Everyday Concerns, Future Consequences Part 2: Self-Esteem

Posted on 11/19/10 by erynwicker

Therapist and author Virginia Satir once wrote: “We need to see ourselves as basic miracles.” Sounds nice, and why shouldn’t it – I ask that you keep it in mind as you continue reading.

We are into our second week of exploring everyday concerns that, if left alone to deepen and worsen, can become overwhelming with substantial future impact. Last week we covered grief and losses, paying particular attention to understanding, respecting, and coping with the more subtle losses. Hopefully, what we each took away from that was the ability to give ourselves permission to acknowledge and heal from losses that are less traditional but still influential. This week we explore the realm of self-esteem, namely low self-esteem, and what role this can play in our sense of well-being, both now and in the future.

On an average day our thoughts and feelings about ourselves can fluctuate, based somewhat on our daily experiences and encounters. For example, today I didn’t make time for breakfast and was annoyed at myself, then as I was leaving the house a neighbour commented on how nice my flower garden looked and I felt proud of my efforts, then a client didn’t show up for an appointment and I wondered if it was something about me, and then a friend stopped by my office to say she was thinking about me and to bring me a Slurpee and I felt cared for. Typically, the self-talk related to these events only has a temporary impact upon how we feel about ourselves. However, our self-esteem is fundamentally more than the ups and downs created by situational influences. For those individuals with good or high self-esteem the fluctuations may cause no more than a hiccup in how they feel about themselves; while, to those with poor or low self-esteem these ups and downs may have a dramatic impact upon their worlds.

Self-esteem develops over time and throughout our lives as we create an image and opinion of ourselves based upon our values, experiences, achievements, strengths and weaknesses.  Our childhoods certainly play a considerable role in the shaping of our basic self-esteem, although it continues to develop as time progresses as well. I read a research article not that long ago that stated, “If you want to have self-esteem then you need to choose your parents well.” Ahh… if only it was that easy. While it’s true that parents model healthy self-esteem to their children, the opposite is also accurate. So, while some parents are loving, encouraging, giving of time, validating, and expressing interest consistently and frequently; others are criticizing, yelling, ignoring, pointing out failures, and ridiculing. However, we also have to allow room for the concept that self-esteem develops somewhat independently of parental characteristics and childhood environments as we also cultivate our value from our skills, personality traits, talents, acceptance from others, place and purpose in the world, potential for success, and social status.

It would seem then that self-esteem is related to our overall satisfaction with life. It’s centrality to our emotional and physical health and well-being means then that just as high self-esteem contributes to our success and confidence, low self-esteem can have devastating consequences. Similar to the line I read while gathering materials for this article: “wounded self-esteem is the root of many emotional problems.” Research has shown then that low self-esteem can contribute to the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Negative impact upon friendships and relationships
  • Impairment of job and/or academic performance
  • Social difficulties – withdrawal, isolation
  • Alcohol and/or drug misuse
  • Psychosomatic illness – headaches, stomachaches, fatigue
  • Hostility, anger
  • Mistreatment of spouse and/or children
  • Entering into unhappy/abusive relationships
  • Eating disorders and unhealthy dieting
  • Poor communication (defensive, non-assertive, critical)
  • Engagement in risky behaviours – promiscuity
  • Dependency
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Tendency to put on a false front to impress others

Unfortunately, it can become a case of damaged self-esteem being both a cause and effect where low self-esteem leads to the negative consequences which in turn reinforce the negative self-image, and the cycle cycles round and round with the person wondering whether and where they can interject some influence.

However, a person’s level of self-esteem is not fixed and constant but can change over time, and nor are the consequences irreversible. This provides hope that improvement is possible; however, it takes practice, patience, and perseverance because changing how we feel requires changing how we think. But, most importantly and firstly, it requires believing that you can transform your self-esteem. Once you have that you can hold onto it tightly and run with it and know that lasting relationships, nurturing communities, actualized dreams, and doubts overcome are just footsteps away.

Please find below some proven steps towards the improvement of your self-esteem:

  1. Challenge and quiet down the inner critic (negative self-talk) and turn up the volume on the accepting and praising voice by being kind, reassuring, objective, and rationale to yourself with your ‘come-back statements’ (for example, “I can do this”, “This may have nothing to do with me”, “One mistake doesn’t ruin everything”)
  2. Practice Self-Nurturing
  • Self care – eat well, sleep enough, exercise regularly, and practice good hygiene
  • Plan fun and relaxing things to do – movie, massage, garden, etc
  • Reward yourself for your accomplishments – compliment self and celebrate achievements (even the little ones)
  • Remind yourself of your strengths – create and maintain a success file
  • Forgive yourself – not everyday will be perfect now that you are making changes to improving your self-esteem sp take it easy on yourself
  • Fake it until you can make it – just until you and others believe it for real

3.  Seek out Support – from friends, family, and/or professionals

If you or someone you know has questions concerning self esteem, particularly chronic low self-esteem, with regard to impact of, how to overcome, ways to improve, relationship to other concerns, etc. please contact a helping professional such as a registered psychologist or clinical counsellor.

Some resources that might provide further information and/or assistance are: Ten Days to Self-Esteem by D. Burns, Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem by M. McKay & P. Fanning and The Self-Esteem Workbook by G. Schiraldi.