In psychology is defined at the way we value ourselves. Some people have very high self-value and other have rather low self-value. The goal is to have a comfortable self-esteem that is neither too high nor too low. Those who have a rather high self-worth may take more risks in life because the feel almost invincible. On the other hand, those with a low self-worth may not try new things or have an active social life and suffer from depression and other mental health issues.
How does our past relate to self-esteem?
As babies and small children we see the world through the eyes of our parents and family members. Our realities are closely entwined with how those important people in our lives interact with us. If our parents and families tell us that we are lovely and bright people, we tend to believe them and reflect that in a confident and outgoing manner. If our families puff us up too much we may develop tendencies to take larger risks or a tendency to show off. Some people tend to even develop a condition called narcissism that will backfire on our families’ good intentions.
It is healthy to feel good about you, but self love like narcissism is a curse as much as low self-esteem can be. When children are raised in negative or abusive homes or homes where families don’t communicate well, low self-esteem can develop and lead to other mental health issues such as:
- substance abuse,
- relationship and social issues.
If your self-regard is evaluated on the way others perceive you and you already perceive yourself negatively you will only see the negative and ignore any positives.
What does low self-esteem look like in the real world?
Depression is a powerful symptom, both physically and emotionally. We may have weight issues, whether obesity or anorexia. Sometimes we feel a lack of control in our lives, so we try to control the one thing we can, and that is what we put into our bodies. If we are told as children that we are unattractive or too heavy, we may become even heavier. Conversely, if we are always told what to do and when to do it, we may lean toward anorexia to show we can control something others can’t. We tend to isolate ourselves to avoid confronting those negative feelings as much as possible.
In some cases a person may develop anxiety disorders that reflect that fear of the negative. Anxiety disorders symptoms include among many other symptoms:
- unreasonable fears
- difficulty breathing,
- uncontrollable shaking,
- and sense of panic.
Of course, not all individuals show any outward signs of low self esteem. They may live a life that feels perfectly normal to them. If they drink alcohol or use other substances, they may not recognize that something is not right about the amounts they consume or realize that their thinking processes are exaggerated, leading them to more potential problems. Indeed, they may elect to drink alone rather than in public places so that others cannot see them out of control.
Are we stuck with our self image?
The answer to that is a resounding, “NO!” Anything that can be learned can be unlearned. It will take patience and attention, but if you really want to improve your self-esteem you can do it. The first step to improving your self esteem is to effectively turn off the negative voices of your past that “talk” to you when you are feeling worthless. This is a hard thing to do and it will take time to realize that you really are a better and more capable person than important people in your past told you. You will also need to step out of yourself in order to see yourself as others truly see you.
This one is going to be tricky and it will take time, but you will have to learn to accept compliments for what they are. If someone tells you that they find you bright and funny, you will have to learn to hear that instead of what you grew up hearing. If someone tells you that they find you lovely and creative you will need to learn to avoid responding negatively (“No, I am not!” or “No, that’s not true!”) That is going to be the hardest step, but once you take it and follow through, your eyes will open to a whole new reality.
If you can, seek counseling to help you learn how to “hear” the things you say to yourself and how to change that self-talk. If you have ever ventured out to a club and thought to talk to other people but talked yourself out of doing it, this is what is meant by self-talk. A counselor will be able to help you examine the things you say to yourself and help you learn how to re-think and change your internal dialogue so that you can finally have that real sense of confidence you desire.
Healthy self esteem versus selfishness
Sometimes we grow up learning that we should not ask for things that we want or seek to do things another sibling cannot do, such as participate in sports or music or whatever interested you. We were told that was selfish. It made us feel small and unimportant. Then when we grew up, we still had that point of view that it is rude to want. Selfishness is the height of disregard for others. Think of it this way: If you are driving down the highway, do you speed and put others at risk or do you drive safely and follow the rules of the road. Do you wait in line at the bank or do you self-importantly inject yourself at the front of the line?. A person with healthy self esteem is able to satisfy their desire to learn a new thing without making another person feel denied. A selfish person cannot recognize where their personal rights end and the other person’s rights begin.
Self esteem and confidence
A person with a healthy self esteem has the confidence to seek what they want without causing another person to feel unworthy. Confidence is really what a healthy self esteem looks and feel like. Confidence is often a quiet thing that is sensed by others. When you enter a room others will feel the presence of confidence and actually gravitate toward the confident person. When we note that a person is rather friendly and personable, it the sense of confidence to which we are attracted. Standing tall and delivering a grand smile is confidence. Allowing a person to cut in line is confidence. Sharing a table in a restaurant with a lone diner is confidence. Buying a stranger’s coffee is confidence. It may be hard to smile at first and risk being seen, but in time that recognition will look and feel right to you because you really do have a lovely smile.