Low self-esteem has long been associated with depression.
Aaron Beck, a pioneer of the illness, included it in his “Paradoxes of Depression” which describe the mental traps depressed folk seem to have their brains consumed by.
He noted that over 80% of clients were plagued with these distorted parts of themselves.
I know I have heard a lot about a low self-esteem, although, now, I can admit I never really knew what it was nor the influence it had upon my behavior and consequently, my life.
So, what is it?
Simply put; a low self-esteem is a below average evaluation, of ourselves.
Specifically, our own worth.
Imagine someone asking us a question like:
“If you were to look at your self, who you are, how do you feel about it?”
If we answered with something along the lines of, “Not too good”, this may be an indication of self-esteem in the decline or perhaps already in the dumps.
If this is true, it should be a concern as some theories propose a healthy self-esteem being a predictor in different types of success, happiness and achievement.
So that we may grasp this in a way that would prove beneficial for us if we get the urge to attempt the repair, it may be better to understand what the self actually is.
That is, when we evaluate our “self”, what exactly are we looking at?
The self, is an individual person, us.
However, since humans are cool, we have the capacity to reflect upon this “self” and, cast our own ideas about it.
The self, is composed of 4 categories:
1. self-concept- is a collection of beliefs about oneself. (Who am I?)
2. self-knowledge – a collection of information we have about ourself. (What am I like?)
3. social self – a collection of information of us conveyed to others through actions, self-descriptions, appearance, and social interactions. (What am I to others?)
4. self-esteem – the evaluation of ourselves (What am I worth?)
I have read that a low self-esteem is the indication of a disrupted self-identity, or, self-concept.
As we can see, this essentially means the beliefs we have about our self are jacked up, namely, the worth we then give ourselves as a result of these beliefs.
So, how do these beliefs emerge?
How does one come to the point where they are giving themselves an “F” instead of an “A”?
How do some humans value themselves greatly, and, others, have a hard time even looking in the mirror?
This can best be answered by looking at what regulates self-esteem and what breaks it.
As noted above, self-esteem is an evaluation of our own worth.
Depending on this evaluation, there tends to be three categories we fall in:
-Firmly believe in themselves or their values they live by.
-Don’t worry of what others think.
-Not worried about past or future.
-Trust their ability to solve problems.
– Consider themselves equal to others, enjoy many activities, sensitive to others, find solutions without belittling themselves.
-Sometimes the person can have an inflated ego, thinking they are better than others.
-Trouble in relationships, difficult listening to others as well as critique themselves.
-Blame everyone and everything.
-Undervalue others, defensive and borderline narcissistic.
-Hypersensitive, exaggerate fear of making mistakes.
-Envious, general defensiveness, dwell on past mistakes.
-Irritability, resentful, depend on approval of others as well as praise.
There are also states that have been created by the psychologist, Martin Ross, to describe the differences in “feats” the person has or has the likelihood of attaining.
Those that seem to not attain much have created an “anti-feat” connected to it, and as a result fail to attain the thing.
Individual does not value themselves or feel lovable. Overwhelmed by defeat, shame or see themselves as their “anti-feat”.
Example: reaching a certain age becomes an anti-feat if the person then uses the, “I’m old” reason for not taking action, as well as defining themselves to it.
General positive self-image, but self-esteem is vulnerable, and so appear slightly defensive, nervous, and use defense mechanisms, avoid decision making, seem self-confident but may be the opposite, blame others to protect fragile ego, may declare independence from social acceptance but desire it in extremes.
Positive self-image, strong enough not to let “anti-feats” take over their self-esteem, less fear of failure, humble, cheerful and do not boast about feats, fight with all their might to reach goals, don’t care about social prestige with more happiness and well-being.
The development of self esteem happens at a young age and according to some psychologists, it begins when we are just babies.
Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist with more than 40 years of experience on the subject, says most sources of self esteem are developed by life experiences.
These experiences begin at home.
Growing up with unconditional love helps us have a better sense of being cared for and being deserving of it.
Growing up with the opposite will have the opposite effect, and we may not ever know we should or deserved to be loved.
One of the best known theories in regards to self-esteem is “The Hierarchy of Needs” by Abraham Maslow.
The pyramid in itself is a theory on motivation and the prerequisites needed to achieve things in life, or achieve all they would be capable of.
However, there are development phases that without the one before, there is no way for the next to develop properly.
For instance, without food and water we perish. The human will not want to achieve anything beyond theses needs, and according to Maslow, will not want to want to seek any intrinsic satisfaction (inward wants and desires).
Once that has been established, safety needs take over.
Safety for our livelihood as well as our emotions. If the human does not feel safe it will venture elsewhere. Making the next level impossible to reach.
The next driver is belonging, and this is most commonly seen in children who want it so much, they attach themselves to even abusive people.
Intimacy, friendships, family, and being accepted is crucial to the next phase: self-esteem.
As we can see, basic physiological and psychological steps are needed before esteem can develop, allowing the person to possibly reach achievement in their life.
Michael Argyle, a social psychologist out of the University of Oxford, believes 4 things contribute to someones self-esteem.
