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Self-Esteem: What It Is, How It Develops, and How It Affects You

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Self-esteem is a term that you may have heard a lot, but what does it really mean? And why is it important for your well-being? In this article, we will explore the definition, development, and effects of self-esteem, as well as some tips on how to improve it.

love yourself

What is Self-Esteem?

According to the American Psychological Association, self-esteem is "the degree to which the qualities and characteristics contained in one's self-concept are perceived to be positive". In other words, self-esteem is how you feel about yourself as a person, and how much you value yourself.

Self-esteem is not a fixed trait that you are born with. It is a subjective and dynamic evaluation that can change over time and in different situations. It is also not the same as self-confidence, which is your belief in your abilities to perform specific tasks or achieve certain goals.

How Self-Esteem Develops

Self-esteem develops throughout your life, starting from your early childhood. There are many factors that can influence your self-esteem, such as:

- Genetic factors: Some studies suggest that there may be a genetic component to self-esteem, as it tends to run in families. However, this does not mean that you are doomed to have low or high self-esteem based on your genes. Environmental factors can also play a role in shaping your self-esteem.

- Early childhood experiences: The way you were treated by your parents, caregivers, teachers, and peers in your early years can have a lasting impact on your self-esteem. For example, if you received consistent love, support, praise, and encouragement from your caregivers, you are more likely to develop a positive self-image and high self-esteem. On the other hand, if you experienced neglect, abuse, criticism, or rejection from your caregivers, you are more likely to develop a negative self-image and low self-esteem.

- Personality traits: Some personality traits can affect your self-esteem, such as extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. For example, extraverts tend to have higher self-esteem than introverts, as they are more outgoing and sociable. Neurotics tend to have lower self-esteem than emotionally stable people, as they are more prone to anxiety and depression. Agreeable people tend to have higher self-esteem than disagreeable people, as they are more cooperative and friendly. Conscientious people tend to have higher self-esteem than unconscientious people, as they are more organized and responsible. Open people tend to have higher self-esteem than closed people, as they are more curious and creative.

- Social factors: The society and culture you live in can also affect your self-esteem, especially if you belong to a marginalized or oppressed group. For example, if you face racism, sexism, homophobia, or other forms of discrimination or prejudice because of your race, gender, sexual orientation, or other aspects of your identity, you may experience lower self-esteem than those who do not face such challenges.

How Self-Esteem Affects You

Self-esteem impacts your decision-making process. When you have healthy self-esteem, you are more likely to make choices that align with your values and goals. You are also more likely to take risks and learn from your mistakes. On the other hand, when you have low self-esteem, you may doubt yourself and avoid challenges. You may also settle for less than what you deserve or compromise your integrity.

Self-esteem affects your relationships. When you have healthy self-esteem, you are more likely to have positive and supportive relationships with yourself and others. You are also more likely to respect yourself and others, communicate your needs and boundaries, and handle conflicts constructively. On the other hand, when you have low self-esteem, you may struggle with trust and intimacy. You may also tolerate abuse or neglect, or become dependent or codependent.

Self-esteem affects your emotional health. When you have healthy self-esteem, you are more likely to cope with stress and emotions effectively. You are also more likely to feel happy, confident, and optimistic. On the other hand, when you have low self-esteem, you may experience anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. You may also feel insecure, inadequate, or hopeless.

Self-esteem affects your overall well-being. When you have healthy self-esteem, you are more likely to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. You are also more likely to pursue your passions and fulfill your potential. On the other hand, when you have low self-esteem, you may neglect your health and well-being. You may also limit your opportunities and achievements.

How to Improve Self-Esteem

You can improve your self-esteem by becoming more aware of negative thoughts, challenging negative thinking patterns, using positive self-talk, practicing self-compassion, and seeking professional help if needed.

Becoming more aware of negative thoughts. Negative thoughts are the inner critic that tells you that you are not good enough, smart enough, attractive enough, or worthy enough. Negative thoughts can lower your self-esteem and affect your mood and behavior. To improve your self-esteem, you need to become more aware of these thoughts and how they affect you.

Challenging negative thinking patterns. Negative thinking patterns are the distorted ways of interpreting reality that reinforce negative thoughts. Some common negative thinking patterns are:

- All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing things in black-and-white terms, such as "I'm either a success or a failure."

- Overgeneralization: Making sweeping conclusions based on a single event, such as "I failed this test, so I'm stupid."

- Mental filtering: Focusing on the negative aspects of a situation and ignoring the positive ones, such as "I made a mistake in my presentation, so it was a disaster."

- Disqualifying the positive: Rejecting positive feedback or experiences as exceptions or flukes, such as "They said I did a good job, but they were just being nice."

- Jumping to conclusions: Assuming the worst without evidence or reason, such as "They didn't reply to my message, so they must hate me."

- Magnification or minimization: Exaggerating the importance of negative events or downplaying the importance of positive ones, such as "I forgot to say thank you, so I'm a rude person."

- Emotional reasoning: Believing that your feelings reflect reality, such as "I feel worthless, so I am worthless."

- Should statements: Imposing unrealistic expectations or standards on yourself or others, such as "I should be perfect at everything."

To improve your self-esteem, you need to challenge these negative thinking patterns and replace them with more realistic and balanced ones.

happy old man

Using positive self-talk

Positive self-talk is a way of talking to yourself that helps you feel more confident, motivated, and optimistic. It can also reduce stress and improve your mood. Positive self-talk is not about lying to yourself or being unrealistic. It is about focusing on the good aspects of yourself and your situation, and finding ways to overcome challenges. Some examples of positive self-talk are:

- I am capable and competent.

- I can handle this situation.

- I have done well before and I can do it again.

- I am proud of myself for trying.

- I am learning from my mistakes.

- I have strengths and skills that I can use.

- I deserve respect and kindness.

- I am doing my best.

- I have people who support me.

- I am grateful for what I have.

happy girl jumping

In conclusion, self-esteem is a crucial factor for our well-being and happiness. It affects how we see ourselves, how we relate to others, and how we cope with challenges. Having a healthy self-esteem means accepting and appreciating ourselves for who we are, without depending on external validation. It also means being confident in our abilities, but realistic about our limitations. We can improve our self-esteem by practicing positive self-talk, setting realistic goals, celebrating our achievements, and seeking support when needed. By doing so, we can enhance our quality of life and achieve our full potential.


Hello,I'm Simin Liang, a subconscious rewiring therapist.  

If you tried everything, and it still doesn't work, then it's time to look inside. 

Feel free to join our forum anonymously and share your true feelings, I will offer personalized advice if you love to.

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