‘I’m no good’, or ‘I could never do that, so why try?’ Have you ever found yourself uttering these words openly or to yourself? Everyone has self-doubts occasionally, but if phrases like these are a constant in your life, you may have low self-esteem. The good news is it doesn’t always have to be like that. With practice and situational awareness, you can turn negatives into positives and open your mind to a whole new way of looking at life. Read on to find out what self-esteem is, factors that influence it, techniques to improve it and more.
Definition of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem is how we value ourselves – how we perceive our value to the world and how valuable we think we are to others. In other words, it is your overall opinion of yourself — how you honestly feel about your abilities and limitations.
When you have healthy self-esteem, you feel good about yourself and see yourself as deserving the respect of others. Positive self-esteem gives us the strength and flexibility to take charge of our lives and grow from our mistakes without the fear of rejection. However, too much self-love, on the other hand, results in an off-putting sense of entitlement and an inability to learn from failures.
On the flipside, when you have low self-esteem, you put little value on your opinions and ideas. You might constantly worry that you aren’t good enough. Possessing little self-regard can lead people to become depressed, to fall short of their potential, or to tolerate abusive situations and relationships.[1,2]
Types or Ranges of Self-Esteem
Self-esteem tends to fluctuate over time, depending on your circumstances. It’s normal to go through times when you feel down or especially good about yourself. Generally, however, self-esteem stays in a range that reflects how you feel about yourself overall. Three ranges of self-esteem are described below.
Overly High Self-Esteem
If you regard yourself more highly than others do, you might have an unrealistically positive view of yourself. When you have an inflated sense of self-esteem, you often feel superior to those around you. Such feelings can lead you to become arrogant or self-indulgent and believe that you deserve special privileges.
When you have low or negative self-esteem, you put little value on your opinions and ideas. You focus on your perceived weaknesses and faults and give scant credit to your skills and assets. You believe that others are more capable or successful. You might be unable to accept compliments or positive feedback. You might fear failure, which can hold you back from succeeding at work or school.
Healthy self-esteem lies between these two extremes. It means you have a balanced, accurate view of yourself. For instance, you have a good opinion of your abilities but recognize your flaws. When you understand your own worth, you invite the respect of others.
Factors That Influence Self-Esteem
Self-esteem begins to form in early childhood. Factors that can influence self-esteem include:
- Experiences at school, work and in the community
- How other people react to you
- Your own thoughts and perceptions
- Role and status in society
- Illness, disability or injury
Relationships with those close to you, such as parents, siblings, peers, teachers and other important contacts, are especially important to your self-esteem. Many beliefs you hold about yourself today reflect messages you’ve received from these people over time. If your close relationships are strong and you receive generally positive feedback, you’re more likely to see yourself as worthwhile and have healthier self-esteem. 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.
Still, your own thoughts have perhaps the biggest impact on self-esteem and these thoughts are within your control. If you tend to focus on your weaknesses or flaws, you can learn to reframe negative thoughts and focus instead on your positive qualities.
Signs of Positive Self-Esteem
Some outward signs of positive self-esteem include the following:
- The ability to say no
- Non-blaming behavior
- An ability to solve problems
- An awareness of personal strengths
- An ability to make mistakes and learn from them
- An ability to accept mistakes from others
- An independent and cooperative attitude
- Feeling comfortable with a wide range of emotions
- An ability to trust others
- A good sense of personal limitations
- Good self-care
Benefits of Healthy Self-Esteem
When you value yourself and have good self-esteem, you feel secure and worthwhile and have generally positive relationships with others. You feel confident about your abilities and tend to do well at school or work. You’re also open to learning and feedback, which can help you acquire and master new skills. With healthy self-esteem you are:
- Able to form secure and honest relationships and less likely to stay in unhealthy ones
- Realistic in your expectations and less likely to be overcritical of yourself and others
- More resilient and better able to weather stress and setbacks
- Less likely to experience feelings such as hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt and shame
- Less likely to develop mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, addictions, depression and anxiety
- 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.
What is Low Self-Esteem?
Low self-esteem is a debilitating condition that keeps individuals from realizing their full potential. A person with low self-esteem feels unworthy, incapable, and incompetent. In fact, because the person with low self-esteem feels so poorly about him or herself, these feelings may actually cause the person’s continued low self-esteem.
Signs of Low Self-Esteem
Below are some signs of low self-esteem:
- Feelings of being unloved and unlovable
- Negative view of life
- Blaming behavior
- Perfectionist attitude
- Mistrusting others – even those who show signs of affection
- Fear of taking risks
- Dependence – letting others make decisions
- Fear of being ridiculed
Steps to Raise Self-Esteem
Feelings of low self-esteem often build up over a lifetime, and letting go of ingrained feelings and behaviors is not an easy task. It may take time, hard work, and it may require professional counseling. But there are some simple, positive thinking techniques that can be used to help improve self-esteem.[2,3,4]
Identify troubling situations and become aware of thought and beliefs
Think about the conditions or situations that seem to deflate your self-esteem, such as a crisis at work or home or a challenge with a spouse, loved one, or co-worker. Once you’ve identified troubling conditions or situations, pay attention to your thoughts about them. This includes your self-talk — what you tell yourself — and your interpretation of what the situation means. Your thoughts and beliefs might be positive, negative or neutral. They might be rational, based on reason or facts, or irrational, based on false ideas.
Challenge negative or inaccurate thinking
Your initial thoughts might not be the only possible way to view a situation. Ask yourself whether your view is consistent with facts and logic or whether other explanations for the situation might be plausible.
Adjust your thoughts and affirm
Replace negative or inaccurate thoughts with accurate, constructive thoughts. Use affirmations to boost your self-esteem. Affirmations are encouraging messages we can give ourselves every day until they become part of our feelings and beliefs. The following affirmations can help you work toward a positive self-image:
- Life is good, and I like being a part of it
- I respect myself and others
- I care about myself
- I am lovable and likable
- I accept myself just as I am
- I am confident, and it shows
- I am creating loving, healthy relationships
- I am a good friend to myself and others
- I look great
Associate with positive, supportive people
When you are surrounded by negative people who constantly put you and your ideas down, your self-esteem is lowered. On the other hand, when you are accepted and encouraged, you feel better about yourself in the best possible environment to raise your self-esteem.
Make a list of your past successes
This doesn’t necessarily have to consist of monumental accomplishments. It can include your minor victories like learning to skate, graduating from high school, college, receiving an award or promotion, etc. Read this list often. While reviewing it, close your eyes and recreate the feelings of satisfaction and joy you experienced when you first attained each success.
These steps might seem awkward at first, but they’ll get easier with practice. As you begin to recognize the thoughts and beliefs that are contributing to your low self-esteem, you can actively counter them, which will help you accept your value as a person. As your self-esteem increases, your confidence and sense of well-being are likely to soar.
- Mayo Clinic. Adult health. Self-esteem check: Too low, too high, or just right? Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/self-esteem/MH00128.
- UC Davis. Self-Esteem. [PDF] Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/hr/hrdepts/asap/Documents/Self_esteem.pdf.
- National Association for Self-Esteem. Self-Esteem Booster. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.self-esteem-nase.org/booster.php.
- Mayo Clinic. Adult health. Self-esteem: 4 steps to feel better about yourself. Retrieved June 16, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/self-esteem/MH00129.
By C. J. Newton, MA, Therapists.com Editor