What is Self Esteem?
How we personally perceive our worth, abilities, and limitations regardless of the current circumstances in our lives. In other words, how we feel about ourselves.
- Very low and very high points in our lives do not reflect our overall self esteem
- How we feel about ourselves does not necessarily reflect who we are
- Low self esteem is not a mental health disorder, but it can be the cause of one or a side effect (Ex. Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorder)
Self Esteem Throughout Life:
It steadily decreases from early childhood to adolescence, then gradually increases as an adult. Young children tend to have higher self esteem because their view of themselves is unrealistically positive. As they gain feedback from others, it steadily declines.
In adolescence, self esteem drops further due to body image, the transition from elementary school to middle school, and a greater understanding of the world. For example, teenagers understand the opportunities they may have missed and the growing expectations that come with getting older.
Self esteem increases in adulthood due to the freedom and self knowledge that comes with age. Adults have the ability to control every aspect of their lives without the supervision of their parents, and over time people come to understand what they like and dislike.
Factors That Affect Self Esteem
- Thoughts and Perceptions
The illusory truth effect states that if we repeat the same information over and over in our head, we will eventually start to believe it.
- Other People
The psychologist Solomon Asch found that we change our opinions and behavior to conform to the people around us, so our family, friends, teachers, and peers can all affect the way we see ourselves.
Being in a stressful situation takes energy, so the longer we feel anxious, the more energy we use. As a result, that exhaustion makes it harder to get anything done, and we doubt our abilities and ourselves.
- Problems at School
These can include issues with friends, teachers, learning, and loneliness, which all cause us to judge ourselves harshly.
- Illnesses, Disabilities, and Injuries
A lack of body control and an inability to be fully independent takes a toll on self esteem.
Self esteem decreases in adolescence and increases into adulthood.
- Media Messages
Looking to social media for body ideals and success ideals impacts self esteem, because often times these posts are not a holistic representation of the influencer’s struggles in life.
- Mental Health Stigmas
The idea that mental health is unimportant can cause us to feel worse when we do struggle.
Effects of Low Self Esteem:
- Assertiveness and Boundaries
Self doubt can hurt confidence and make us feel unworthy of expressing our opinions or needs.
Low self esteem amplifies the negative feelings that come with failure, therefore it prevents us from trying new things in the first place.
- Self Kindness and Care
Constantly bombarding the brain with negative messages about ourselves can make us feel unworthy of kindness or basic needs like exercise, hygiene, and relaxation.
- Moving on From Mistakes
Low self esteem makes us unforgiving towards ourselves and makes us assume that we are automatically at fault.
Part of motivation involves the belief that one can finish their work, and low self esteem robs our ability to see that positive outcome. Therefore, we can’t see the point of starting.
- Body Image
Appearance is closely linked to our sense of self worth, so if we feel unappealing, we believe our worth as a person decreases.
What Low Self Esteem Looks Like:
- Trouble Processing Feelings
The negative thoughts that come with low self esteem prolong feelings of sadness, anger, shame, and guilt, making it harder to process them and move on.
- Devaluing Your Opinions/Ideas
Self doubt causes us to believe our opinions are incorrect and undeserving of recognition.
- Believing Others are More Competent/Successful
This belief comes from comparison, and while some comparison is natural, it becomes unhealthy when we put ourselves down because of it.
- Difficulty Accepting Positive Feedback
Positive affirmations directly contradict the negative thoughts that come from low self esteem, so the compliment feels false when it is actually genuine.
- Fear of Failure and Perfectionism
One failure triggers feelings of worthlessness in people with low self esteem, and it feels like a confirmation that these negative beliefs are true. Therefore, people either refuse to risk failure or try to make their work perfect in order to avoid failure.
Ways to Improve Self Esteem:
- Practicing positive self talk
- Understanding and seeking out positive friendships with others
- Showing generosity through volunteerism
- Gaining self knowledge
- Practicing assertiveness
- Taking time for self care