“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Self-esteem is how we value ourselves. It is how we perceive our value to the world and how valuable we think we are to others. Self-esteem affects our trust in others, our relationships, our work – nearly every part of our lives. Positive self-esteem gives us the strength and flexibility to take charge of our lives and grow from our mistakes without the fear of rejections. Low self-esteem keeps us from realizing our full potential. A person with low self-esteem feels unworthy, incapable, and incompetent.
While some people experience chronic low self-esteem, many of us will have fluctuations in how we feel about ourselves. A major component of self-esteem is the nature of our self-talk. For example, if you trip on the sidewalk you may say to yourself “Why am I so clumsy and stupid?”. This can trigger more negative self-talk and effect the way you experience yourself for the rest of the day. One way to address this is to develop positive self-talk. When you trip on the sidewalk, you could say to yourself “Someone needs to fix that crack in the sidewalk. It wasn’t my fault I tripped.”
For some people, this negative self-talk is an internalization of external messages they heard from adults while they were young. These messages can become so ingrained that it becomes difficult to develop a different way of thinking. Youth are especially vulnerable to developing low self-esteem. There are so many messages in our culture about how to look and behave, that it is common for youth to feel that they fall short. Youth often feel that they will never meet others expectations of them.
When helping one to achieve a healthy self-esteem, it is important to examine the expectations that they have of themselves and that they feel others have of them. These expectations may not be realistic or achievable. Simply adjusting those expectations can bring a lot of relief. Also helping one to develop self-compassion and self-acceptance is crucial. Learning to value and love yourself is an important part of self-growth.