Self-esteem is a judgement that people make about themselves. It is based on confidence to deal with life’s challenges, feeling deserving of asserting one’s needs and wants, and  being worthy of enjoying happiness. It is an essential component of emotional well-being.

People who possess healthy self-esteem consider themselves to be worthy human beings, equal to others, and all deserving of respect and dignity.  They trust their judgement to make good choices, and may act on those choices, even if others think differently. Similarly, they are comfortable expressing their values and principles, even in the face of opposition, and are also secure enough in themselves, to re-evaluate their position, if evidence proves them wrong. They are not afraid of making mistakes. This, coupled with confidence in their abilities to handle situations, and to ask for help when it is needed, allows them to live more in the moment – neither dwelling on mistakes in the past, nor worrying excessively about what the future may hold. They may collaborate with requests from others which seem appropriate and convenient, but will not sacrifice their own needs out of fear of rejection. They may engage fully in life, taking appropriate risks to grow and develop, to be surrounded by good friends, to open themselves to deep relationships and self-fulfillment.

Low self-esteem can have profound effects on one’s life. People with low self-esteem experience chronic self-criticism which creates dissatisfaction within themselves. They often feel insignificant – that their needs, wants, what they think and how they feel, do not matter. Perceiving themselves to be “less than” others, they often become “people pleasers” – reluctant to say “no” for fear of displeasing, losing the esteem of others, or even losing relationships. As a result, their own needs and wants may continue to go unrecognized and unfulfilled, leading to a deeper sense of unworthiness and insignificance, and to less pleasure in life.  People who see themselves negatively, are also generally very sensitive to criticism from others, and often feel under attack. The resentment and hostility that may ensue, can further erode relationships. Often afraid of making mistakes, for fear of ridicule, they may find themselves unable to make decisions, or to take risks that might enhance their personal or professional lives.

Because self-rejection can be a particularly painful state of being, people who suffer from it may avoid situations that might further aggravate that pain.  They may engage in fewer social activities, thereby meeting fewer people, and deriving less pleasure in life. They may avoid job interviews, or taking jobs that offer greater visibility, limiting professional growth as well as income potential. They may give up easily on tasks, if there is a possibility that they will not succeed. Or, being afraid to ask for help, they may struggle alone through difficult situations, which can lead to a further erosion of self-confidence, and a missed opportunity to learn something new from others.

There are basically two types of self-esteem problems. The first is situational – where people may feel good about themselves in certain areas of their lives, but lack confidence in other areas. For example, they may be high achievers in their professional lives, but feel socially incompetent. These kinds of issues respond well to cognitive therapy, which helps restructure one’s thinking patterns. The second type of self-esteem problem is characterological – a more global sense of “wrongness” or “badness” that affects most areas of one’s life. It typically has its origins in early experiences of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. This type of problem generally requires a longer-term therapeutic approach.

Suggested readings:

The Power of Self-Esteem.
  (1992).  By N. Branden.  Deerfield Beach, FLA: Health Communications, Inc.

The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.  (1995)..By N. Branden.  New York, NY:  Bantam.

Ten Days To Self-Esteem.  (1999).  By D.D. Burns.  New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Self-Esteem:  A Proven Program Of Cognitive Techniques For Assessing, Improving And Maintaining Your Self-Esteem, 2nd Edition.  (1992).  By M. McKay and P. Fanning.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Self-Esteem Workbook.  (2001).  By G. Schiraldi.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Related links:

Psychology Today “Self-Esteem”: www.psychologytoday.com/basics/self-esteem.



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