Let’s Talk About Self-Esteem
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is often used interchangeably with self-confidence. While self-esteem and self-confidence are related concepts, they are distinct from each other. Since both are important, let’s look at how the two differ.
- Self-confidence is more specific and focuses on belief in one’s abilities and skills to accomplish specific tasks or goals. This attitude is projected externally to the outside world. Self-confidence is often situation-dependent, meaning that an individual may feel confident in certain areas of their lives but not in others. For example, someone may feel confident in public speaking but lack confidence in their artistic abilities. Self-confidence can be built through experience, knowledge, practice, and achievements in a particular domain.
- Self-esteem is measure of self-regard that cannot be observed by others. It is a broader concept that encompasses an individual’s subjective evaluation of themselves as a whole. This includes self-image, self-worth and self-acceptance. Self-esteem is influenced by various factors, including past experiences, achievements, relationships, and internal beliefs.
In short, self-esteem is a broader, more holistic evaluation of one’s self-worth and value as a person, while self-confidence is a belief in one’s abilities and competence in specific areas or tasks. Self-esteem relates to how you perceive and feel about yourself overall, while self-confidence relates to your belief in your abilities to accomplish specific goals or tasks.
How does self-esteem impact mental health?
Self-esteem plays a significant role in shaping one’s behavior, emotions, and overall well-being. People with high self-esteem see themselves as generally good and capable beings. That’s not to say they don’t experience self-doubt and insecurity as much as anyone else. Rather, they are able to maintain a balanced, accurate attitude toward themselves and recognize flaws without negative value judgement.
On the other hand, low self-esteem can lead to negative self-perception, self-doubt, and feelings of inadequacy. Individuals with low self-esteem often have a tendency to be overly self-critical, doubt their abilities, and have a fear of failure or rejection. This can hinder personal growth, relationships, and overall life satisfaction.
People with low self-esteem may also:
- struggle with forming and maintaining healthy relationships, as they may doubt their own worth, feel unworthy of love or respect
- tolerate mistreatment within a relationship or settle for unhealthy dynamic
- experience emotional distress, anxiety and depression
- have difficulty managing stress.
- fixate on their perceived weaknesses and faults
- have difficulty accepting positive feedback
- fear failure and avoid taking on new challenges
What causes low self-esteem?
Self-esteem is influenced by various factors, including past experiences, achievements, relationships, and internal beliefs. Everyone experiences moments of rejection, failure and insecurity to some extent. However, people can engage in certain behaviors, either consciously or unconsciously, that exacerbate and perpetuate these insecurities to an extent where they begin to become an internalized belief.
- High Standards and Fear of Failure: Perfectionism involves setting excessively high standards for oneself and having a strong desire to avoid making mistakes or falling short of those standards. People with low self-esteem may use perfectionism as a way to gain external validation or to prove their worth. They may believe that if they can achieve perfection, they will be more likely to be accepted and valued by others. However, the fear of failure and the constant pressure to be perfect can contribute to a negative self-perception and reinforce feelings of low self-esteem when those high standards cannot be consistently met.
- Self-Criticism and Negative Self-Image: Perfectionism often leads to intense self-criticism and a focus on perceived flaws or mistakes. Individuals with low self-esteem may be particularly harsh and unforgiving toward themselves when they don’t meet their own impossibly high standards. This self-critical attitude can further reinforce negative self-perceptions and contribute to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth.
- Conditional Self-Worth: Individuals with low self-esteem may believe that their worth is contingent upon their ability to be perfect or meet certain expectations. When they perceive themselves as falling short of these standards, their self-esteem suffers. This conditional self-worth can be detrimental because it leaves little room for self-compassion and acceptance, leading to a constant cycle of striving for unattainable perfection and feeling inadequate.
- Early Life Experiences: The experiences and relationships individuals have during childhood and adolescence can significantly impact their self-esteem. Negative experiences such as abuse, neglect, bullying, or harsh criticism can contribute to feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. Lack of support, encouragement, or positive role models can also affect self-esteem development.
How can I improve my self-esteem?
To address the connection between low self-esteem and perfectionism, it’s essential to challenge unrealistic standards, develop self-compassion, and foster a more balanced and accepting view of oneself. This may involve setting realistic goals, embracing mistakes as opportunities for growth, practicing self-care and self-acceptance and reevaluating the value placed on external validation. A mental health professional will be able to help you apply these strategies to your specific needs.
In the meantime, these simple techniques can help you develop healthier patterns of thinking and behavior:
- Mindfulness When feeling frustrated, overwhelmed or irritated, ask yourself: What do I observe? What do I feel? What do I need right now? If you are unable to provide yourself with what you need, don’t be afraid to seek out support from others
- How would you treat a friend? This is a simple way to practice self-compassion. Sometimes it’s easier to be kind and supportive to other people than it is to ourselves. When grappling with a painful experience, ask yourself how you would respond to a friend who was coping with the same thing.
- Journaling: Reflect upon the day and without censorship or judgement, write down anything that caused you to feel badly. Be sure to include kind words of reassurance or comfort about your experiences such as “this was a really tough day for me and I am feeling emotionally raw. I will be gentle with myself until it subsides.”
Seeking Mental Health Support
Building and maintaining healthy self-esteem is a lifelong process that involves self-reflection, self-acceptance, and self-care. If you want to take steps to prioritize your self-esteem, consider scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center. Meet our team to learn more!