What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is a fundamental human need. Regardless of what we do, we cannot ignore our self-evaluation. Self-esteem is much more than an innate sense of self-worth. Self-esteem is:
Confidence in our ability to think and cope with life’s challenges.
Feeling worthy to be successful and happy.
Low self-esteem is a negative spiral
Trusting ourselves and knowing that we’re worthy of happiness is the essence of self-esteem. The level of our self-esteem influences how we act, and how we act influences our level of self-esteem.
With high self-esteem, we are more likely to persist in the face of difficulties. With low self-esteem, we are more likely to give up or not really try our best. This is because, if we persevere, the likelihood is that we will succeed more often than we fail. If we don’t persevere, the likelihood is that we will fail more often than we succeed. Either way, our view of ourselves will be reinforced.
If we respect ourselves and expect others to respect us, we behave in a way that makes it more likely that others will do this. When they do, our belief in ourselves is reinforced. If we lack self-respect and accept disrespect, abuse, or exploitation from others, we behave in a way that unconsciously transmits this and some people will treat us this way. When this happens, our self-respect deteriorates even more.
How does low self-esteem affect us?
The level of our self-esteem has profound consequences in how well we do at work, how we deal with people, what we are likely to achieve, with whom we are likely to fall in love, how we interact with our partner, children, and friends, and the level of personal happiness we attain.
Healthy self-esteem relates to qualities such as rationality, intuitiveness, creativity, independence, flexibility, willingness to admit mistakes, and cooperativeness. Poor self-esteem relates to irrationality, rigidity, fear of the new and unfamiliar, defensiveness, too compliant or overcontrolling behaviour. The more solid our self-esteem, the better equipped we are to cope with troubles that arise in our lives and the quicker we are to pick ourselves up after a failure. The higher our self-esteem, the stronger the drive to express ourselves, while the lower our self-esteem, the more urgent the need to prove ourselves to others.
Low self-esteem and relationships
We tend to feel most comfortable with people whose self-esteem level resembles our own. As the saying goes, we accept the love that we feel we deserve. Low self-esteem seeks low self-esteem in others, which can lead to unhappy and turbulent relationships. The healthier our self-esteem, the more inclined we are to treat others with respect, goodwill and fairness, since we do not tend to perceive them as a threat. With low self-esteem, we approach relationships with automatic expectations of rejection, humiliation or betrayal. If we lack self-respect we do not feel lovable. It is then difficult for us to believe that anyone else can love us and that we deserve to be loved. We may end up sabotaging our relationships to confirm this belief and we are more likely to pick someone that will reject and abandon us.
How can therapy help with low self-esteem?
Therapy can help to reduce our irrational fears and negative beliefs we have about ourselves. It also encourages us to learn new skills, new ways of thinking about ourselves, better strategies for dealing with ourselves and others, and an increased sense of possibility. Raising self-esteem requires us to build greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-responsibility and integrity. It requires the willingness to move through fear and face uncomfortable realities. Through non-judgmental discussion, psychological exercises, role-playing, bodywork, and homework assignments, we can work at building healthier self-esteem.
Further reading: The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden