We hear about self-esteem and talk about it throughout our lives, but people rarely have a good understanding of what self-esteem is, how we get it, and what affects it. Self-esteem is a person’s internalized sense that he/she is valued and accepted. In short, it is a reflection of a person’s subjective sense of self worth. This contrasts with self-efficacy which refers to a person’s belief in his/her abilities to perform certain tasks. A lot of times people get these two mixed up because we tend to think of our self esteem being tied to our achievements and the things we are capable of doing. You might hear a person say “I have self esteem because I am good at soccer” when what they really mean is “I have self esteem because I know I am valuable to my soccer team and my family/friends who love me show up for my games.”
The following video does a good job capturing the 3 main things that affect self-esteem.
Like the video stated, those we surround ourselves with can have a big impact on our self-esteem. I have had several kids in therapy who are intelligent, capable individuals, but who struggled with self esteem because they were in high achieving school programs and felt inferior to their classmates. The video says, tongue in cheek, that this means you should avoid sending your kids to challenging schools and throw out invitations to school reunions. I think enrolling children in challenging programs can be fine as long as they don’t highly evaluate their self-esteem based on comparing themselves to their peers. Also, as the video mentions, having unconditional positive regard in the home does wonders for a person’s self esteem.
A lot of times when people hear “unconditional positive regard” they think it means that your parents treat you like you’re never wrong and can’t mess anything up. What it really means is that no matter what you do your parents (or other close person) will love and accept you. This is probably the biggest issue in self-esteem in my opinion. Sometimes, knowingly or unknowingly, parents communicate to their children that their love and acceptance is contingent upon the child’s performance in life. People raised with this conditional positive regard end up internalizing the sense that they are only as good as their ability to please or serve others. When this happens, people become dependent upon “other esteem” rather than self esteem. The term “other esteem” refers to a person garnering their sense of self worth through feedback from others. To some extent self-esteem is dependent upon other esteem, but self-esteem differs in that it is an internalized sense of self worth that is largely independent from the input of others. Someone who has high self-esteem might hear someone tell them they’re stupid and be able to brush it off, but a person with low self-esteem might take that comment as truth because they are dependent upon other esteem.
Self-esteem is something a lot of people struggle with. Regardless of how you developed issues with self esteem, therapy can help you. Just like they said in the end of the video, self-esteem is truly a matter of psychology and reflecting inwards, unraveling your core beliefs and past, to discover a better state of self acceptance. If you or someone you care about has self-esteem problems, it may be time to consider counseling. Give me a call and we can talk about it.