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Understanding Self-Esteem

What it is: We hear this word, "self-esteem", quite a bit. Most of us recognize it as confidence, and worth. In psychology, the term itself refers to a person's overall sense of self-worth or personal value; basically, how much you appreciate and like yourself. Self-esteem is shaped by our thoughts, relationships and experiences. It is important to have the right balance of self-esteem as it helps us to have a healthy opinion of ourselves. It is about how we look, treat and listen to ourselves. A healthy self esteem keeps us grounded to reality and helps us to feel good about ourselves and seeing ourselves as worthy of respect. When we put little opinion to what we feel, think and value, we are having a low self-esteem. We worry about what people think of us, and that we are not good enough. Sometimes low self-esteem shows itself as insecurity and a bully by acting superior to others, being intimidating and putting others down to feel and look better. It is important to keep it in good check and balance.

How does it benefit us:

1) Ability to pursue your goals: A healthy dose of self-esteem will give you the courage, positivity, motivation and strength to go after your dreams and goals. Having a low self-esteem can hold you back from your dreams/goals because you don't believe in yourself and your ability to be successful. Just a point to note, being successful doesn't mean that all is great and well. Being successful just means that you have the courage to go after your dreams without the fear of failure and even if there was failure involved, you are willing to learn and pick yourself up from it. That is what success is, that you overcome your own fears of trying!

2) Interested in self growth / personal development. You would be interested and willing to learn and know more about yourself by being aware of your weaknesses and strengths, your limiting blocks, your fears and your needs. Finding fulfillment and meaning in your lives would be a priority to you as being a healthy individual. The courage to dig deep and working to be a healthy individual takes time but you know how important this work is and the impact on the people around you, your family and friends. And for those who look to you as their role models (if you are teachers/ parents), this will impact them greatly to work on themselves to be healthy and courageous individuals.

3) You make your own decisions and do only what you feel comfortable. Often times we don't feel brave to step out on our own, do things that we enjoy or feel is right or true. We favor following the crowd whether it fits us or not because well, there is a feeling of belonging. I remember very well when I was 20 years old and I joined a prestigious company. There were 9 girls and 11 guys in our training class. I tended to get along with all, but more the guys because we would go partying and drinking (this was a new experience for me). I was just being me, happy go lucky. What happened next was the ladies avoided me and there was 1 leader among them that would direct them where they should go, what they should do, how they should speak (in a language they assumed I wouldn't understand) and of course to avoid me! It was hurtful as this is one way of bullying, but I was grateful to the guys who stood by me, sat next to me each day in class and this went on for 3 long months! I did ask one of the girls why she avoided me in class to which she avoids the question ( note, she would only talk to me over the phone but not in class!) This is what I mean by standing your ground and do what you think is right. If your self-esteem is good and strong, you would stand your own ground, do what is right, find a tribe that fits your beliefs and your values and if you don't have such tribe, be your own person! As the saying goes - It is better to walk alone than to be in the wrong group. The truth did reveal itself eventually, it was jealousy, and control by the one leader. The positive ending, I am friends with most of the girls after more than 20 years.

4) Having good and healthy relationships. With a healthy self-esteem, you tend to appreciate yourself and the people around you more. The relationships would be based on respect, acceptance, love and care with very low or no expectations of the other. When you learn to accept yourself with all your strengths and flaws, you'd learn to accept others the same way without trying to change them. What you can do is to role model your own positive, healthy growth - change and let them be inspired by you to want to change themselves too. This also leads on to positive communication in item no 5 below.

5) You'd be courageous to speak up for yourself, and share your opinions ins a calm and respectful way. You would be able to voice out your needs and wants without expecting others to know what you're thinking of or what your needs are. Often times relationships around us break down due to the lack of communication with the expectation that people understand what we need, or want - it could be boundaries / space, it could be recognition / validation, perhaps telling someone that what they're saying or doing is hurting your feelings or disrespectful to you. It is the " they should know better than ...., they should not say that..., they should be helping out, can't they see how busy I am?" When these are not said, the unmet needs are festered within and causes a wound. Then the communication becomes stone walling / passive aggressive. Eg. "Is everything ok? Ya. Is everything alright? Yup. What's wrong? Nothing". Nothing, will get us all no where eventually and then you start to feel as if the relationship is one sided, resentment and anger will start it's buildup.

