What is Self-Esteem?

Achieving and maintaining a sense of self-esteem is an important part of physical and psychological well-being. Research has indicated that having a  sense of self-esteem is related to resilience, adaptability and lower levels of stress and psychological illness. Our sense of self-esteem is determined by the relationship that we have with ourselves. We have an inner voice that is interacting with us all day long. This voice can be positive or negative, but when it becomes critical, it makes us feel down, worthless and incapable. We begin to dislike ourselves, and lose our self-esteem and self-confidence. This inner critic creates a barrier that stops us from taking advantage of opportunities, instead convincing us to withdraw and isolate ourselves from friends and family. Establishing a sense of self-esteem means that you think positively about yourself, and that you believe yourself to possess many positive values and capabilities.

Self-Shame, Self-Esteem and Self-Pride

To have a sense of self-esteem is to develop a healthy, forgiving and positive relationship with yourself. People commonly speak of others as having either “good self-esteem” or “poor self-esteem”, however this kind of language assumes that self-esteem is a numerical construct, where too much can become a negative thing, while not enough is detrimental. I believe that having a sense of self-esteem is fundamentally good, and maintaining a sense of self-esteem is important for personal growth.

People who exhibit self-defeating pride are not accepting themselves for who they truly are. These people are often self-absorbed and high achieving. They strive to be more than they are, they are fixated on their own achievements as this is where they get their validation. Self defeating pride is unhealthy and can negatively impact an individual’s psychological health as well as reducing the quality of their relationships with others.

Self-Esteem: Developing a sense of self-esteem means that you possess a kind, realistic and forgiving relationship with yourself. Individual’s with self-esteem maintain a high level of self care and positive self talk. When something goes wrong or they make a mistake, they aren’t harsh on themselves, instead they evaluate the situation and take it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Individual’s with self-esteem acknowledge that they are not perfect, while still appreciating their positive qualities and traits.

Self-Defeating Shame: People who exhibit self-defeating shame are immensely critical of themselves. They agonise over their faults, mistakes and imperfections and consider that these make them unworthy and incapable. People with self-defeating shame engage in a lot of negative self-talk, often leading them to believe that they are not good enough, that they are not as deserving of happiness or success as those around them, and that there is something fundamentally wrong with them. Having a sense of self-defeating shame can be harmful to your well-being, as people with self-defeating shame are more likely to develop psychological illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Having a sense of self-defeating shame can prevent an individual from taking new and exciting opportunities, from prioritising themselves and from setting clear and healthy boundaries with others.

What are the Benefits of Self-Esteem?

There are many advantages to having a sense of self-esteem. When you respect yourself, other people will respect you, and you will find that you are much more willing to embrace life and approach its challenges constructively. Some of the benefits of developing self-esteem include:

  • Feelings of security and stability
  • The ability to form positive and enduring relationships with others
  • A willingness to learn new things and accept constructive feedback
  • An assertiveness in expressing your needs and opinions
  • Having confidence in your ability to make decisions
  • Having realistic expectations about the future (rather than being over-critical)
  • Improved resilience, such as an improved ability to bounce back from stress and adverse events
  • A reduction in the influence and experience of negative feelings such as worthlessness, guilt, and shame

Developing Self-Esteem

Self-Esteem is developed and maintained through our thoughts. Often our thinking patterns become so entrenched and automatic, that it may seem as though they are inflexible and resistant to change. With patience, perseverance and determination it is possible to challenge and change your thoughts and subsequently develop self-esteem.

Self-esteem does not come from external quick-fixes like wealth, material possessions, or relying on the opinions of others. These trivial things only bring superficial, short-term confidence. True self-esteem involves learning to appreciate your unique personality, your sense of humour, your abilities, your personal strengths, your enthusiasm, and your value as a friend or partner.

To begin appreciating your strengths, you first need to identify what they are.

An important component of self-esteem is having realistic expectations of yourself. Holding yourself up to impractical standards or having far-fetched expectations can bruise your ego and damage your sense of self-worth. Perfection is unattainable, but that doesn’t mean that you can never be self-confident or achieve true happiness.