Therapy

Judging Your Worth As A Person – Your Self Esteem

Self-esteem is your overall opinion of yourself — how you honestly feel about and value yourself. Self-esteem involves judging your worth as a person. People with healthy self-esteem feel good about themselves and see themselves as worthwhile. People with low self-esteem, on the other hand, put little value on their opinions and ideas and constantly think that they aren’t “good enough.”

Self-esteem has been the subject of social research and theory for decades. In recent years, there’s been a concerted effort to boost the self-esteem of schoolchildren through special programs, with proponents believing it would lead to happier kids, better grades and less school bullying. Critics of these efforts contend that pumping up self-esteem, especially in people who may not need a boost, does little more than inflate egos and feed the “me generation” mentality.

That said, there are plenty of adults who truly feel down on themselves and have poor self-esteem. Learn why you may have developed a poor self-image, the difference between healthy self-esteem and narcissism, how you can tell if your self-esteem needs a boost, and the benefits of healthy self-esteem.
Factors that shape and influence self-esteem

Self-esteem check: Too low, too high or just right?

Self-esteem is your overall opinion of yourself — how you honestly feel about and value yourself. Self-esteem involves judging your worth as a person. People with healthy self-esteem feel good about themselves and see themselves as worthwhile. People with low self-esteem, on the other hand, put little value on their opinions and ideas and constantly think that they aren’t “good enough.”

Self-esteem has been the subject of social research and theory for decades. In recent years, there’s been a concerted effort to boost the self-esteem of schoolchildren through special programs, with proponents believing it would lead to happier kids, better grades and less school bullying. Critics of these efforts contend that pumping up self-esteem, especially in people who may not need a boost, does little more than inflate egos and feed the “me generation” mentality.

That said, there are plenty of adults who truly feel down on themselves and have poor self-esteem. Learn why you may have developed a poor self-image, the difference between healthy self-esteem and narcissism, how you can tell if your self-esteem needs a boost, and the benefits of healthy self-esteem.
Factors that shape and influence self-esteem

Self-esteem starts forming early in life. Factors that can influence self-esteem include:

    * Your own thoughts and perceptions
    * Other people
    * School experiences
    * Sports experiences
    * Work experiences
    * Illness, disability or injury
    * Culture
    * Religion
    * Role and status in society

Relationships with those close to you — parents, siblings, peers, teachers and other important adults — are especially powerful. Many beliefs you hold about yourself today reflect messages you’ve received from such people over time. If your close relationships are good and you receive generally positive feedback, you’re more likely to see yourself as worthwhile. However, if you receive mostly negative feedback and are often criticized, teased, ridiculed or devalued by others, you’re more likely to think that you’re not good enough and to struggle with poor self-esteem.

But your own thoughts have perhaps the biggest impact on self-esteem. Thoughts include “self-talk” — what you tell yourself — your perceptions of situations, and your beliefs about yourself, other people and events. For example, how you measure success and failure in life affects your sense of self-worth. A series of perceived successes can lead to feelings of positive self-worth and high self-esteem. A series of perceived failures can make you feel inferior and reduce your self-esteem.
A wide range of self-esteem

Self-worth ranges from very positive to very negative. Neither extreme is healthy.

    * Overly high self-esteem. People with unrealistically positive views of themselves feel they are better or worth more than others. They may become prideful and arrogant. They may become self-indulgent and believe they deserve special privileges or whatever they want. And they often regard themselves much more highly than do others. Critics of self-esteem-raising efforts have raised concerns that this is precisely the self-image being developed — a narcissistic self-image characterized by arrogance, pride and boastfulness. In some cases, people in the manic phase of bipolar disorder may have an intensely inflated but false self-esteem.
    * Negative self-esteem. People with negative self-esteem believe that they are worth less than others. They put little value on their opinions and ideas and often feel ashamed of themselves.
    * Healthy self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem lies in the middle of the two extremes. It means having a balanced, accurate view of yourself. For instance, you may have a generally good opinion of yourself while recognizing that you do have some limits. With healthy self-esteem you are confident and think positively about your strengths, abilities, accomplishments and physical appearance. You like and respect yourself despite your faults but also don’t overvalue your strengths. You recognize your basic worth as an individual yet don’t think you’re better or worse than others.

Common characteristics of low self-esteem

It’s normal for people to go through times when they feel down about themselves. They lack confidence to do certain tasks and think negatively about their abilities, accomplishments or physical appearance. However, when you feel bad about yourself in many areas of life and these feelings become long-standing, then self-esteem can suffer — as well as can many areas of your life.

Low self-esteem can appear in the way you look, behave and interact with others. How do you know if you think too little of yourself? You may have some of these characteristics of low self-esteem:

    * Negative self-talk, such as, “I’m not worth other people’s time, so I shouldn’t ask for help,” “I’m a failure,” or “I’ll never amount to anything.”
    * Frequently apologizing, making self-doubting statements, or making cruel comments about yourself that you wouldn’t make about someone else.
    * Focusing on perceived flaws and weaknesses.
    * Seeking constant reassurance from others and not feeling better even with positive feedback.
    * Refusing to accept compliments or denying positive comments you get.
    * Tending to be a perfectionist who’s afraid of failure, which may impair work or school performance.

Benefits of healthy self-esteem

Healthy self-esteem can improve all aspects of life. When you value yourself, you’re open to learning and feedback from others, which increases your ability to meet and solve challenges. You have confidence in your abilities and tend to do well at school or work. You feel secure and worthwhile and have generally positive relationships with others.

With healthy self-esteem you:

    * Are less prone to painful feelings such as hopelessness, loneliness, worthlessness, guilt and shame.
    * Are assertive, which helps you express your needs and opinions confidently.
    * Have more secure and honest relationships. You’re less likely to have trouble relating to others, to be overly eager to please others at your expense, or to stay in unhealthy relationships.
    * Set realistic standards for yourself and others. This makes you less likely to criticize yourself and others, or to deliberately seek out flaws or weaknesses in yourself or others.
    * Weather stress and setbacks better. You’re often more confident and resilient when facing unexpected challenges, disappointments or illnesses.
    * Are less likely to develop certain mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, addictions, depression and anxiety disorders.

Since self-esteem affects every facet of life, having a healthy, realistic view of yourself is important. You also deserve to like and respect yourself and to be happy with your life and who you are. And remember, doing so doesn’t mean that you’ve gotten too big for your britches — it means you value yourself.

By Mayo Clinic Staff
July 24, 2007
© 1998-2008 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved

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