What’s The Most Efficient Way to Manage Your CEO Self Esteem and Confidence? -Mind “Projection”

Sherri Douville
5 min readSep 1, 2019

This post is for CxO’s in complex tech, regulated tech and deep tech markets. Because complexity brings out the worst in many people.

Managing your own self esteem and role modeling mental health and self esteem is one of the most important skills for leaders. What happens if you’re in a deep tech space most people don’t understand? How do you inoculate your team and yourself from any toxicity in the world?

For example, how does one manage their own mental health as a CEO in health IT?

A Huge Challenge in the Entrepreneurial Journey: Projection

Projection is a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities. Both positive and negative, by denying the existence in themselves and attributing them to others. For example, a person who is habitually rude may accuse other people of being rude. It incorporates blame shifting. Lower levels can come from relatively healthy though less developed but normal people; while greater levels of projection stem from disordered levels of narcissism and other personality problems/disorders. The latter of which can manifest in gaslighting as described in the link. This article isn’t about that; for that you need to see a professional outside your company.

Frequently, people may project their own insecurities related to their own even subconscious beliefs about their own abilities in whatever difficult space you’re working in onto you. When this first started happening to me, I was profoundly impacted and caught off guard. It affected my confidence. Thankfully I’m married to someone with formal psychiatric training. Through other mentors and my husband’s support, I was able to return to an even stronger version beyond my former self. It turns out that every amazing, super successful person you’ve ever heard of has endured countless attacks, skeptics, saboteurs, jealousy and opposition in their journeys. You’re not alone.

What happens when people project their own low self esteem or insecurities onto you? It’s worth reviewing the two sides of criticism prior to answering.

1) Criticism type 1 Constructive: To be a high growth leader, you have to request, process, and act on criticism. This is depicted to the right of this chart below in the “high growth” column.

2) Criticism Type 2: Insecure & Inappropriate. Though some criticism is either unwarranted or disproportionate to straight facts.

As this article points out, everyone, sooner or later is a target of unjust critics, “a criticism that can be offensive without even a solid foundation. And curiously, in most cases, these criticisms are accompanied by very strong feelings. We note that the person who criticizes us feels deeply angry and shows an emotional reaction out of all proportion.

These criticisms can do much harm, it can turn into real poison darts that have a huge impact on our self-esteem and confidence. We can’t avoid these criticisms, but we can become immune to them. To succeed, the best protective barrier is to know that behind many of these words often hide the complicated interpersonal mechanism called “projection.”

“Projection” is one of the most common self-defense mechanisms in daily life. It is a mechanism that serves to defend oneself from attributes or thoughts that they refuse to or are unable to recognize as their own.

Recognizing these attributes or thoughts would be too painful for the person projecting because they go against the idealized image he has of her/himself. As a result, she/he projects them constantly on others, criticizing them.

Psychology Today

Self-esteem and confidence in yourself are the structures that suffer the most with attacks of projected criticisms. If you let others project their fears, insecurities and prejudices on you, you’ll begin to doubt your abilities and then you will experience guilt and rejection. These are unproductive feelings.

How do you survive a verbal attack? or Attack by Text or Email or Behind Your Back?

  1. Discover your emotions that underlie.
  2. Remember that a critic is only an opinion.
  3. Keep calm. Sometimes it’s hard to stay calm” [1]

How has this affected my journey as a CEO?

Most interested parties concerning healthcare only understand partial parts of 1–2 out of 5 big areas of healthcare (medicine, computer science, physics, finance, regulations). This is a recipe for disastrous insecurity and resulting projection behaviors.

If you’re going to be a CEO in healthcare technology, you really have to be willing to dig into ALL the fine interlocking details of hardware, software, data, networking, healthcare finance, policy, & medicine/ all medical specialties. This willingness is best backed by a decade or more of personal experience working in the healthcare ecosystem.

When for example, projection is coming from another CEO/founder, they may try consciously or subconsciously (through projection of insecurities related to the difficulty they’ve personally experienced in the space) to derail you. They don’t comprehend how you’re not competitive because they don’t get it. Similar dynamics can be at play relative to older and/or large companies.

We hope these three tips above inoculate you from others’ projections. We also enjoy these two resources below.

Credit: Pinterest

[1] Don’t let others project onto you their fears, insecurities and prejudices:


By: Sherri Douville CEO & Board Member at Medigram, Inc. https://www.linkedin.com/in/sdouville/