Self-esteem can be a challenge for many. These difficulties have been heightened over the last year or so as we deal with the impacts and effects of Covid-19 and related restrictions. It has challenged how many of us see ourselves. However, it is possible to manage and build your self-esteem and subsequently, genuine confidence.
The term self-esteem is used to describe a person’s overall sense of self-worth or personal value. In other words, how much you appreciate and like yourself. It involves a variety of beliefs about yourself, such as the appraisal of your own appearance, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. It can play a significant role in your motivation and success throughout your life.
Low self-esteem may hold you back from succeeding at school or work because you don’t believe yourself to be capable of success.
By contrast, having a healthy self-esteem can help you achieve because you navigate life with a positive, assertive attitude and believe you can accomplish your goals. (1) It is normal to have doubts on occasion. How often and to what degree these doubts surface is the issue and can have a negative affect on how you view yourself.
Self-esteem begins to form in early childhood – factors of influence include:
- Your thoughts and perceptions
- How other people react to you
- Experiences at home, school, work and in the community
- Illness, disability or injury
- Role and status in society
- Media messages (4)
In summary, low self-esteem is having a generally negative overall opinion of oneself, judging or evaluating oneself negatively, and placing a general negative value on oneself as a person.
People with low self-esteem usually have deep-seated, basic, negative beliefs about themselves and the kind of person they are. These beliefs are often taken as facts or truths about their identity, rather than being recognised as opinions they hold about themselves.
- Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself.
- Everyone lacks confidence occasionally but people with low self-esteem are unhappy or unsatisfied with themselves most of the time.
- It takes attention and daily practice to improve how you see you and feel about yourself. (3)
It is important to know that low self-esteem is a common problem for many people in our society – so you are not alone.
Low self-esteem can occur as part of a current problem (such as depression), or as a result of other problems (such as chronic illness, relationship problems) or it can be a problem in itself. Either way, the good news is that you can take steps towards developing more healthy self-esteem. (2)
How we handle situations, good or bad, and what we learn from them are important factors. More and more of my clients are confusing mistakes for failure. The following real-life example may provide additional context.
Some years ago one of my coaching clients contacted me with a problem in his life. We had stopped formally working together the previous year, however he turned to me for help in response to a situation he was trying to manage.
Long story, short, my client had found himself several thousand dollars in debt based on multiple payments made on an online game, somewhat knowingly but also, naively. He was embarrassed and overwhelmed.
This outcome had really shaken his confidence and self-worth. He didn’t know how to overcome the negative feelings about himself. Although initially disappointed, thankfully his wife was very supportive.
The relevant point in this story is that my client was feeling ashamed. In fact, he used the word shame, which was a trigger for our discussion. Although there was much more to our conversation, I helped him see that his actions were a mistake or error, not a point of failure.
Mistakes and failure are not the same thing. Mistakes are part of being human. They are common and genuine opportunities to reflect and learn how to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. In reality, failure is the act of repeating the same mistake, not the single error itself.
I pointed out to my client that doing something ‘wrong’ can be defined as a mistake. It does not make you a bad person and is nothing to be ashamed about. Shame is the feeling that you are inherently bad, rather than a sense of having made an error. Maintaining the right perspective is key.
In this instance, my client was able to take action and rectify his debts and situation once he gained a more valid perspective of the issue and options. As a result, ultimately his self-esteem improved through taking ownership of the situation and resolving the issue. Each of us is confronted with challenges and opportunities every day which could or do provide the platform for developing self-esteem.
If he had not identified and applied actions, the situation would have likely spiraled out of control and continued to damage his self-esteem. How we view these moments in life and our self-talk has a significant bearing on how we feel about ourselves overall.
When we take action and own situations, we feel good about our contributions and the outcomes. When we acknowledge this, it feels good and has a positive impact on how we view ourselves.
Interestingly, our self-esteem is either gradually built or diminished through our perspective and actions.
Alternatively, when there is a lack of ownership, accountability and reflection about how to improve ourselves and the situations, there is a tendency to be self-critical. When this avoidance is consistent, our self-esteem declines.
These increases and declines in self-esteem and self-worth occur gradually. I often describe it as .01% impact in each situation, either negative or positive. Clearly then, it takes many, many opportunities and actions to affect our overall self-esteem one way or the other.
Relationships with those close to you — parents, siblings, peers, teachers and other important contacts — are important to your self-esteem. Many beliefs you hold about yourself today reflect messages you’ve received from these people over time.
Yet, without consistent and conscious reflection, acknowledgment and action our tendency is to see the perceived risk and failure rather than the real risk and benefits. Innately, many people are more half-glass empty than full. But, this attitude and thought-process can be changed.
If you receive mostly negative feedback and are often criticized, teased or devalued by others, you’re more likely to struggle with poor self-esteem. But past experiences and relationships don’t have to be your destiny. Your own thoughts have perhaps the biggest impact — and these thoughts are within your control.
If you tend to focus on your weaknesses or flaws, working on changing that can help you develop a more balanced, accurate view of yourself. (4)
If your relationships are strong and you receive generally positive feedback, you’re more likely to see yourself as worthwhile and have healthier self-esteem. Oddly perhaps, this includes your relationship with yourself!
There are some simple ways to tell if you have healthy self-esteem:
- Avoid dwelling on past, negative experiences
- Express your needs
- Feel confident
- Have a positive outlook on life
- Say “no” when you want to
- See overall strengths and weaknesses and accept them.
You may need to work on how you perceive yourself if you tend to experience these common problems:
- A belief that others are better than you
- You find it difficult expressing your needs
- Too much focus on your weaknesses
- Frequently experience feelings such as shame, depression, or anxiety
- A negative outlook on life
- An intense fear of failure
- Trouble accepting positive feedback
- Trouble saying “no”
- Regularly put other people’s needs before your own
- You struggle with confidence. (1)
The Centre for Clinical Interventions offers an excellent model that may assist in assessing your current state and potential areas of focus and action. (2)
Click on the image below to open a worksheet containing additional, related information.
Self-esteem affects virtually every facet of your life. Maintaining a healthy, realistic view of yourself isn’t about blowing your own horn. It’s about learning to like and respect yourself — faults and all. (4)
Seeking help from relevant professionals is recommended, if required. However, for most of us it is possible to take action to change how you perceive yourself and to gradually build a positive self-esteem. Acknowledgment and honesty are the first steps, followed closely by regular reflection and action. These are steps we can all take…what have you got to lose and consider what you might gain?
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