Having a strong sense of self-esteem is a key part of feeling happy within ourselves, and of feeling that we're succeeding in things that matter.
Positive self-esteem helps you be yourself, handle adversity, and believe that you'll win through, despite setbacks. It's an inner force that sustains you, and gives you the courage you need to succeed. How do you "grade" yourself?
Low self-esteem does the opposite. It's connected to self-doubt, and to a general feeling that you're not quite good enough to meet life's challenges. In fact, low self-esteem is used to diagnose many mental disorders, and it can be associated with anxiety, sadness, hostility, loneliness, and a lack of spontaneity.
What Is Self-Esteem?
You're probably familiar with the idea of self-esteem. It's often associated with self-confidence, but self-esteem is more than just confidence - it goes deeper. In fact, some people argue that you can have self-confidence and still have low self-esteem - most notably if you approach life with a "fake it 'til you make it" attitude (in other words, "pretend" until you succeed).
Healthy self-esteem doesn't involve faking anything. And although there's significant debate over the definition of self-esteem, a leading theory is that it's a combination of two factors: competence and worthiness. Nathaniel Branden says the following in his book "The Psychology of Self-Esteem":
"Self-esteem has two interrelated aspects: it entails a sense of personal efficacy and a sense of personal worth. It is the integrated sum of self-confidence and self-respect. It is the conviction that one is competent to live and worthy of living."
To evaluate your own levels of self-esteem, complete the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (SES) http://www.bsos.umd.edu/socy/research/rosenberg.htm. This is a 10-item scale developed by Dr. Morris Rosenberg. Even though it was developed as long ago as 1965, it's still a popular form of measurement used in self-esteem research.
Competence and Worthiness
The competence element of self-esteem deals with how far you believe that you have the skills and abilities you need to succeed in areas that matter to you.
This isn't generalized success. It's specific to areas of your life that are particularly important to you. For example, if you can sing and dance and entertain a crowd like no one else, that won't contribute to positive self-esteem if what you really value is academic success. Likewise, if you rise to the top of your profession, but you're not proud of that profession, it's unlikely that you'll feel a strong sense of self-esteem as a result.
It's this idea of "value" that brings us to the other element of self-esteem: worthiness. This is where you express your overall evaluation of yourself. It's based on your values, and on whether you behave in a way that is consistent with these values. Together, these factors influence whether you believe you're "good enough", and whether you like and respect the person you are.
By combining competence and worthiness, and by looking at how they relate to each other, we get a full and dynamic definition of self-esteem. Just feeling good about yourself isn't self-esteem. There has to be a competence element, so that your behaviors result in positive actions, not destructive ones. Too great a sense of worthiness can lead to conceit, and even narcissism. Healthy self-esteem keeps those things in balance.
Looking at self-esteem this way allows us to see the difference between healthy self-esteem and too much self-esteem, which can lead to aggressive and destructive behavior. Thinking that you're better than others can lead you to become arrogant and worse. And if your level of self-esteem is too far in advance of your abilities, you’re setting yourself up for failure, humiliation, frustration and anger. (In fact, some researchers link this with domestic violence.)
Now that you know what self-esteem is, you're in a better position to improve yours in a robust and balanced way.
Here are some tips for improving your self-esteem:
Think about yourself positively: You are the only person who can change your view of yourself. No one else can give you self-esteem - you have to build it by thinking about all of the positive things in your life. Make sure that you get into the habit of positive thinking, and learn how to detect and defeat patterns of self-sabotage. Be your own best cheerleader and supporter!
Take pride in your accomplishments: When you do something well, celebrate it. Don't wait for someone else to tell you how wonderful you are: tell yourself!
Set goals: The more you achieve, the better you'll feel about yourself. Goal setting is a great technique for targeting, tracking and recognizing success. It helps you to build competence and, from this, build a sense of pride and a feeling of worthiness. Make sure that you embrace goal setting!
Be consistent: You improve self-esteem when you act in ways that are consistent with your values. If you find yourself in a compromising or difficult situation, do all that you can to make a decision that is consistent with these values. Achieve your goals with integrity, and don't undermine your self-esteem by cheating, or acting in a dishonest way.
Remember that you aren't perfect: Don't be too hard on yourself. We all make mistakes, and that's often OK, just as long as we learn from them. The standards you have to meet are your own: stop worrying about what others think, and focus on the great things about yourself. If you do, your inner confidence will shine through, and more than compensate for any shortcomings you might have.
Look after yourself physically: Being active can improve self-esteem. Activities that improve your health help you feel more in control, and give you a sense of satisfaction that carries though to other areas of your life.
The way you think is key to your sense of self-esteem. You're the one in control, and you can make a difference. If you like yourself, and believe that you deserve good things in life, you'll have high self-esteem. If you dislike yourself or criticize yourself excessively, you won't.
Having healthy self-esteem is important, because it helps you deal with life's challenges and achieve the things that matter most to you. As such, make a commitment to yourself to value what you do and who you are!
Article reproduced from Mindtools newsletter 142