The self in self-esteem
Over recent years the discussion surrounding self-esteem has shifted. We’ve gone from discussing how self-esteem is developed through social interactions, to blaming people with low self-esteem by using phrases such as “Self-esteem is esteem of yourself. No one else can give it to you.” While this is true in a broad sense, it misses some key points about self-esteem.
We aren’t born with self-esteem, much like we aren’t born with biases towards certain people or things. Our environments and our social interactions are the foundation of our self-esteem. How our parents or caregivers treated us, whether we had security in our home environment, what our interactions with other children were like, and so on, all shape our self-esteem. (Understanding Low Self-Esteem ) With that being said, low self-esteem often has roots in childhood trauma. These childhood traumas can range from physical or emotional abuse, neglect, being bullied, or belonging to a marginalized group. This low self-esteem formed in childhood, if not addressed, can be sustained through adulthood because of illness, negative events such as loss of relationships and job loss, or toxic relationships. (M.D., 2014)
Our pasts have a huge impact on how we handle our present day situations. If someone with high self-esteem, who’s background includes stability, positive reinforcement, and a supportive family goes through those negative life events mentioned above, the way they handle them is different than how someone with low self-esteem and an opposite history will.
Because all self-esteem is learned, low self-esteem has to be unlearned. The first step to unlearning low self esteem, is awareness of the negative thoughts that you have about yourself. (Darlene Lancer, 2016) Take note of the critical and negative things your inner voice is saying about you and write them down. When you are feeling better, come back to those notes and disprove them. Having low self-esteem also comes with a selective memory. When that inner critic starts talking, all the memories of your accomplishments and good qualities are suddenly gone. As if they never existed. Having that concrete, written reminder of why those critical thoughts are wrong is important to keep them from settling in.
In addition, ask friends and loved ones what your good qualities are and write those down too. Although your self-worth and self-esteem shouldn’t come from outside sources, other people may see good traits in you that you never recognized. Outside reinforcement of your positive qualities can be helpful. After writing down your positive qualities, study them. Think of it as homework for self-improvement. Just like studying for different classes in school helps you improve on a subject, studying your positive traits helps build your self-esteem. When being able to list off your positive traits becomes second nature, combating the negative inner critic becomes less daunting.
Now, with this one suggestion, don’t expect an overnight boost in self-esteem. It took you your whole life to develop the level of self-esteem you have now. So it will take time and practice to develop higher self-esteem.
Understanding Low Self-Esteem . (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2016, from Overcoming: http://www.overcoming.co.uk/single.htm?ipg=8611
Darlene Lancer, J. M. (2016, May 17). Low Self Esteem Is Learned. Retrieved August 22, 2016, from Psych Central: http://psychcentral.com/lib/low-self-esteem-is-learned/
M.D., N. B. (2014, November 20). The Secret of Self Esteem: Where Does Self-Esteem Really Come From. Retrieved August 21, 2016, from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201411/the-secret-self-esteem