What Is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem refers to the level of emotional value, worth, and/or importance individuals place on themselves. Self-esteem impacts a person’s beliefs about what they can achieve in life, what they deserve in relationships, and how they approach challenging situations. Self-esteem is vital to a strong and healthy relationship with yourself.
How Does Self-Esteem Develop?
Self-esteem starts developing in childhood and involves feelings of love and acceptance by others; self-acceptance and self-worth; and confidence and capability in problem-solving and utilizing skills. It is also strongly developed by learning self-soothing techniques, coping techniques, and the ability to build confidence.
A child’s parents have the first – and greatest impact – on the development of self-esteem, as they provide feedback about behavior and skills to the inexperienced child. Doing so allows a child to feel safe and secure, as well as builds confidence and feelings of self-worth.
Child abuse has been found to have a profound impact on self-esteem. Children who are neglected or physically, sexually, or emotionally abused can grow up thinking they are not worthy of love or acceptance. Children who are continually compared to others “why can’t you be more like your brother” will, as adults, often see themselves as failures.
Because children are very impressionable, it is important that they not only receive praise for their accomplishments, but also that parents set a good example by treating themselves and one another with respect. Children “mirror” the actions and beliefs they see around them. Praise alone will make little difference if parents do not treat themselves with the same love and self-acceptance – refraining from negative self-talk is imperative for setting a good example of healthy self-esteem for children.
Children internalize this feedback over time and it becomes the basis for their beliefs about themselves. This feedback can be affected further by teachers, coaches, and other figures of importance.
During the school-aged years academic achievement can have an effect on children’s self-esteem. If a child is continually successful or continually failing it will have an impact on their self view. Children tend to compare themselves with their peers, this plays an important role in their development of their self-esteem. Adolescent’s are quite susceptible to peer influence. The depth of their relationships and a feeling of acceptance is very important for a positive self view. Inversely loneliness and rejection has a negative effect.
Self-esteem is at it’s highest during young adulthood to middle age. There is a natural decrease in self-esteem from the middle age to old age years. Whether this is a small or large decrease is thought to occur because of differences in health, socioeconomic status, and cognitive ability. There is not much difference in self esteem levels between men and women. However, there appears to be a slight differentiation between races. Hispanic adolescents have a slightly lower sense of self than their African American and Caucasian peers. Around age 30 Hispanic people tend to have a more rapid increase in self esteem than other races. African Americans have a more dramatic increase of self esteem in adolescence and middle age years but also have a more rapid decrease in old age than other races.
There are primal human emotional needs:
- The need to give and receive attention
- The need to look after your body.
- The need for meaning, purpose and goals.
- The need for a connection to something greater than ourselves
- The need for creativity and stimulation
- The need for intimacy and connection to others.
- The need for a sense of control
- The need for a sense of status and recognition from others.
- The need for a sense of safety and security.
When these are not fulfilled a person can develop a negative sense of self.
Symptoms of Low Self Esteem:
- Self-degradation and criticism
- Hypersensitivity to criticism from others
- Difficulty making decisions
- Difficulty with setting goals or working toward achieving them
- Motivation that is out of sync with abilities
- Defensive attitude
- Excessive feelings of guilt
- Poor self-care
- Compulsive people-pleasing or care-giving
- Susceptibility to peer pressure
- Distrust of others
- Inability to recognize your strengths
As children grow and internalize poor self-esteem, other issues and disorders may develop.
Problems Associated with Low Self-Esteem:
Low self-esteem can cause issues that are pronounced; but low self-esteem may not be readily recognizable, as it is difficult to tangibly measure one’s feelings about themselves. Low self-esteem can manifest in many ways, some of which could include:
- Eating disorders, Body Dysmorphic Disorder
- Depression, anxiety, stress, or other mental illness
- Anger management difficulties
- Poor (or no) coping skills
- Relationship conflicts
- Substance abuse
- Academic problems
- Impulsive behavior
There are many situations that can erode your self-esteem. When you have a poor view of yourself, it can be difficult to face everyday challenges. Some habits developed as part of low self-esteem are:
- All-or-Nothing thinking: You may see things as all good or all bad, ie. “If I don’t succeed at this task, I’m a total failure.”
- Mental Filtering: You may only see the negatives in situations and tend to dwell on them casing distortion of facts, ie. “I really messed up that project, now everyone will know I’m not capable of doing my job.”
- Converting positives into negatives: You tend to reject anything positive in your life and devalue your successes, ie. “I only did so well on that test because it was so simple.”
- Jumping to negative conclusions: You may reach a negative conclusion even though the facts don’t support it, ie. “I haven’t heard back from my friend, I must’ve have made them upset.”
- Mistaking feelings for facts: You can confuse your negative self perception for factual evidence, ie. “I feel like a total failure, so I must be failing at life.”
- Negative self talk: You sometimes use self-deprecating humor or undervalue yourself, ie. “Oh, don’t look at the early part of my resume—as you can tell, I couldn’t really figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
Practicing Positive Self-Esteem:
It has been found that attempting to only focus on the positives can actually have a negative impact on those suffering from low self-esteem. People with genuine self-esteem issues are actually very sure of themselves, very sure of their conviction that they are unworthy and failures at life. Because of this it is recommended that those with low self worth focus on healthy living and self-esteem will naturally rise as a happy side effect of improving your health and environment The following may be helpful in improving self-esteem at any age. Parents can assist their children with these activities:
- Set small, obtainable goals and celebrate when they are achieved
- Make a list of positive traits about yourself
- Spend less time with mainstream media
- Do your best to refrain from comparing yourself to others
- Say no and set limits on what you do for others
- Avoid “should have,” “could have” and “I ought” language
- Practice good self-care and hygiene
- Develop an exercise routine, join a community sports team, and/or work with a personal trainer to set goals and measure achievement
- Attend psychotherapy
- Establish a hobby
- Surround yourself with quality individuals who make you feel good
- Educate yourself about a subject or learn a new skill
- Replace judgement with curiosity, seek growth and learn from your difficulties
- Challenge negative self-talk and thoughts by questioning their validity (i.e. Turn “I am a slow worker” into “I am a worker who takes time to do well at a task.”)
- Take responsibility for your thoughts, words, and actions
- Make a conscious choice to support and care for yourself
- Keep a gratitude journal
- Make your personal space attractive and comfortable for you
- Make your meals a special time. Set the table, disconnect from the media, and light a candle or decorate with a bouquet/centerpiece
Having a positive self-esteem can actual increase your physical health. People with higher self-esteems have been found to be less susceptible to to psychosomatic illness such as eczema, psoriasis, high blood pressure, heart problems as well as physiological illnesses such as cancer. Certain studies have found that having a positive self-perception is more impactful on health than medical interventions, such as drugs, new medical procedures, and high-tech modern medical equipment.
Additional Self-Esteem Resources:
Developing Your Child’s Self-Esteem from KidsHealth.org
Building Children’s Self-Esteem from Family Education
PsychologyTools.org provides a Self-Esteem Assessment Tool, as well as a self-help guide for building self esteem
The Self-Esteem Workbook is a book that provides self-help activities and worksheets to build self-esteem.
Palo Alto Medical Foundation offers assistance for parents who are dealing with self-esteem and body image in teens.
Top Ten Facts about Low Self-Esteem from self-confidence.co.uk