Self-esteem is our perception of our own personal worth as human beings.
This perception of ourselves can affect how we interpret various life events, the meanings we give to them and subsequently, how we feel about them.
Poor self-esteem can make us vulnerable to negative feelings such as guilt, shame, anxiety and depression. It can inhibit our ability to enjoy life and feel happy and safe in the world, as it influences the type of work we do, our willingness to be assertive, and who we feel worthy of to have as friends and partners.
What Influences Self-Esteem?
Temperament – Certain temperaments may make people more prone to poor self-esteem. For example, naturally anxious people may be more inclined to notice negative information or interpret ambiguous situations negatively, while naturally shy people may receive less socially reinforcing messages, compared to someone who is outgoing.
Early Experiences – People close to us in childhood provide important information about our lovability and worth. If we receive messages from these people that we are defective, unlovable, worthless or unimportant, it can have long term consequences on how we perceive ourselves. Negative events that occur in our teenage years (bullying etc) can also have long-term consequences on our self-esteem.
Relationships in Adulthood – Our self-concept can also be influenced by our relationships with our friends, work colleagues, acquaintances, partners and children. Interactions that suggest we are valued, loved and accepted by others help us to feel good about ourselves, while interactions in which we are criticised and put down can make us feel bad about ourselves.
Whether our Self-esteem is Fragile or Permanently Impaired – People with fragile self-esteem feel okay about themselves most of the time, but their self-esteem can take a big hit when negative life events occur, such as the loss of a job, relationship or a personal failure. Generally, as circumstances improve, so does self-esteem. However, people who have had particularly difficult lives with limited positive feedback are at risk of developing a permanently impaired self-esteem, in which they feel inadequate and defective all of the time, despite their actual personal strengths, achievements or relationships.
Social Conditioning – As certain traits, qualities and achievements are highly valued in our society while others are not, we develop beliefs about what we need in life in order to be happy and worthwhile. When we hold these beliefs in a rigid and inflexible way they can have the potential to damage our self-esteem. When we cannot live up to our rigid expectations around things like our appearance (eg “I should be slim and attractive”), character traits (eg “I should be witty and extroverted”), achievements (eg “I should have a high status job”) and social relationships (eg “people should like and approve of me”), we feel bad about ourselves and self-esteem suffers.
How to Develop Self-Esteem
Cognitive Behavioural techniques that can improve self-esteem include:
- Reducing the habit of comparing ourselves to others who we perceive to be “better” than us in key areas;
- Reducing Conditional Self-Acceptance or rating our worth through our achievements;
- Addressing excessive need for approval ie needing approval from almost everyone instead of just a few significant people;
- Reducing the habit of labelling ourselves (eg “I’m stupid, weak, hopeless, a failure”);
- Reducing the habit of over-generalising (eg forgetting an item at the store = “I always mess things up”);
- Building Unconditional Self-Acceptance;
- Learning cognitive flexibility (not holding our beliefs so rigidly);
- Acknowledging personal strengths and qualities;
- Setting life enhancing goals;
- Being honest and authentic in our relationships;
- Using assertive communication.
If you have been struggling with your self-esteem, please make an appointment to see me and we can discuss which techniques would be most beneficial for you.
Author: Greta Neilsen, BA (Hons), M Psych (Clin), Grad Dip Soc Sc (Psych), MAPS.
Loganholme Psychologist Greta Neilsen has a wealth of experience in the treatment of depression and anxiety in adults of all ages, and endeavours to provide her clients with a safe space to understand the challenges they face, as they develop ways to overcome their difficulties.
To make an appointment with Loganholme Psychologist Greta Neilsen, please call (07) 3067 9129 or you can book online today.
- Edelman, S. (2013). Change Your Thinking. Sydney: Harper Collins Publishers.
- McKay, M. & Fanning, P. Self-Esteem. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.