Understanding Self Esteem

What is Self Esteem?

I think it’s easy to get caught up in the mundane usage of words, we tend to use words in the manner in which we are accustomed to hearing them and sometimes the actual definition of the word gets lost in translation. I think the definition and concept of self esteem is something that is easily misunderstood and it’s even hard to define in the sciences. The topic is so vast that even researchers have a difficult time coming up with a concrete definition of it. I love words, and learning about the root and reading actual definitions, I even have the Merriam Webster dictionary app on my smart phone which I utilize often. So, let’s get to the root of this complicated subject of self-esteem.

Esteem; as defined by Merriam Webster is: The regard in which one is held. Worth, value, opinion, judgement. Ok so let’s take this a little farther and define regard.

Regard as defined by Merriam Webster is the worth or estimation in which something or someone is held.

Since this definition includes words such as worth and value, what does that tell us about what self esteem is? One of the definitions of value as defined by Merriam Webster is: something (such as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable. These words (regard, worth, value) are all synonymous with one another and basically mean one thing, that self esteem is all about the value you place on yourself.

Loosely translated to: How much do I like myself? How much do you value yourself? What are you worth? What do you think of yourself? What kind of opinions do you have about you? Are they favorable or unfavorable? How do you hold yourself? Self-esteem refers to an overall sense of yourself. Now that we understand that, let’s talk about how it’s developed.

How is self-esteem developed?

Now that we’ve defined the word, it’s important to understand that self-esteem is a construct (it’s formed, it’s developed), it’s something that’s created and it’s also something that can be changed. It can be changed because self-esteem is based on our beliefs rather than facts and beliefs can be changed because beliefs are just thoughts. We always have the power to change our mind.

The beliefs we have about ourselves are learned based off experiences that we’ve had, especially childhood experiences. When we have experiences that stick with us and are memorable because of the emotional charge connected to it, we form a belief about it. The stronger the memory, the stronger the stronger the emotional charge, then it becomes a defining moment in our life and creates a core belief. Core beliefs are thoughts that are usually deep seated, firmly held, and strongly impressed in our minds. They are the judgments of ourselves, our worth and value as a person.

Some examples of negative experiences that can lead to low self-esteem include punishment, neglect, or abuse, and not being responded to when are you in need. As well as feeling like you don’t you fit in or belong. Some examples of positive experiences: getting attention, being praised and affirmed, being told how special you are and knowing that you’re loved, parents coming to games and sporting events, knowing someone is proud of you. Simply just being taking care of properly.

A child’s self-esteem is fostered when they are assured that the important people in their lives make sure they are safe and well taken care of. Self-esteem is reduced if the opposite is true. When we are little kids, our self-esteem is formed by their perceptions of how the important people in our lives value our qualities and judge us. Important people are not only parents, they are other family members, teachers, and peers. In short, the opinions we form about ourselves are largely influenced by the opinions of those important to us, especially in childhood. As stated above, self esteem is not fixed it’s malleable and below are some tips on how to improve self-esteem.

How to improve self-esteem:

Practice positive self talk

Use positive affirmations

Do more of what you love and like to do, do things that make you feel good about yourself

Stop comparing yourself to others, because the people you’re comparing yourself to, are also comparing themselves to others

Make a list of your positive traits and qualities

Words have power, reframe the way you say things to yourself

Stop should’ing yourself. Instead of saying I should do this, say it would be nice if this happened

Most importantly- Be aware of and acknowledge the areas of your life where your self-esteem is low.

A way to start liking yourself is to build your confidence

Praise yourself and learn to accept praise from others.

“Apart from disturbance whose roots are biological, I cannot think of a single psychological problem—from anxiety and depression, to underachievement at school or at work, to fear of intimacy, happiness, or success, to alcohol or drug abuse, to spouse battering or child molestation, to co-dependency and sexual disorders, to passivity and chronic aimlessness, to suicide and crimes of violence—that is not traceable, at least in part, to the problem of deficient self-esteem. Of all the judgments we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves.”

~ Nathaniel Branden from The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

I want to close by saying that talking about self-esteem is important because our level of self-esteem is a factor in the relationships we have, the relationship with ourselves and others, and it determines how we are treated and what we allow. Our self-esteem forces us to constantly ask ourselves, what am I worth and what do I deserve?

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