By Jeanie Tucker – Contributing writer
Self-esteem has become a well-known concept in our everyday life. We will often hear others state that they have low self-esteem, refer to a young person with concerns that they will develop poor self-esteem, or point out a person who we assume has high self-esteem, but do we really know what it means? What determines our self-esteem? And why does it matter?
Simply put, self-esteem is your opinion and feelings about yourself; how well you genuinely like and accept yourself. It is significant in that it affects most areas of your life, from the fluctuations in your mood and anxiety to relationships, including how we treat others and how we allow others to treat us. It can even affect our academic and work performance.
Think about it. If you do not like or feel good about yourself, are you more likely to be confident in social situations or to avoid spending time with others, assuming that others think poorly of you? In addition, you are less likely to take good care of yourself and you are more prone to depression, anxiety and health problems. Furthermore, the likelihood of developing an eating disorder, drug and alcohol addictions, or becoming involved in an abusive relationship significantly increases.
When you feel good about yourself, you believe you are worthy of being healthy, treated respectfully, and accepted for who you are. You need the approval of others less, which decreases your social anxiety.
When you don’t feel good about yourself, you are more likely to believe you are not worthy of respect. You accept poor treatment from others and from yourself.
How does one go about developing healthy self-esteem? Ideally, our caregivers show us how to love and accept ourselves through their love and acceptance of us. Listening to and respecting us, not being abusive, and accepting us even when we fail at something, teaches us that we are lovable, valuable and deserving of respect. Unfortunately, some people do not receive those messages from caregivers and are left feeling rejected and not fully accepted for who they are. This is a painful experience and the person then grows up feeling that they are not good enough. Of course, there are exceptions where individuals receive unconditional love from their caregivers, but due to trauma, bullying, or many other interfering factors, the person’s self-esteem is negatively affected.
With so many people suffering from this condition and for different reasons, it can take many forms. A person with low self-esteem may be very successful, working extremely hard to cover up feelings of inadequacy. He may demonstrate defensiveness, anger, and oppositional behavior to give the impression that the opinions and thoughts of others do not affect him. She may rely on others excessively for help and guidance, and struggle with taking responsibility to make changes in her life, believing she does not have the ability to do so herself.
Fortunately, the amount of self-esteem you have is not static and predetermined, but it does take hard work to increase it. The following steps can create much needed changes in the cognitions and feelings that are contributing to poor self-acceptance and feelings of self-worth.
- During a self-esteem attack (when you are feeling very down on yourself), take note of the thoughts you are having: What are you saying to yourself? If your thoughts are negative, test them against facts and truth. Is it a fact that you never succeed at anything? Is it true that no one likes you? Make sure your language is positive and does not emphasize your fears or exaggerate the truth.
- Be kind to yourself: How would you speak to a friend having a similar problem? Chances are you would not speak to them the way you talk to yourself. Show compassion for what you are going through in the same way you would for a friend.
- Reach out to supportive friends, family, or mental health professionals: We all need to hear from others that they love and care about us. Ask a trusted friend what they like about you for a confidence boost. If low self-esteem is causing depression and anxiety, or has become too much for you to manage, seek help from a therapist who will assist you with exploring those feelings and working toward a more confident future.