What is Self-Esteem?

As human beings, we tend to place a value or a measure of worth on ourselves or aspects of ourselves. So, self-esteem usually refers to how we view and think about ourselves and the value that we place on ourselves as a person. If the value we place on ourselves is often negative, this is when we run into problems with self-esteem.

Low Self-Esteem

Have you ever been dissatisfied or unhappy with yourself on the whole? Do you ever think that you are weak, stupid, not good enough, flawed in some way, inferior to other people, useless, worthless, unattractive, ugly, unlovable, a loser, or a failure?

Everyone uses these words on themselves at times, usually when they experience a challenging or stressful situation. However, if you often think about yourself in these terms, then you might have a problem with low self-esteem.

Low self-esteem is having a generally negative overall opinion of oneself, judging or evaluating oneself negatively, and placing a general negative value on oneself as a person.

People with low self-esteem usually have deep-seated, basic, negative beliefs about themselves and the kind of person they are. These beliefs are often taken as facts or truths about their identity, rather than being recognised as opinions they hold about themselves.

The Impact of Low Self-Esteem

  • Frequent Self-Criticism.

A person with low self-esteem probably says a lot of negative things about themselves. They might criticise themselves, their actions, and abilities or joke about themselves in a very negative way. They might put themselves down, doubt themselves, or blame themselves when things go wrong.

  • Ignoring Positive Qualities.

When compliments are given to them, they might brush such comments aside or say that “it was all luck” or “it wasn’t that big a deal.” Instead, they might focus on what they didn’t do or the mistakes they made.

  • Negative Emotions.

A person with low self-esteem might often feel sad, depressed, anxious, guilty, ashamed, frustrated, and angry.

  • Impact on Work/Study.

A person with low self esteem might consistently achieve less than they are able to because they believe they are less capable than others. They might avoid challenges & opportunities for fear of not doing well. They might work extremely hard and push themselves to do more because they believe they need to make up for, or cover up, their lack of skill. They might find it hard to believe any good results they get are due to their own abilities or positive qualities.

  • Relationship Problems.

In their personal relationships, people with low self-esteem might become upset or distressed by any criticism or disapproval, bend over backwards to please others, be extremely shy or self-conscious or even avoid or withdraw from intimacy or social contact. They might also be less likely to stand up for themselves or protect themselves from being bullied, criticised, or abused by partners or family.

Cause or Effect?

 It is important to know that low self-esteem is a common problem for many people in our society - so you are not alone. Low self-esteem can occur as part of a current problem (such as depression), or as a result of other problems (such as chronic illness, relationship problems) or it can be a problem in itself. Either way, the good news is that you can take steps towards developing more healthy self-esteem.

Developing Healthy Self- Esteem

If you were asked to list some positive qualities about yourself, how would you respond? If you suffer from low self-esteem, you might struggle to bring things to mind. 

In order to promote a balanced evaluation of yourself, it is ok to notice and acknowledge your positive aspects, and to behave like someone who has positive qualities and who is deserving of happiness and fun.

If most of the time all you pay attention to are your negative qualities and you feel comfortable dwelling on these negatives. Ask yourself how fair is that? By getting you to begin acknowledging your positives, you are really tipping the scales of self-evaluation back into balance.  

1. Start with a ‘Positive Qualities’ Record

When we notice something and it’s really important for us to remember it, what is it that we do to help us remember? We write things down, make a note of it, or make a list if there are many items. The same approach applies here. To start acknowledging your positives, you need to write them down. Before you start on the Positive You Journal, you need to make a Positive Qualities Record - list down all the positive qualities you can think of, no matter how small, insignificant, modest, or unimportant you think they are.

 If you get stuck, ask yourself questions like:

What do I like about who I am? What positive characteristics do I have? What are some of my achievements? What are some challenges I have overcome? What are some skills or talents that I have? What do others say they like about me? What are some attributes I like in others that I also have in common with? If someone shared my identical characteristics, what would I admire in them? How might someone who cared about me describe me? What do I think are bad qualities? What bad qualities do I not have?


2. The ‘Positive You’ Journal

Using the Positive You Journal, recall specific examples of how you have demonstrated each of the positive attributes you have listed in the Positive Qualities Record. For example:

Considerate I took my friend some flowers and a book when they were sick. I offered a listening ear to my colleague who was going through some difficult times. I lent my brother some money when he was down on his luck.

Once you have listed some past examples like the one above, use the journal to start noticing your positive qualities on a daily basis. Each day, set out to record three examples from your day, which illustrate certain positive qualities you have. Write exactly what you did and identify what positive attribute it shows in you. For example, on one day you may note down that you mopped the floors (house-proud), finished writing out a budget (diligent), and played with your children (fun to be with).

Doing this will take some time, but is well worth the effort. Noting down the specific incidents that illustrate your positive qualities will allow the list to have an impact on your view of yourself, making it real.

3. Healthy Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is about thinking about ourselves and our worth in a BALANCED way. It is absolutely okay and appropriate that we recognise our weaknesses. What we need to do is accept that we all have weaknesses, and make a decision about whether or not we want to improve on them. We also need to recognise, acknowledge, and celebrate our strengths and successes. Also, don’t forget any skills and abilities that might be neutral. Remember, it’s all about being balanced!

4. Coping with At-Risk Situations

Having healthy self-esteem doesn’t mean that you will never encounter an at-risk situation again, that is, a situation where you might be reminded of that old negative view of yourself. It also doesn’t mean that you will never again think of yourself in a negative light. If you have done some work on your self-esteem, then the situations that are risky for you will be less frequent than before, as the threshold for activating a negative view of yourself will now be higher. That means it will take a lot more to ‘set off’ your low self-esteem than before. Everyone might think of themselves in a negative way or get down on themselves at times. The important thing to remember is not to do it too often.

So even after improving your self-esteem, you will still encounter at-risk situations in which the rules and assumptions you have for living are broken or threatened to be broken. But you can handle them differently, cope differently, respond differently.

Remember that the effect of your past experiences on how you see yourself today can be worn down by practicing new ways of thinking & behaving day-to-day.