Self Improvement — 13 June 2004
How to improve your self-esteem

A high level of self -esteem is a great asset in life. It enables us to succeed, have good relationships and be happy. Unfortunately, this wonderful self-perception is not easy to possess. Most people find it a struggle to gain and maintain a positive view of themselves. Why is it so hard to feel good about ourselves and what can we do to increase our personal positive regard?

Self -esteem is the assessment of one’s competency and worth. A high self-esteem is associated with confidence, assertiveness, success and good relationships with others. A low self-esteem interferes with personal and vocational success and contributes to a less pleasing life.

Why is it so difficult to achieve this desirable sense of self-worth?

Mostly, because we are not born with an awareness of our value. We are dependent upon the verbal appraisal of others, primarily our parents, for our early self-definition. Children who are praised, affirmed and treated with respect learn of their value early in life. Those who are told that they are capable, smart, attractive, or kind, believe it and own these traits. Children who are belittled, ridiculed, shamed, ignored or not positively affirmed, feel inferior and unworthy.

We tend to accept our parental definition of us as facts and mold ourselves around these pre-established notions. Confident children seek the companionship of peers who feel good about themselves, while insecure children find friends who share their own low level of self-worth.

As children mature they develop skills that help them move from other-esteem to self-esteem. They also encounter more people in their lives such as teachers, coaches, clergy, or other adults who help them view themselves in a positive light. The child who was told by a parent that he is “clumsy and lazy” may discover that he has great energy and talent as an athlete. Only through positive life experiences, trust and love of a supportive coach can this child restore his sense of wellness.

Research documents that through the encouragement and support of even one adult, children can be assisted in overcoming great early deficits and can succeed in growing up healthily.

A positive sense of self-esteem is established when people believe and feel the supportive and affirming perceptions of others. They can then continue to affirm their own worth through their behaviors. An individual who accepts that he is musically talented may practice hard and learn to appreciate himself after performing well for others.

What gets in our way of a solid sense of self-esteem in addition to early destructive messages is the unfavorable comparisons we make between others and ourselves. We tend to gauge our worth in relative terms of “better than” or “worse than”. ” I heard that she is beautiful and has a great figure, I already hate her”. This implies that if another person has a positive trait the speaker is devoid of any. If she is pretty – then I am ugly. These are the untruths we tell ourselves that lower our self-esteem and make us feel undesirable.

Secure people are able to appreciate other people’s assets without demeaning themselves. They are clear that they have equal value as human beings and demonstrate different attractive traits.

Another process that detracts from feeling self-appreciation is the attribution of our negative perceptions to others. A man who feels insecure about his competency on the job may believe that others are planning to get him fired. He expands great energy in trying to follow other people’s actions rather than concentrating on improving his job performance. When we project unto others our deepest insecurities, we only contribute to furthering a bad outcome for ourselves.

People who have a low self-esteem may present themselves in a poor way. They may be self-demeaning in an attempt to get appreciation. They may act in a fearful, non-confident ways that makes them seem less effective. They may whine or complain about other people’s “good luck” and unmerited advancement. They may have poor posture, concave shoulders, and unhappy facial expressions that lower their receptivity to others. Other insecure people may attempt to overcompensate by being aggressive, arrogant, demanding and entitled, which alienates them from others.
Seeking validation from others as a primary source of self-esteem is ineffective. People tire easily of anyone’s need for ongoing appreciation and praise as a basis for his or her well being. They are pleased to be affirming at times, but expect the seeker to rely primarily on his or her internalized sense of worth.

Creating and maintaining a good sense of self-esteem is achievable through life long efforts. It involves positive self-talk, self-affirmations, balanced view of our own merits and limitations, use of hard work and energy to continue earning self-appreciation, and relying on our own judgement in objectively assessing our behaviors. Being a good and productive person serves us best in earning our own self-appreciation.

To improve your sense of self worth you may need to:

  • Believe in the value and uniqueness of all people, including your self.
  • Avoid reciting to yourself bad early messages you may have heard as a child.
  • Develop and maintain an internal sense of self-worth that is other-supported, but not other-dependent.
  • Refrain from thinking in terms of “better or worse than”. Self -worth is absolute, not relative in comparison to others.
  • Remember that your self-presentation detracts or supports others view of you.
  • Make a list of all your attributes, traits, talents and gifts. List your recent behaviors that manifest these traits. Read the list often and appreciate yourself.
  • If more than one person compliments you about the same quality, consider adding this to your list of good traits.
  • Look at your less desirable behaviors and qualities as challenges for change.
  • Do good work and act in ways that are kind and supportive toward others. This will reinforce your sense of self-esteem and worthiness.

June 13. 2004

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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