Essentially, self-esteem answers the question, ‘How do I feel about who I am?’ It is how we perceive our value internally and how valuable we think we are to others. We learn self-esteem in our family of origin; we do not inherit it. Global self-esteem (how we feel about who we are) generally remains static throughout our lives unless we do the work to build it.

Self-esteem affects our ability to trust our own perceptions and feelings. Without this ability, we are at the disposal of others to inform us of who we are, even though their perceptions may be highly inaccurate. Self-esteem affects our relationships with self and others, our work, our ability to make good decisions, our levels of clarity or confusion—basically every aspect of our lives. It determines whether we are living our lives with passion and purpose or fear, doubt, confusion, and stagnation. Positive self-esteem gives us the clarity, strength, and flexibility to take charge of our lives and learn from our mistakes without the fear of rejection. Indeed, raising our self-esteem involves facing and overcoming our fear of rejection.

Outward signs of positive self-esteem

The willingness and ability:

  • to take responsibility for our feelings and behaviour
  • to learn from our mistakes
  • to face our fears and step out of our comfort zone
  • to be honest with ourselves and others
  • to solve problems as opposed to avoiding them
  • to tolerate a wide range of emotions
  • to trust ones own perceptions in the face if disapproval and blame
  • to say No
  • to learn, grow, and evolve
  • to become independent as opposed to dependent or codependent
  • to become optimistic
  • to become aware of personal strengths and limitations
  • to give oneself credit for personal accomplishments and successes
  • to accept our own mistakes and the mistakes of others.

The reader will have noticed that the word willingness has been used in all of the above. This is not by accident. At the very heart of self-esteem is our will. Those who develop self-esteem, worth, and true value submit there will to something higher then themselves; whether it be love, honesty, reality, the desire to grow, God; whatever that something is! They insist on personal growth! It is really this commitment to personal growth and evolution that builds self-esteem.

As stated earlier, self-esteem is learned in our family of origin, beginning in our early childhood. When our psychological and emotional needs have not been met, we learn that we are of little value to ourselves and the world around us.

Essentially, low self-esteem is a debilitating condition that keeps individuals from realizing their full potential. A person with low self-esteem feels unworthy, incapable, inadequate, flawed, and essentially unloveable. In fact, because the person with low self-esteem feels so poorly about him or herself, these feelings actually cause the person’s continued low self-esteem. It can become a vicious circle.

Signs of low self-esteem

The following are some signs of low self esteem:

  • A feeling of being fundamentally flawed and undeserving of love and respect
  • A feeling of being inadequate or not good enough
  • A high need for approval and validation from others; needing to please
  • A tendency to avoid problems and their solutions
  • A mistrust of self and other’s—even those who show signs of affection
  • A mistrust of one’s perceptions and feelings; self-doubt, confusion
  • A fear of taking risks and stepping out of ones comfort zone
  • A difficulty accepting responsibility for ones actions
  • A high dependency on others
  • A tendency to let others make decisions for you

When we feel inadequate and flawed, we behave in ways that actually inhibit the development of self-esteem. For example, if we are people pleasers and look to others for approval (to measure our self-worth), we can not develop self-worth because self-worth has little to do with the approval of other’s and more to do with the approval of self—knowing that you are loveable and competent.

The million dollar question becomes, ‘How can I raise my self-esteem? While the solutions to building self-esteem may not be simple, they are certainly possible. Letting go of ingrained feelings and behaviors is not an easy task. Perhaps, the reason so many ‘fail’ to develop self-esteem is because it takes a lot of hard work, self-evaluation, honesty, and dedication to reality. These ‘traits’ are not necessarily inherent in us and take time to develop. Many like to take the easy/safe road which is rarely the road that builds self-esteem and confidence in who you are!

The development of self-esteem requires that we learn to ‘see’ the areas of ourselves we need to work on as well as how to overcome them. Of course, the obstacles are that most of us have ‘blinders’ and fail to see the qualities in ourselves that need to be developed. A good counsellor helps to remove the ‘blinders’ to help evaluate your self/life and look to solve problems (not avoid them as so many do).

