As we approach the New Year, we reflect on the year that has passed. What major life events happened this year? Was the year filled with joy and confidence, or was it filled with the sadness and uncertainty? Did low self-esteem or a sense of inadequacy prevent you from living life to the fullest?
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is how we view ourselves, value ourselves, love ourselves and judge ourselves. Our self-esteem may be high or low depending on how we feel about ourselves.
Will you apply for that new job? Will you ask that person out on a date? Will you plan to go to the beach instead of staying home? Will you attend that co-workers birthday party? These are everyday scenarios, and if you have high self-esteem, you likely will be confident enough to say ‘yes’ to all of them. In fact, you might not even think twice about doing these things.
However, low self-esteem often creates a different response. People may feel self-conscious, anxious and fearful of simple situations. Oftentimes people will say ‘no’ to these activities and opportunities simply because they have low-self-esteem, and therefore think things like, “I’m not good enough. Why bother trying? It won’t work out anyway. “ Those thoughts make it difficult to try or take a chance.
Where does self-esteem come from?
Our self-esteem begins developing when we are infants. According to the National Association for Self-Esteem (NASE) there are two types of self-esteem. The first is a personal sense of self-worth that comes from feeling loved, valued and appreciated by family members in childhood. The second type of esteem, is “a sense of competence or efficacy, that stems from the extent to which one sees oneself as the cause of effects… having an effect on things and being able to cause or affect events. Having quiet confidence in one’s potential ability to cope with life’s challenges contributes to feelings of competence.”
So, if you are one of the millions of Americans who struggles with low self-esteem, the good news is: your self-esteem can be improved if you are willing to put the work in, and with the New Year coming up, we could all use a resolution that focuses on mental well-being, self-love and mindfulness.
How can you improve your self-esteem?
- Minimize your focus on the external and focus on the internal.
For children and adolescents, self-esteem is heavily based on external factors such as: opinions of family and peers, and social status at school. However, according to the National Association for Self-Esteem, “As individuals approach adulthood, the significance of these factors begins to change, and people become less dependent upon the feedback received from others. They begin developing their own values, standards, and expectations. They evaluate themselves against their own criteria and internalize the source of self-esteem.”
As we become adults our self-esteem changes to focus inwardly… or at least it should. Unfortunately, many adults still focus too much on external things: possessions, status in the community, the opinions of coworkers, wealth, etc.
If your self-esteem hinges on the opinions of others and possessions, you may be doing your mental health much more harm than you realize. Self-esteem that is based primarily on things that are external rather than internal means that we will get more easily disappointed when these things are taken away. Our self-esteem will go up when things are good, but then go down when things are bad. When our self-esteem is more internally focused, we are able to recognize our true value and feel more secure.
Turn your focus away from these things, and instead focus on your internal self. What do you value about yourself? What makes you happy? Consider how much less stressful your life will be if the opinions of others ceased to matter.
- Resist comparing yourself to others.
Don’t base your self-worth on what other people have accomplished in their lives. Learning to let go of jealousy and be at peace with yourself and your life will improve self-esteem and happiness.
Remember – social media, which is an ideal tool for comparing ourselves to others – is misleading. Too much social media use can take a negative toll on self-esteem, as people look at it and see happy people traveling, working, and posing in their picture-perfect lives. Remember, they are only showing a tailored version of their reality, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect their happiness.
- Don’t assume what other people are thinking and feeling.
If you get into a disagreement at work or with a family member or partner, your low self-esteem may cause you to ruminate on it and assume the worst-case scenario. But you can’t assume what anyone else is thinking or feeling, or even their motivations. The best thing to do is work on clear communication.
For example, your partner left the house and you heard the door slam. You struggle with low self-esteem, so you assume they are angry at you. You spend the day depressed and thinking about why they’re mad, and if they don’t like you as much anymore.
In reality, your partner might have been trying to keep the cat from getting out, or perhaps the wind caught the door. They were never angry, and a simple communication, “I heard the door slam when you left. Were you upset?” may clear this up.
When you find yourself assuming what others think and feel, take a step back and ask yourself, “Do I know this to be reality? Or is my low self-esteem making me assume the worst-case scenario?” Low self-esteem may make you feel you’re at fault, but most of the time, it’s simply in your head.
- Practice positive thinking.
Everyone has down days, and sometimes negative thoughts can be like quicksand – dragging us down even deeper. An article in Psychology Today titled, “Eight steps to improving your self-esteem,” explains that questioning your negative thinking and practicing positive thinking alleviates depression and encourages higher self-esteem.
In this article, Jessica Koblenz, Psy. D writes, “Sometimes automatic negative thoughts like, ‘you’re fat’ or ‘you’re lazy’ can be repeated in your mind so often that you start to believe they are true… These thoughts are learned, which means they can be unlearned. You can start with affirmations. What do you wish you believed about yourself? Repeat these phrases to yourself every day.”
Koblenz also suggests that in addition to repeating these phrases in your mind, you should also spend time making lists of your strengths and qualities you like about yourself. Psychologists agree that these practices, when repeated, can alleviate depression and raise self-esteem.
- Seek support
People with chronically low self-esteem may also suffer from depression, anxiety, past trauma and abuse and other mental health issues. Some people will need professional help and support to improve their low self-esteem and mental health issues. Seeking out counseling from a doctor, therapist or support group to improve a mental state will in turn help your self-esteem.
Self-esteem shapes our entire lives: from childhood to old age. It shadows every move we make in life. But low self-esteem hinders your ability to live life to the fullest, to be your best self and to have the confidence to reach for what you deserve.
Reach out to us at Family & Child Development: our therapists and counselors will help you realize your worth and will work with you to improve your self-esteem.