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by Dawie Van Niekerk
“Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-break on.”
– Maxwell Maltz
- What is Self-Esteem?
- In psychology, the term self-esteem is used to describe a person's overall sense of self-worth or personal value.
- Self-esteem is often seen as a personality trait, which means that it tends to be stable and enduring.
- Self-esteem can involve a variety of beliefs about the self, such as the:
- appraisal of one's own appearance
- Components of Self-Esteem
Three key components of self-esteem:
- Self-esteem is an essential human need that is vital for survival and normal, healthy development.
- Self-esteem arises automatically from within based on a person's beliefs and
- Self-esteem occurs in conjunction with a person's thoughts, behaviours, feelings, and actions.
“A man/woman cannot be comfortable without his/her own approval.”
- Mark Twain
- Healthy Self-Esteem
- Healthy self-esteem is based on our ability to assess ourselves accurately and still be accepting of who we are.
- This means being able to acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses (we all have them!) and at the same time recognize that we are worthy and
- Where Does Self-Esteem Come From?
- Our self-esteem evolves throughout our lives as we develop an image of ourselves through our experiences with different people and activities.
- Experiences during childhood play a particularly large role in the shaping of self-esteem.
- When we were growing up, our successes, failures, and how we were treated by our family, teachers, coaches, religious authorities, and peers, all contributed to the creation of our self-esteem.
- What Does Your "Inner Voice" Say?
- For people with healthy self-esteem, the messages of the inner voice are usually accepting and reassuring.
- For people with low self-esteem, the inner voice becomes a harsh critic, punishing one's mistakes and belittling one's accomplishments
- Three Faces of Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem is not always easy to recognize. Here are three common faces that low self-esteem may wear:
- The Imposter: acts happy and successful, but is really terrified of failure. Lives with the constant fear that she or he will be found out. Needs continuous successes to maintain the mask of positive self-esteem, which may lead to problems with perfectionism, procrastination, competition, and burn-out.
2. The Rebel: acts like the opinions or good will of others especially people who are important or powerful don't matter.
Lives with constant anger about not feeling good enough.
Continuously needs to prove that others' judgments and criticisms don't hurt, which may lead to problems like:
- blaming others excessively
- breaking rules or laws
- opposing authority
3.The Victim: acts helpless and unable to cope with the world and waits for someone to come to the rescue.
- Uses self-pity or indifference as a shield against fear of taking responsibility for changing his or her life.
- Looks repeatedly to others for guidance, which can lead to such problems as unassertiveness, underachievement, and excessive reliance on others in relationships.
- Three Steps to Improved Self-Esteem
- Change doesn't necessarily happen quickly or easily, but it can happen.
- You are not powerless!
- Once you have accepted, or are at least willing to entertain the possibility that you can change, there are three steps you can take to begin to improve the way you feel about yourself:
Step 1: Rebut The Inner Critic
- The first important step in improving self-esteem is to begin to challenge the negative messages of the critical inner voice.
- Here are some typical examples of the inner critic and some strategies to rebut that critical voice.
An inner voice that generalizes unrealistically:
- "I got an F on the test. I don't understand anything in this class. I'm such an idiot. Who am I fooling? I shouldn't be taking this class. I'm stupid, and I don't belong in college." Be specific: "I did poorly on this test, but I've done O.K. on all the homework.
- There are some things here that I don't understand as well as I thought I did, but now I have a better idea of how to prepare and what I need to work on. I've done fine in other tough classes; I'm confident I can do this."
An inner voice that catastrophizes:
- "She turned me down for a date! I'm so embarrassed and humiliated. No one likes or cares about me. I'll never find a girlfriend. I'll always be alone." Be objective: "Ouch! That hurt. Ok, she doesn't want to go out with me.
- That doesn't mean no one does. I know I'm a nice person. I'm confident that in time I'll find someone who's as interested in me as I am in her."
An inner critic that makes illogic leaps:
- "He's frowning. He didn't say anything, but I know it means that he doesn't like me!“
- Challenge illogic: "O.K., he's frowning, but I don't know why. It could have nothing to do with me. Maybe I should ask."
Unfairly harsh inner critic:
- "People said they liked my presentation, but it was nowhere near as good as it should have been.
- I can't believe no-one noticed all the places I messed up. I'm such an imposter.“
- Acknowledge strengths: "Wow, they really liked it! Maybe it wasn't perfect, but I worked hard on that presentation and did a good job. I'm proud of myself."
Step 2: Practice Self-Compassion
- Forgive yourself when you don't do all you'd hoped
- Recognize your humanness
- Be mindful of your emotions
Step 3: Get Help from Others
Getting help from others is often the most important step a person can take to improve his or her self-esteem, but it can also be the most difficult.
People with low self-esteem often don't ask for help because they feel they don't deserve it, but other people can help to challenge the critical messages that come from negative past experiences
- Ask for support from friends.
- Talk to a therapist or counsellor.