Have you wondered about what self-esteem is and how to get more of it? Do you think your self-esteem is low? Do you know how to tell? Do you know what to do about it?
Self-esteem answers the question, “How do I feel about who I am?” We learn self-esteem in our family of origin; we do not inherit it.
Global self-esteem (about “who we are”) is normally constant. Situational self-esteem (about what we do) fluctuates, depending on circumstances, roles, and events. Situational self-esteem can be high at one moment (e.g., at work) and low the next (e.g., at home).
Low self-esteem is a negative evaluation of oneself. This type of evaluation usually occurs when some circumstance we encounter in our life touches on our sensitivities. We personalize the incident and experience physical, emotional, and cognitive arousal. This is so alarming and confusing that we respond by acting in a self-defeating or self-destructive manner. When that happens, our actions tend to be automatic and impulse-driven; we feel upset or emotionally blocked; our thinking narrows; our self-care deteriorates; we lose our sense of self; we focus on being in control and become self-absorbed.
“Self-esteem is a realistic, appreciative opinion of oneself. “Realistic” means accurate and honest. Appreciative implies positive feelings and liking.” (Glenn Schiraldi, p.20, The Self Esteem Workbook)
Global self-esteem is not set in stone. Raising it is possible, but not easy. Global self-esteem grows as we face our fears and learn from our experiences. Some of this work may require the aid of a psychotherapist. In the meantime, here is what you can do.
In a nutshell, self-esteem is your opinion of yourself and your abilities. It can be high, low or somewhere in-between. While everyone occasionally has doubts about themselves, low self-esteem can leave you feeling insecure and unmotivated. You might be able to identify a few things that are affecting your opinion of yourself (maybe you’re being bullied, or you might be feeling lonely), or it could be a mystery. Either way, there are heaps of things you can do to improve your self-esteem.
1. Be nice to yourself
That little voice that tells you you’re killin’ it (or not) is way more powerful than you might think. Make an effort to be kind to yourself and, if you do slip up, try to challenge any negative thoughts. A good rule of thumb is to speak to yourself in the same way that you’d speak to your mates. This can be really hard at first, but practise makes perfect. If you want a few pointers, check out our tips for talking yourself up.
2. View mistakes as learning opportunities.
You’ve got to make mistakes in order to learn and grow, so try not to beat yourself up if you forget to hit CTRL+S on a super-important assignment. Everyone’s been there.Accept that you will make mistakes. Everyone does. They're part of learning. Instead of thinking, "I always mess up" remind yourself that it's not about always, just this specific situation. What can you do differently next time?
3. Do what makes you happy and take pride in your opinions and ideas
If you spend time doing the things you enjoy, you’re more likely to think positively. Try to schedule in a little you-time every day. Whether that’s time spent reading, cooking or just conking out on the couch for a bit, if it makes you happy, make time for it.. Don't be afraid to voice them. If someone disagrees, it's not a reflection on your worth or your intelligence. That person just sees things differently from you.
4. Aim for effort rather than perfection.
Some people get held back by their own pressure to be perfect. They lose out because they don't try. If you think, "I won't audition for the play because I probably won't get the lead," it's guaranteed that role will go to someone else.
5. Manage your inner critic.
Notice the critical things you say to yourself. Would you talk to a best friend like that? A harsh inner voice just tears us down. If you're in the habit of thinking self-critically, re-train yourself by rewording these negative unkind thoughts into more helpful feedback.
6. Set goals.
Think about what you'd like to accomplish. Then make a plan for how to do it. Stick with your plan, and keep track of your progress. Train your inner voice to remind you of what you are accomplishing. For example: "I've been following my plan to exercise every day for 45 minutes. I feel good that I've kept my promise to myself. I know I can keep it up."
7. Recognize what you can change and what you can't.
It’s easy to get hung up on all the things that are out of your control, but it won’t achieve much. Instead, try to focus your energy on identifying the things that are within your control and seeing what you can do about them. If you realize that you're unhappy with something about yourself that you can change (like getting to a healthy weight), start today. If it's something you can't change (like your height), work on accepting it. Obsessing about our "flaws" can really skew your opinion of yourself and bring down your self-esteem. Most of the time, other people don't even notice these things!
8. Remind yourself that everyone excels at different things.
Focus on what you do well, and cheer on others for their success. Thinking more like this: "She's a great basketball player — but the truth is, I'm a better musician than athlete. Still, I'll keep playing because I enjoy it." helps you accept yourself and make the best of the situation.