Cert SM

self-referencing or other-referencing

When making sense of certain events, or when making sense of the world more generally, some people tend to give more weight to their own perceptions of the way things are, while other people are more concerned about how others may see things to be. It is as if each of us falls somewhere on a continuum between these two poles.

This distinction has been described in terms of it being one of a number of largely unconscious meta-programmes that serve to influence the way each of us reacts to the world. It should be noted that there is no real right or wrong way to be in this respect, although there are both some advantages and disadvantages of finding yourself on either side of the spectrum. However, it is interesting to note just how your level of self-confidence can be influenced by your relative position on the scale.

If you fall on the other-referencing side of the divide (or use the external-frame-of reference programme), you will be inclined to put significant weight on external factors, which may well include other people’s points-of-view and their judgements. As this stance will cause you to seek evidence from outside of yourself, it will have the advantage of allowing you to remain objective in your evaluations, and therefore arguably more accurate in them. It should also allow you to be less affected by your immediate emotional response.

A drawback to having such an other-referencing bias is that, for it to remain at all workable, you will need to get a fairly constant stream of external feedback. However, in many situations, there will just simply be insufficient reliable outside evidence for you to draw on. When this is the case, you may feel compelled to do a bit of mind reading in an attempt to work out the thoughts and feelings of the people around you. You may even end up unconsciously examining their every action and reaction for some relevant signals – frequently getting it quite wrong.

If, on the other hand, you fall more towards the self-referencing side of the spectrum (or use an internal-frame-of reference programme), you will be more reliant on your own self for feedback. Although being this way may cause you to be somewhat less objective, to sometimes ignore sound advise and even, in extreme situations, to lose touch with reality, it will serve to make you more likely to stay motivated when there is little feedback or praise. Operating from your own core will also promote an increased sense of self-confidence and self-esteem.

If you are too much of an “other-referencing” person, you may sometimes end up torturing yourself simply because of another person’s actions or lack of actions. For instance, after a certain friend or colleague had perhaps neglected to return your call, you may view their behaviour as strong evidence of some criticism or bad feeling on that person’s part; and you may then go on to question yourself in the light of this imagined feedback. If, however, you operate from a more “self-referencing” model, you will probably not jump to such a questionable conclusion and therefore be less inclined to experience unsettling self-doubt or take that person’s lack of response as a hurtful personal jibe.

Most of us tend not to be very good at mind reading, and we certainly do not usually know all the things happening in other peoples’ lives and minds that may influence their moods or actions. If your self-worth is continually being put into doubt by the assumptions that you make with regards to other people’s attitude, thoughts or actions, then it may well be helpful to do something about it.

Because confidence, or a lack of confidence, is largely created in your own mind, you will find that you really do have the ability to make the changes necessary to feel more secure within yourself. Fortunately, you are not permanently locked into the way you reference the world. Indeed many of my clients have already found it beneficial to make a shift towards becoming a bit more self-referencing. (You can even choose to be as much as you want one way or the other.)


Please feel free to contact me or make an appointment to see me.


Please also look at the pages on self-esteem and self-confidence.

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c h r i s

Everyone has the obligation to ponder well his own specific traits of character. He must also regulate them adequately and not wonder whether someone else's traits might suit him better. The more definitely his own a man's character is, the better it fits him.


Roman author, orator, & politician (106 BC - 43 BC)