When someone hears the term self-esteem they come up with a definition of some kind – for the purpose of me writing on the topic – my definition is a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities. Having the definition is a great starting point, the real understanding comes from knowing how much self-esteem impacts our emotional health.
It is central of everything we do and how we feel about ourselves. I think we can agree that low self-esteem leads to negative dialogue that we have with ourselves that interferes with achieving goals. I believe that to get rid of low self-esteem requires a person to develop self-caring or self-compassion.
This is easier said than done. Before we can become more compassionate to ourselves we have to address the problem of low self-esteem. Self-esteem is what we tell ourselves about what we do and how we do it. Self-esteem relates to relationships, achievements, and abilities. What people do not understand is how engrained those negative messages can become and can turn into a person blaming themselves for everything – even things out of their control. Many of my clients come in with self-esteem issues.
Self-esteem begins when we are young and it either be built or destroyed by our environments. Let’s use a plant as an example, if you give it proper exposure to the sun and nourishment; it will grow to be a healthy plant. A child is similar, if a child is in an environment where there is positive feedback, he/she can thrive.
Self-esteem is not just about feeling good. In an article published in 2009 in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, two large longitudinal studies found that low self-esteem is a risk factor for depressive symptoms throughout the adult life span. The authors note that while their findings were based on non-clinical samples, participants in both groups who demonstrated symptoms of major clinical depression had significantly lower self-esteem than others, leading the authors to believe that low self-esteem is a risk factor for major depression as well.
Research from a 2010 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people with lower levels of self-esteem not only reacted to rejection with increased negative self-appraisals and self-blame, but also showed higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Self-esteem can lead people to believe that there is something wrong with them. Negative thoughts and feelings are incredibly painful. We can learn how to face them, accept them and then work through them. Self-acceptance is not easy, but is possible. As a person accepts how they feel and stops blaming themselves they can move into a place of higher self-esteem.
It holds true that having higher self-esteem is often linked to increased life satisfaction and better mental and physical health. Another study, published in a 2010 issue of the journal Cognition & Emotion concluded that people with higher levels of self-esteem are less likely to feel distressed by rejection or negative feedback.
Come back next week for Part 2 “How to Build Self Confidence”.