What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is an individual's subjective evaluation of their own worth. There are three types of self-esteem: Inflated self-esteem, High self-esteem, and Low self-esteem.
Self-esteem is important because it heavily influences people's choices and decisions. In other words, self-esteem serves a motivational function by making it more or less likely that people will take care of themselves and explore their full potential. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs about oneself (for example, "I am unloved", "I am worthy") as well as emotional states, such as triumph, despair, pride, and shame.
In psychology, 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 behaviours. 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.
Theories of Self-Esteem
Many theorists have written on the dynamics involved in self-esteem. The need for self-esteem plays an important role in psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which depicts self-esteem as one of the basic human motivations.
Esteem needs are the fourth level in Maslow’s hierarchy - which Maslow classified into two categories: (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige). Maslow indicated that the need for respect or reputation is most important for children and adolescents and precedes real self-esteem or dignity. Self-esteem is a concept distinct from self-efficacy, which involves how one believes in handling future actions, performance, or abilities.
Factors That Influence Self-Esteem
Many factors influence self-esteem, our inner thinking, age, any potential illnesses, disabilities, or physical limitations, and jobs can affect self-esteem. Further, genetic factors that help shape a person's personality can also play a role, but it is often our experiences that form the basis for overall self-esteem. One who consistently receives overly critical or negative assessments from family and friends, will be likely to experience low self-esteem.
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
We need to work on how we perceive ourselves if we tend to experience these common problems caused by low self-esteem:
belief that others are better
finds difficulty in expressing one’s needs
focus is on one’s weaknesses
frequently experiencing feelings such as shame, depression, or anxiety
have a negative outlook on life
have an intense fear of failure
have trouble accepting positive feedback
have trouble saying "no"
put other people's needs before one’s own
struggle with confidence
There are some simple ways to tell if one has healthy self-esteem. We might have healthy self-esteem if we are likely to:
Avoid dwelling on past/ negative experiences
Express needs and be Feel confident
Have a positive outlook on life and To say "no" when we want to
See overall strengths and weaknesses and accept them
Some ways that can help nourish our self-esteem are:
Being Mindful- Recognising and acknowledging the need to grow is the first step we can take. By simply being aware of our self-limiting talks, we can prevent falling into the trap of our negative self-talk. Instead of believing in all of our self-critical thoughts, we can remind ourselves that these are just our perceptions, and not facts. By merely observing, noticing and being curious, we will gradually be able to realise that thoughts are just thoughts, and nothing more. This goal can be attained by indulging in mediation practices where along with inspecting our thoughts, we also learn to separate them from our sense of self as a whole. The key is that WE ARE NOT OUR CIRCUMSTANCES.
The Habit of Self-Appreciation- Developing this habit can make a huge difference in each of our lives. One way to achieve this goal is to write down (in a book or even on the phone), every evening, at least three things that we appreciate about ourselves. These things can be as small as appreciating oneself for having remembered a friend’s ‘important day’ and wishing them luck. Since we can come back to these pointers anytime in the future, this practice will work on our self-esteem, along with changing our perspectives on days when we need it the most. And on days when we cannot generate positive things about ourselves on our own, taking help from a loved one can do wonders. This worksheet is another way that may aid in attaining our current goal.
Change the Narrative- Our core self-image is often based on our self-perceptions which are ideally constructed by the story we create about ourselves. Some automatic negative thoughts like “I am not good enough” or “I look ugly” essentially become our internalized voices because they are repeated in our minds so often. Thus, if we want to change this narrative, we can start by unlearning these learnt thoughts using such phrases that we wish to believe are true about ourselves. Some ways to design what are called as “Self-Affirmations” are given in this worksheet. Repeating these to oneself everyday can help change our beliefs about ourselves.
Comparing Oneself with Others is a Trap- We will always have someone who will be better than us. And when we try to chase those who are ahead of us, we are absolutely never likely to win. So instead, we can compare ourselves with ourselves. We can focus on self and look at our own journey and how far we have come. This worksheet can serve as a guide in achieving our current goal.
Be Good-Enough, and Not a Perfectionist- Nobody at all is perfect, and trying to be one only leads to disappointment. Setting extreme standards not only paralyzes our ability to achieve goals, but also leads us to sink into procrastination and dissatisfaction. Further, when we perceive that we are lacking in our performance and are not accomplishing what we had aimed for, feelings and opinions about self also start to become negative. These unfavourable self-perceptions then fuel our thoughts of negative self-worth giving birth to a viscious cycle of low self-esteem. Thus, we can aspire for small, reachable goals because ultimately, the key is to strive for better, and not for flawlessness.
Exploring Oneself- Knowing who you are, and being at peace with it is of utmost importance. We are constantly on a journey of learning about ourselves through trial and error. As we grow, we experience several changes, and it becomes crucial to keep up with them. When we accept that ‘change is the only thing constant’, we are also able to accomplish meaningful goals. And while we are exploring ourselves, reminding ourselves of our strengths can take us a long way. This worksheet can help in assessing the strengths that we already possess, along with encouraging us to develop those that may be required for our future endeavours. All in all, while we learn and grow in face of our mistakes, acknowledging our accomplishments is an equally important attitude to cultivate.
Abrams, A. (2017, March). 8 Steps to Improving Your Self-Esteem. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/nurturing-self-compassion/201703/8-steps-improving-your-self-esteem
Ackerman, C. (2020, April). What is Self-Esteem? A Psychologist Explains. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/self-esteem/
Edberg, H. (2020, February). How to Improve Your Self-Esteem: 12 Powerful Tips. The Positivity Blog. Retrieved from https://www.positivityblog.com/improve-self-esteem/
Cherry, K. (2019, September 30). Why Self-Esteem Is Important for Success. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-self-esteem-2795868
Mcleod, S. (2020, March 20). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved August 19, 2020, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html