I have taken these examples from an article by Courtney E. Ackerman, on how self-esteem issues manifest itself:

  • You people please

  • You’re easily angered or irritated

  • You feel your opinion isn’t important

  • You hate you

  • What you do is never good enough

  • You’re highly sensitive to others opinions

  • The world doesn’t feel safe

  • You doubt every decision

  • You regularly experience the emotions of sadness and worthlessness

  • You find it hard keeping relationships

  • You avoid taking risks or trying new things

  • You engage in addictive avoidance behaviors

  • You struggle with confidence

  • You find it difficult creating boundaries

  • You give more attention to your weaknesses

  • You are often unsure of who you are

  • You feel negative experiences are all consuming

  • You struggle to say no

  • You find it difficult asking for your needs to be met

  • You hold a pessimistic or negative outlook on life

  • You doubt your abilities or chances of success

  • You frequently experience negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety or depression

  • You compare yourself with others and often you come in second best

So, how do you build on your self esteem?

1) Reflect and Journal. Looking at the examples above, reflect and write down in your journal if any of the examples above fit you. Then write down your strengths and your weaknesses, at least 10 of each. This helps you to be honest with yourself and you have a better idea of yourself. This keeps you grounded. Celebrate the strengths and work on the weaknesses. Everyone has them, even the most accomplished speaker has his/her fears before going on stage. It is perfectly normal!

2) Be who you are. You need not be a perfectionist, a saint or a savior. Let others do their job, you just be who you are with your flaws, strength and weaknesses. Acknowledge all your successes in life, be it big or small. Every failure is a lesson meant to be learnt, it is never meant to throw you to the ditch to be forgotten! Pick yourself up, brush the dirt off, and reflect on the lessons to be learnt and move on. I find being a perfectionist tiring and draining, physically and mentally. When I have friends around me who accepts me for who I am, eg: a dis-organised house, an imperfect looking cake, stuttering over a presentation, not dressing up to the occasion, I have totally found my tribe! Because they accept me for who I am, flaws and all.

3) Stop comparing yourself with others! I have to be honest I do this. This is not good as again, it drains you trying to be "perfect"! Seek to find where this stems from; was it a parental figure who constantly compared you to someone else, or was it that you were seeking for validation, love, and acknowledgement that causes you to compare. You may have been seeking for validation from the past as a child, but now, you are good and enough just as you are. You can always validate yourself or find yourself a support group that is non judgmental and is wiling to support you. In validating yourself, write down your achievements no matter how big or small and celebrate it! Write down what you appreciate about yourself. You could also do an act of kindness and watch that ripple affect back to you; doing acts of kindness gives us a sense of fulfillment, and of excitement, love and care. I find that if there is something that I lack of (under weaknesses), I seek the courage to look within and be willing to learn and practice to become a better version of my self. Therefore, the only person I compare myself with is, MYSELF. This is not to be confused with perfectionism! Perfectionism is unwilling to settle for " I think it's ok, I've done as much as I can and this is good enough for me".

4) Stop the inner critic! Our mind is a very powerful organ. Feed it whatever you want each day, and it will believe you, whether it is true or not! That saying, when a negative thought crops up, ask yourself these question, "Is it true, is it real". In Cognitive Behavior Therapy, clients have been taught the 3 Cs. Catch it, Check it and Change it! Often times, our brains tricks us and makes us perceives things to seem real, when actually it is not. For example, you are about to give a presentation, and you begin to tell yourself that you are scared, you're shaking, and you'll make a blunder out of it like you always do. I wish I could be more like xxx who is so confident etc.. Hang on there! Being scared and shaking is a normal physical reaction to stress, you're supposed to either run or fight, and that's why your adrenaline is up. How about that thought, ALWAYS make a blunder? Really? Do you? What about the time you did really well and people commented you on how well you spoke and how they got insights from your presentation. Oh oh, that was a comparison there.. You are good just as you are, you are unique and you have been gifted special talents that the other may not have. Here I would like to emphasize that we are all made unique and special with our very own God given gifts! USE IT!

5) Learn something new or push yourself do do something new that you have been afraid of in the past. When I ran my first 10km run, which I never thought I'd ever accomplish, it gave me a sense of achievement, that I could do it! Any new learning is a way of believing in your self even more! It can be tough and challenging, but as long as you are committed to your own growth, your self-belief will start to grow even more. What is very important, which I often forget, is to celebrate every achievement! Because if we don't, we wont be much motivated for ourselves and we don't feel as if we 'deserve' to celebrate something! Well, why not? We are valuable, worthy and we care and love our selves! Celebrate it by dancing, having a glass of wine or just sharing it with your support group or close friends who understands the road your are on to growing your self-belief and self-esteem, people who know what it means to you and not judge you.

6) Practice positive affirmations so that you change the way you see and think of yourself. Spend time in silent meditation, see yourself as who are you, accept your uniqueness, acknowledge where you are now and don't give up. "I am enough. I am worthy. I am valuable. I love myself!"

Remember, self esteem is an issue that quite a few people battle with; be the one that overcome it and help others too as well, with your kindness, support, and compassion.


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