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Self Esteem

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What is Self Esteem?

In psychology, self-esteem reflects a person's overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem is an opinion not a fact.

The way we view and feel about ourselves has a profound effect on how we live our lives. These opinions are shaped by experiences in the family, at school, from friendships and in wider society. Self-esteem involves our ability to think, to deal with life and to be happy.

In Latin, esteem actually means 'to estimate', so self-esteem is often defined as how you estimate yourself. To do that, you need to ask yourself certain questions.

  • Do I like myself?
  • Do I think I'm a good human being?
  • Am I someone deserving of love?
  • Do I deserve happiness?
  • Do I feel deep down that I'm an okay person?

People with low self-esteem find it hard to answer yes to these questions.

Many people assume self-esteem is the same as self-confidence and although self-confidence is related, it's not the same. Self-confident people may also experience low self-esteem, for example, actors, celebrities and public figures that appear to be totally self-confident may have poor self-esteem off stage or away from the media attention. Think of the late Princess of Wales or Marilyn Monroe and you'll see that public adulation is no guarantee of self-belief.

Self-esteem, Wolverhampton

Causes of Low Self Esteem

Most people experience low self esteem at some point in their life (e.g. if they lose their job or relationship) but they can also experience high self esteem at other points in their life (e.g. if they are promoted, successfully complete a challenge or fall in love). However, those who can't bounce back after their self esteem has been bruised, and constantly feel negatively about themselves, may find counselling beneficial.

Rejection or loss at any age is likely to undermine self-esteem. Events like a partner being unfaithful, being ostracised by friends or bullied by peers, dealing with an unsuccessful job application, having an accident, a burglary, or coping with a death are likely to provoke feelings of loss and threat. For some this is temporary, while for others the effects are long-lasting.

What we feel about ourselves is not based solely on what we do. It usually involves our relationships with others and whether we feel worthwhile as people. We have a basic human need to be wanted, noticed, and included. We want to contribute, to be of value, and make a difference - in other words to matter.

Our self-esteem will continually fluctuate and is affected by events and encounters with other people. We are also constantly judging and evaluating ourselves, often in comparison with others. Observing ourselves in relation to other people can be a helpful source of learning and feedback. Yet all too often comparison slips into competition and others become a yardstick by which we evaluate ourselves as good or bad, competent or inadequate.

The reality is we are all different. Each of us has strengths and limitations which we need to learn about and learn to live with. There are aspects of our behaviour and appearance we may seek to change or develop, but a sense of self is also based on self-awareness and self-acceptance.

Suggestions for Increasing Self Esteem

Change means stepping into the unknown and taking a risk. Remember that small changes add up. Call on other people to help you by being encouraging, taking an interest, giving feedback, and making suggestions.

Do things for pleasure, for fun

  • Think about ways you enjoy yourself. Put effort into making life pleasurable and satisfying. Arrange to be in situations which are playful and make you laugh.
  • Learn something new. Maybe something you have always wanted to try, even something you never thought you could do. If you are stuck for ideas look on notice boards and in local publications, observe or ask other people, think about what you have enjoyed in the past.

Look after yourself physically

  • Eating regularly, thinking about the sort of food you eat, and making sure you try to get the amount of sleep you need.
  • Exercise and toning muscles can give confidence and help you to feel good about your body. Pay attention to how you stand and walk. Think tall.
  • Pay more attention to your appearance. Pamper yourself. Choose a new hairstyle or colour in clothing. Buy a magazine which gives advice on personal presentation.

Use rewards, but avoid punishments

  • Reward yourself in other ways. What about giving yourself one day off from work a week? Buy yourself a little treat. Do something you particularly enjoy but don't often get round to.
  • We do not like other people saying nasty things about us so why say them to yourself? Listen to how you treat yourself - the internal conversation. Low self-esteem makes it difficult to identify strong points but it does not mean you do not have them - only that they are unfamiliar to you.
  • Avoid as much as possible situations and people that leave you feeling bad about yourself and spend more time concentrating on experiences which are likely to be successful and rewarding.

Cultivate good relationships - with yourself and others

  • Can you bear to be ordinary? Are you continually expecting more of yourself than you do of others? If you accept the troubles, mistakes and variability of other people, how about being happy with "good enough" in relation to yourself?
  • Involve others. Ask for support, feed-back, affection. Be prepared to say you don't know. Talk about yourself. Do not pretend or hide. Take care not to push other people away through being negative about yourself.
  • Join in with others. Do not assume you are not important; other people have an effect on you and you affect them. Most people are interested in making new friends, and friendships can begin at any time in life. Say hello; do not wait for other people to come to you. Smile. Be nice to others, volunteer, be helpful, pay compliments.

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Medical disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice by a qualified doctor.