Why Is Self Esteem So Important?

Self-esteem is a word that probably gets thrown around A LOT. So firstly, let us look at defining and understanding what self-esteem really is. To put it simply Self-esteem is the level at which we respect and appreciate ourselves. Individuals tend to have high or low self-esteem. High self-esteem should not be confused with egotistic traits, instead, it merely is a general understanding of one’s strengths and a healthy level of confidence in one’s capabilities.

The American Psychological Association defines self-esteem as “the degree to which the qualities and characteristics contained in one’s self-concept are perceived to be positive.”

That sounds uncomplicated enough, right? So why is it that majority of the population struggle with self-esteem-related issues? You would assume that having respect and positive regard for oneself, would be something that occurs naturally and often. Yet the reality is most of us spend the majority of our time disrespecting ourselves and being our own worst enemy, and any form of self-compassion or positive regard is granted conditionally. For example, if we succeed at a task or if we get promoted, we tend to use these achievements as a reason to practice self-validation. Whereas self-validation, self-compassion, and self-respect are concepts that need to be practiced often and unconditionally. Additionally, we tend to find it easier to treat those around us with compassion and love, however, extending those same traits inward somehow becomes a challenge.

“Research also finds a clear correlation between low self-confidence and low self-esteem, as well as the reverse. Additionally, having high self-confidence encourages self-reliance, self-advocacy, and trust in yourself and your abilities, all factors that bolster high self-esteem — and create a framework for positive mental health and quality of life.” — (Bayat, Akbarisomar, Tori, Salehiniya-2019).

Having lower levels of self-esteem is often influenced by multiple causes. One’s level of self-esteem can be dependent upon upbringing and the support received in childhood, feeling like your thoughts ideas, opinions, and needs were valued rather than dismissed plays a huge role. If you were often dismissed as a child that is how you start treating yourself too. Those around you matter as well, how they are behaving and interacting in terms of themselves, teaches you how important or unimportant it is to value oneself. Another factor that can directly affect your self-esteem is the experience of challenging life events such as trauma. Apart from all these, your general personal outlook too can have an impact on your levels of self-esteem, this can be an innate or learned outlook.

“It is often our experiences that form the basis for overall self-esteem. Those who consistently receive overly critical or negative assessments from family and friends, for example, will likely experience low self-esteem. Those who experience what Carl Rogers referred to as unconditional positive regard will be more likely to have healthy self-esteem.”- Amy Morin

Having lower levels of self-esteem can put you at risk of developing a variety of mental health issues, there are links between low self-esteem and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. In addition, having lower self-esteem can impact your ability to pursue goals, maintain healthy relationships, and your quality of life.

Now let’s take a look at high self-esteem. High self-esteem means holding yourself in a general state of positive regard. This doesn’t mean that you are delusional about your sense of self but simply means that while acknowledging your strengths you are non-judgemental about your flaws. Self-criticism is a common trait to have, and when practiced healthily it can be a tool for improvement. The trick is to shift your view of yourself from a judgemental stance to a more compassionate and curious stance. Instead of looking at your flaws and being ashamed of them, engaging in a form of self-talk that cultivates curiosity to challenge these flaws, is much healthier for you. Understanding that all humans have flaws is something that someone with high self-esteem tends to be aware of. However not letting these flaws hold you back is where that sense of unconditional positive regard comes in. High self-esteem is attainable through self-acceptance.

“Essentially, high self-esteem is a frame of mind that lets you celebrate your strengths, challenge your weaknesses, and feel good about yourself and your life.” — Rachel Goldman

Aiming to cultivate high self-esteem is not an effortless task, especially when your default thought process has been geared towards a low sense of self. The good news is that self-esteem is something that can be built over time, with some determination and effort. You will need to acknowledge first that you have low self-esteem, this step can feel challenging because we all want to believe we are fine. Unlearning harmful thought patterns that have taken years to build, will take time but the outcome is invaluable. If you feel like you have low self-esteem a therapist or counselor can guide you through the self-esteem-building process. Additionally, there are some other steps you can follow as a way of starting that shift from low to high self-esteem.

Tips to help cultivate and grow your self-esteem

1. Start with compliments- We often have the urge to deflect a compliment rather than wholeheartedly accept it. For someone with low self-esteem, this urge is that much more, because thoughts like “they must be lying” or “they are just being nice” often come to mind. Take a small step to just start with saying thank you and fight the urge to deflect the compliment.

2. Be compassionate with yourself- Everyone makes mistakes, and you are no different. Be kinder and understanding with yourself. A mistake is an opportunity to learn more about yourself. So instead of berating yourself for making mistakes, shift your negative self-talk to a more compassionate one.

3. Challenge your negative beliefs- When a negative thought pops up take action, either by writing it down or sitting and challenging that thought and then letting it go.

4. Think of yourself like a friend- If you find it hard to be compassionate with yourself, a good place to start is to ask yourself “what would I say to a friend who is in this same predicament”. You will find that you have a much more compassionate response. Proceed to repeat this to yourself.

5. Practice self-gratitude- Make lists of all the things you are grateful for about yourself, this helps put into perspective all the positives, and helps you get a clearer picture of who you are. This may feel challenging at first but keep the list running and add to it as you think of things.

6. Seek support- Working on yourself alone might feel like a daunting task. Sometimes it may feel like you don’t know where to start, a therapist can guide you through this process instead of you having to go through it alone.

Self-esteem is the picture you paint of yourself. It comprises of the parts of you that are beautiful and the parts of you that are beautifully flawed; all tied together in one amazing portrait of self. Both must exist together. Understanding this is the key to achieving a healthy level of self-esteem.

Essentially, as famed naturalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”

Written by Sanchia Supramaniam, originally published on Medium for Illumination