Essentially, there are two kinds of self-esteem. The first is termed Global self-esteem (which is who we believe we are). Global self-esteem is generally fairly consistent. The second type is Situational self-esteem. Situational self-esteem fluctuates, depending on circumstances, roles, and events. Situational self-esteem can be high one moment and low the next. For example, one who normally has low global self-esteem (may fundamentally feel flawed) will automatically feel as though his situational self-esteem is high when he meets a mate and feels accepted by her. In reality, his global self-esteem has not changed, but merely the situation. In other words, he is feeling better about himself only because a situation in his life has changed and he is momentarily loved as opposed to genuinely feeling he is loveable internally (high self-esteem). In short, his deep, ingrained belief that he is flawed and inadequate remains just under the surface of consciousness. Should she reject him, his global self-esteem will immediately emerge.

Fortunately global self-esteem is not static if we work to develop it. Global self-esteem grows as we become willing—again the key word being willing—to face our fears (not run from them) and learn from our experiences. This work is most possible and stands by far the greatest chance of success with a counsellor who is trained and experienced in the area of self-esteem development.

There are also things you can do on your own to improve your self-esteem. Remember this truth–we believe what we tell ourselves, or more often, what others tell us about ourselves. It is therefore our job and our responsibility to tell ourselves the truth about who we are. The fact is, only we can do this. And in this regard, affirmations work if you stick to them.

Affirmations are a simple, positive way to help increase self-esteem. Affirmations are encouraging messages we can give ourselves every day until they become part of our feelings and beliefs. The following affirmations can help you work toward a positive self-image:

  • I respect and love myself
  • I am worthy and deserving of my desires
  • The best is yet to come
  • Everything is working out in my life
  • Things are getting better
  • I am important and competent

Of course, I recommend you develop your own that ‘speak’ to you personally as they will be more effective.

Strategies to improve self-esteem

Some strategies to improve self-esteem include:

  • Overcoming addictions: Go to a counsellor or 12 step program. Addictions prevent learning and growth and lead to increased anxiety and depression.
  • Identify your ‘triggers’ that cause low self-esteem. We tend to personalize stressful situations i.e., criticism by inferring a negative meaning about ourselves. Usually, a self-defeating behaviour follows. In other words, we hear an criticism and believe it to be true rather than step back and evaluate the ‘truth’ about it. Each situation or trigger can instead be a chance to learn something about ourselves if we face our fear of doing so and the negative beliefs about ourselves that sustain our negative self-concept.
  • Be careful about personalizing: Essentially we must develop the awareness and ability to validate our own perceptions and feelings against the negative perceptions of others. This requires a high degree of self-esteem. People with low self-esteem can feel attacked or slighted when, in fact, they are not being attacked. Rather, their insecurities are being triggered making them feel like they are being attacked.
  • Learn to acknowledge and change self-sabotaging reactions: If you have the same self-defeating thought, feeling, or behaviour about a situation, actively do something with that awareness rather than passively acknowledge it. The idea is to ‘catch’ your impulsive reaction and replace it with a different strategy of responding. You want your response to have a better effect or outcome.
  • Accept previous, self-sabotaging impulses and behaviours: Be able to see how a previous, yet now undesirable reaction/response serve to benefit you in the past. For example, perhaps anger prevented you from being abused as a child but now that same anger has become abusive. The idea is to see how a behaviour has served you so you can more easily move towards self-acceptance as opposed to guilt.
  • Disengage: Learn how to recognize and stop verbal abuse. In order to develop self-esteem, you must learn to protect yourself from control, anger, blame, and manipulation by first recognizing these, often, covert behaviours. If you suspect you are being abused, please contact me for help and information.
  • Assertion: Learn to voice what you see, feel, and want by making ‘I’ statements. By expressing your thoughts, feelings, and desires in a direct and honest manner, you show that you are in charge of your life.

All of the above are useful strategies that you can start practicing to develop self-esteem. You must be patient, yet persistent otherwise you will fall back into previous thinking and behavioural patterns. By far, the best way to build self-esteem is to seek counseling for the reasons I have previously discussed. There may be no more worthy endeavour than to develop the way in which we see and value ourselves. This truly changes our lives from the inside out!

Counselling in Saskatoon

I counsel in Saskatoon and I encourage you to contact me for further information or a consultation.

Jim Butler

© 2015