1. THE REACTION OF OTHERS-
If people admire us, flatter us, seek out our company, listen attentively and agree with us we tend to develop a positive self-image. If they avoid us, neglect us, tell us things about ourselves that we don’t want to hear we develop a negative self-image.
2.COMPARISON WITH OTHERS-
If the people we compare ourselves with (our reference group)appear to be more successful, happier, richer, better looking than ourselves we tend to develop a negative self image BUT if they are less successful than us our image will be positive.
3. SOCIAL ROLES-
Some social roles carry prestige e.g. doctor, airline pilot, TV. presenter, premiership footballer and this promotes self-esteem. Other roles carry stigma. E.g. prisoner, mental hospital patient, refuse collector or unemployed person.
Roles aren’t just “out there.” They also become part of our personality i.e. we identity with the positions we occupy, the roles we play and the groups we belong to.
So what exactly has to happen to build our self-esteem if it happens to be in the not so high zone?
I suppose one could find many different answers to that question, and we should seek those out.
However, I think the idea above provided by those that have studied “the self” for longer than any of us, would prove useful in extracting from or implementing in, to our lives.
We will look at one way to identify why it is low, and perhaps what was missing for it to build.
We will do so by cool things called questions. (yippie!)
As stated above, in this pyramid, a human cannot begin to develop a healthy self-esteem without certain elements already present in their life.
So let us go over each level again but a bag full of question marks.
Level 1 – Physiological
Do we have food and water?
A warm or cool place to stay?
I know people that don’t and would never admit to it, however, in this case, this is something to consider.
All other levels build upon this one, and we can never begin to feel better about ourselves if we can’t find shelter or food or sleep.
Level 2 – Safety
We like order.
We want things stable.
Do we have enough money to eat?
Do we have enough money to pay the bills?
Do we feel safe where we are?
Physically or emotionally, do we feel secure?
How is our health?
Level 3 – Love and Belongingness Needs
Do we feel like we belong?
Do those around us show us they want us there?
Do we have friends?
Do our families love us?
Do we trust others?
Do we belong to any groups?
Are we accepted by those in our family or work?
Do we have a hard time receiving or giving love?
Level 4 – Esteem Needs
Do we respect ourselves?
Do we desire respect from others?
Do we deserve respect?
Have we achieved what we want?
Do we think we have what it takes to achieve?
Are we confident in our place in the world?
Have we developed any skill?
Level 5 – Self-Actualization
What is our potential?
What could we accomplish if we really wanted to?
Are we growing as a person?
Do we want to grow as a person?
What are the major difference in ourselves from 10 years ago?
Have we experienced the moments we want to in our life?
Are we who we want to be?
Are we where we always wanted to go?
What to do with these quesions?
Well, find the answer of course.
If our answer is a big “NO” to all, the idea would be to find out why.
After this, perhaps find a way to make it a “YES”, one day.
Find what is needed to make those adjustments.
Each phase builds to the next, and in regards to self-esteem, we can analyze what kinks could be there causing a disruption alignment for a better view of ourselves.
Caution: these questions may be hard to ask, and the answers difficult to find.
However, if they lead to something that is preventing our self-esteem’s to rise, it may be worth the work.
The only reason I sit here and type this is that; a self-esteem that is lower than normal can thwart the possibilities of our lives.
All of the things that could happen, things that we would want and even find fulfillment in experiencing, will pass us by no different than a breeze of air on a cloudy day.
There is a reason our self-esteem is broken and needs repair.
A responsibility only we can accomplish.
Also stated above, the self is made up of four categories.
- social self
And our esteem is an evaluation of ourselves. So, if we give ourselves a low value, and feel like we are people that aren’t who we would want to be, again, just ask why.
A very simple exercise:
Get 3 sheets of paper.
Title one, “Things I dislike”.
Title second, “Things I Like”.
And the third, “Things I Want”.
Now, we write stuff down.
It could be anything we dislike; our hair style, house color, career, etc.
It could be anything we like; salt-n-vinegar chips, body type, lizards, etc.
It could be anything we want; bigger house, new job, travel to Africa to watch a lion hunt, etc,
Try and be as specific as possible and write down as many things as you can think of.
The results of this will yield valuable information.
Information we may have never thought about.
Although, the main concept behind this is getting a better look at our life, and ourselves.
We humans don’t think about some things, or, “block them out” of our thinking if they are associated with emotions we don’t want to feel.
This may be okay in some cases, but if we desire change, these are the avenues we must go down.
Laying it all out on the table, as the phrase goes, is what this is.
We get to see what we are working with.
We can see what we like so we can get more of it.
We can see what we dislike so we can learn to remove it.
We can see what we want so to add in our lives, which may be the missing pieces we needed all along.
THIS SELF-ESTEEM THING IS NOT A EASY FIX
It could be, but in most cases this is doubful.
This is okay.
Most anything worth having or doing requires time and energy.
But if that means getting closer to who we always wanted to be and having an ice-cold drink if the life we always wanted; I think we won’t regret a single second when we look back one day at all of the change we made.