment from socializing as I do from being by myself. The few exceptions to this rule is when I’m with one of my closest friends, and when I’m with my girlfriend (who I can spend hours with without feeling drained or bored). This article has given me plenty of food for thought when it comes to being solitary vs socializing. It has transformed me into “hermit mode” but it’s made me feel like I need not worry about enjoying my time sans socializing.

  7. Lisa says:

    People are very predatory and know when someone suffers from low self esteem, making work life very difficult.  It’s interesting, as I get older I realize that se is inherited to some degree.  Maybe more than spoken about.  Would be interesting to know of a study that could shed some light on it.  Thank you so much for the article – there is so much truth that resonates with me and confirms my instincts were right all along – I just didn’t trust it!

  8. Clark says:

    Kelly: Thanks for your comments. They show an important process of thinking about the article and your internal self. Maybe read the article slowly a few more times it might be helpful to reflect further. Clark.

  9. Clark says:

    Danny. Yes, a key point is how important it is to think about who you are; because if you don’t do this work you can never be comfortable with yourself and therefore  able to make effective choices to fulfill your own destiny. Thanks for your interesting thoughts. Clark.

  10. Clark says:

    Lisa: One interesting book I can recommend is Solitude by Anthony Storr; a lot of my own work takes off on these kind of ideas. Your more than welcome and thanks for taking the time to comment. Clark.

  11. PJ says:

    Thanks for the article.  This explains to me alot about my challenges in life.   Coming from a large family and being one of the middle children, I have struggled with significance in life.  possible I have low se even though I know I shouldn’t.  (shouldn’t is a word used often in my family)  You have given me a different angle to managing life.  I do enjoy solitude and have difficulty pushing myself to socialize.  I need to balance the line to nuture my se.  am I getting it?

  12. Your article made me think and reflect on where I find my own self esteem. It seems to be like this. I like to be by myself working on my photographs (as a photographer) and creating beautiful images. That in itself gives me pleasure and self esteem. But the next step for me is when and if I get positive feedback from my work. So I see it as a 2 step process. First I feed my soul with the need to be creative and feel good about myself but I also see that the applause of others and the desire for praise also feeds me. I don’t imagine that if I did the solitary stuff and never received any feedback that I would get any self esteem from it. I picture all of those Great Canadian Writers who slaved away on their books and never got published. How discouraging and I wonder if they find some self confidence in doing other things. 

    Certainly food for thought. I think at the end of the day, I need both; solitary activity and social interaction. Chris

  13. Motivation says:

    This is an excellent post. I liked this post very much. All
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  14. imbrogno_77 says:

    I like this article. It also reinforces the principle of moderation for me. You must have both solitude and time to socialize…

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