Monday, October 7, 2013

Self-Esteem--What It Is and How To Raise Your's

     Have you ever wondered what self-esteem actually is? Have you ever thought you had low self-esteem? And, have you ever wondered what you could do to raise your self-esteem?

     Self-esteem is a psychological term that defines our general evaluation of our overall worth as an individual. These evaluations are based on our own personal judgements of ourselves and the type of attitudes we have about ourselves. For example our beliefs about our competency (I am a worthy individual and I have belief in my abilities or I am not smart and not good at anything). Self-esteem also encompasses the emotions we feel about ourselves, for example feelings of pride and triumph or feelings of despair and shame. In a nutshell, self-esteem is the judgements and emotions about who we are and our beliefs about how others perceive us. When our overarching evaluations are negative, we experience low self-esteem. We feel discouraged, undeserving, and unworthy. Conversely, we have high self-esteem when we have positive self-evaluations; we feel worthy, valued and encouraged. Self-esteem also affects the way we behave and the manner in which we relate to others (i.e. compassionate and empathetic or defensive and judgemental).

     Self-esteem is influenced by our early life experiences. In childhood parents have the most influence on shaping self-esteem. The more positive early experiences we have the greater the chance we will develop a healthy degree of self-esteem as children and adults. Numerous books and several studies have been conducted that suggest parents who give their children unconditional love, a consistent sense of being cared for and respect raise children who have high self-esteem. Negative childhood experiences that cause low self-esteem would include being harshly criticized, humiliation, being sexually or emotionally abused, being ignored, and/or being expected to be "perfect" at all times.

     There are numerous self-report inventories that assess self-esteem. However, a formal "test" is not always necessary to evaluate your own level of self-esteem. Instead, set aside time to really think about and understand how you define yourself, and how you evaluate yourself. If you find you are excessively focused on your performance, make negative self-comments, have a fear of trying new things and relate to others in either a clingy or overly independent manner, you may have low self-esteem. This leads to the question--How can one raise his or her self-esteem? Below are some suggestions:

1. Broaden your self-definition. Try not to be overly critical of yourself or demand to be perfect. Working toward developing an ability to be patient with yourself and others, developing self-compassion, expressing emotions and being open to trying varied interests and new activities  are BIG steps towards raising your self-esteem.

2. While an occasional self-disparaging comment every now and then is normal, recurrent and chronic negative comments about one's self is a symptom of low self-esteem. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. And just like we cannot all be great at everything the opposite is also true--we CANNOT all be bad at everything. Generalizing negative beliefs about ourselves inhibits us from having a realistic picture of our true abilities. Take time out to think of a few things you have are not "terrible" at and may even enjoy doing. Most likely your list will be longer than you expected. Make a plan to further develop these skills and interests in order to gain a greater sense of pride and competency.

3. Develop relationships that have a healthy dependency. When we feel a combination of both connection and independence in our relationships we have established a healthy dependency. These types of relationships empower us to take risks, to venture out and explore new relationships and interests AND at the same time to feel connected and close to the important people in our lives.

4. Seek professional help. Therapy can help to raise your self-esteem in a supportive and emotionally secure environment.

I would like to hear from you. What are your thoughts about self esteem? Have you been able to raise your self-esteem? How? Do you or a loved one have low self-esteem and don't know what to do about it? Share some ideas you have for helping people raise their self-esteem.

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