“Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right.” – Henry Ford
Self-esteem relates to your appreciative and realistic opinion of yourself. When we go too far in either direction on the continuum of self-esteem we move towards either self-defeating shame or self-defeating pride. A healthy sense of self-esteem requires a balance between these two poles.
You may identify with times in life when you have felt an overwhelming sense of pride over an accomplishment as well as times when you have felt an incredible sense of shame. Both of these emotions can be overpowering and cannot be sustained in the long-term. This is why it is so important to works towards cultivating a realistic and balanced appreciation of the self. This is a state of being that can be maintained over time and leads to a calm sense of peace and contentment.
The Self-Esteem Workbook (Shiraldi, 2001) offers insight into 7 basic concepts related to self-esteem:
Your sense of identity can be found through asking the question, “Who am I?” Some people may respond to this question with words such as: mother, husband, writer, student, or son. These are all labels that we affix to ourselves as being parts of who we are. These labels provide us with a sense of who we are across different contexts and in different situations.
Sometimes we identify more with different parts of ourselves depending upon which group of friends we’re with or whether we’re in a professional or social context. This is normal and healthy. Labels that we affix to our identity may become problematic when we overly identify with any one role (e.g., student) and then we when no longer are a student, we feel a sense of emptiness or lack of a coherent self. The solution to this potential problem is to make sure that we have a diverse set of interests and relationships, so that we see ourselves as “more than” any one part of ourselves.
This relates to our ability to value, enjoy, and express gratitude for what we have: personal strengths, accomplishments, and relationships. It is important to remember that part of appreciation as it relates to a healthy sense of self-esteem involves accurately estimating the quality/worth of someone/something.
When we idealize someone/something, we falsely attribute positive qualities to the person/thing that it does not truly have. On the other hand, when we devalue someone/something, we falsely attribute negative qualities to the person/thing that it does not in fact have. Practicing mindfulness encourages us to step into the role of observer, which can strengthen the ability to see things as they truly are.
This involves one’s ability to receive things from others in a favorable way. Many people have great difficulty receiving things from others – compliments, favors, love, gratitude, etc. If this is this case, it can be helpful to reflect on when you learned that you were undeserving or uncomfortable with receiving from others. It is in our nature to enjoy receiving love and appreciation from others, and when this is stunted or painful, it is worth considering where these false beliefs have come from.
Self-acceptance involves the ability to believe in and receive yourself in a favorable light. This can be difficult when there are parts of the self that we are fundamentally opposed to or feel intense shame towards. In order to build healthy self-esteem, it is crucial to work towards an ability to honestly acknowledge all parts of the self and accept all of these disparate parts. When there are parts of the self that seem unforgivable or unacceptable in some way, it is time to begin the process of forgiveness. Once we forgive the self, we can then choose how we would like to be different moving forward.
This refers to a general belief in your own abilities and is related to competence and self-efficacy. As we become more competent in different areas of life, the result is a natural rise in confidence. The trick is that in order to become more competent, we have to be willing to take the risk involved in trying new things and persisting in the face of defeat or adversity.
Someone with a strong sense of self-confidence might have a deep-seated belief that given the time, practice, and experience, anyone can accomplish just about anything. While success rarely comes quickly or completely, the decision to persevere and continue to move in the direction of one’s goals is the beginning of developing self-confidence. It’s not about speed, but about continued movement in the direction of your goals.
There are two types of pride: self-defeating pride and healthy pride. When a person is immersed in self-defeating pride, they have a sense of superiority or greater value than other people. These people typically come off to others as grandiose or obnoxious and are often tragically unaware of their own hubris. This unhealthy type of pride is usually rooted in fear and insecurity as well as an excessive need to be admired by others.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is healthy pride, which is a realistic sense of one’s own worth or dignity. An individual with a healthy sense of pride has self-respect and feels both gratitude and delight in his/her personal accomplishments, talents, or service. Healthy pride is cultivated by allowing yourself to feel proud of your accomplishments and hard work without the need to embellish the facts. These individuals are aware of both their strengths and their weaknesses and are comfortable with praise from themselves and others.
As with pride, there are two types of humility: self-defeating humility and healthy humility. Self-defeating humility involves a total lack of self-respect – the sense that oneself is worthless, spineless, or contemptible. Sometimes people choose to ruminate excessively, which can lead to a sense of self-defeating humility. Dwelling on painful events from the past or unpleasant truths about the self rarely solves anything.
Some people confuse self-esteem with being selfish. The true purpose of self-esteem is to transcend the self, not to excessively focus on the self. It is not “selfish” to feel proud of yourself when do something great, nor is it “selfish” to feel that you deserve love or respect. Recall from the previous basic concepts of self-esteem that these constructs exist on a continuum.
The point is to remember that balance is an intrinsic aspect of healthy self-esteem. Too much selfishness leads to arrogance, entitlement, and lack of compassion for others. Too little selfishness leads to allows oneself to be used by others, acting against one’s own best interest, and missing out on deserved opportunities.
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Schiraldi, G.R. (2001). The self-esteem workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Featured image: Self-Esteem Storage – 49/365 by Jamiesrabbits / CC BY 2.0