Understanding Self-Esteem

Self-esteem defines how much confidence someone has in his or her own value or skills. This influences everything we do in our careers, and how we respond to others.

Our emotions and how we behave are influenced by self esteem. As an example, someone with poor self-esteem might not think they are good enough for a chance that presents itself in life, and might walk away from it.

The hierarchy of needs established by Maslow puts self-esteem at the heart of what makes people tick alongside things such as health, security, and even affection.

Everyone’s self esteem evolves throughout life, going up and down over time. Self esteem is not, however, something that changes quickly. Real change only happens in the long term.

Self esteem issues are not always about low self esteem. Sometimes an individual’s high self esteem can also cause problems, even indicating a narcissistic personality disorder.

Self Image vs Self Esteem

You might confuse self image and self esteem but they are very different though related things.

Self image is how we see ourselves. We all have an idea of what we look like, what our characteristics as a human are, and so on. Having a positive self image means you think positively about your looks, abilities, and how others see you.

Self esteem, on the other hand, is about how you feel about your self image. Self esteem, in other words, is the value judgement you make about your self image. If you have healthy self esteem, you have positive thoughts about your self image.

Recognizing Low Self Esteem & Self Image

We often normalize our negative thought patterns over time, making it hard for us to understand that something is wrong. For this reason, some with low self esteem might not even realize it.

Many make the mistake, too, of thinking that low self esteem always translates into someone with little to no confidence. Sometimes those with low self esteem compensate by acting overly confident. This overcompensation can also take the form of belittling others or insulting loved ones.

Low self esteem and poor self image should be taken seriously. They can eventually lead to mental illnesses, including depression, eating disorders, and body dysmorphia, to name just a few.

Signs of faulty self esteem can include:

  • No confidence in personal skills
  • Feelings of shame or embarrassment
  • Believing you are a failure
  • Blaming others
  • Maintaining poor boundaries
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Lashing out at others
  • Having an aversion to compliments

Physical symptoms sometimes come up, as well, including:

  • Digestive issues with no physical cause
  • Headaches
  • Back pain from stooping or slouching
  • Insomnia

What Causes Low Self-Esteem? 

There is no single cause of low self esteem. Each person’s situation is different. Sometimes there is an inciting event or trauma, sometimes several smaller events affect someone’s self esteem.

The best way to identify the causes of your self esteem issues is to participate in therapy. A counselor can help you address the events or relationships that may have affected your self esteem and then help you work on ways to cope with them and rebuild your self esteem.

Some causes of low self-esteem include:

  • Disapproval from parents or teachers
  • Emotionally distant parents
  • Abuse
  • Parents in a high-conflict divorce
  • Bullying
  • Difficulty in school
  • Religious guilt

Building Healthy Self Esteem & Self Image

While working with a counselor is the best answer for healing low self esteem, there are techniques you can use to help your self esteem.

Take the Power Away from Your Negative Thoughts

Thoughts are just thoughts, not facts. One way you can buoy your self esteem is by acknowledging that not every thought you think is actually true. This strips the power out of negative thinking.

Respond With the Positive

You can also neutralize a negative thought by responding with a positive version of it. Examples include:

  • Turning “I’m ugly!” into “I have lovely eyes.”
  • Turning “I’m a burden to my boyfriend” into “I’m grateful for the love in my life.”
  • Turning “I don’t deserve that job” into “I work hard and try my best.”

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Social media means that a lot of us are constantly comparing ourselves to images of others. If you are working on your self esteem, going on a social media fast can help. You can also work to remember that social media is about putting on appearances, and the person you may be comparing yourself to may be dealing with their own issues that you don’t know about.

Therapy for Unhealthy Self-Esteem

Working with a counselor in psychotherapy or psychoanalysis is the best answer for individuals coping with faulty self esteem. The process typically starts with you and your counselor working to identify the causes of your unhealthy self esteem. The therapist and patient can then work on coping strategies to address these issues.

CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, as a talk therapy can be particularly effective. Your counselor may also recommend additional interventions, such as journaling at home to provide more insight and clarity.