Self-esteem: Noun

A confidence and satisfaction with oneself

Mirriam-Webster Dictionary

Self-esteem is a term used to describe your overall sense of personal worth or value. Self-esteem it is not a static easily measured thing remaining constant throughout your life. Self-esteem matters as it influences thoughts and feelings, and even physical health.

Nature or Nurture?

Around half your self-worth feelings (along with personality) are inherited. Before you start blaming your mother for your life, do note your glass is also half full (as well as half empty).

Look at it this way -> half your feelings of self-worth are not inherited! There is a lot that is not understood, for now, take heart that you have some control and keep following as we talk about how you might get some of that control back.

Why do we have Self-esteem?

There are a couple of different theories, that relate to our ancestral history. One theory is we need self-esteem to cope with our awareness of our own mortality, which let’s face it, is a horrible awareness to have. Self-esteem somehow (I’m not exactly sure how) protects us from this trauma.

Another theory is that self-worth helps us create those all-important social bonds. Good self-esteem tends to drive us towards creating strong social bonds, while poor self-esteem does the opposite.

Global + Local

Self-esteem has “global” and “domain-specific” components. What does this mean? Domain-specific self-esteem relates to certain areas of your life. Obvious examples are how you look, how good you are at your job, or what kind of parent you are.

Global self-esteem is how you feel overall, on a sliding scale from very good about who you are to not very good at all, or even outright dislike.

It’s bad for your health

I’m sorry to say that low self-esteeem is linked to poorer health. This link may occur ‘via’ social support. As mentioned above there is a probable link between lower self-esteem and poorer social connections. Add to this a clear and known link between poor social connections and all manner of unpleasant mental and physical health things, even a shortened life expectancy.

It all becomes something of a vicious circle – with self-esteem lowering or damaging social interactions which lowers self-esteem and one we go.

Don’t panic if self-esteem is something you are struggling with, it isn’t your fault and there are things that can be done and resources and organisations to help.

Self-esteem has trait and state parts

Because you feel bad about yourself today does that mean you are someone who feels bad about themselves in general? The answer is no?

‘State’ and ‘trait’ are terms used often in psychology because lots of things have both ‘state’ and ‘trait’ components that can get confused. For example, you may be a calm person, but that does not mean in some situations you don’t lose your sh*t. In those moments your state level of calmness is rubbish, but that does not change your trait calmness. Unless of course, it happens all the time, because they two are related.

Think of state as the right now/in the moment and trait as overall/in general.

For example, with a combo of luck (genes) and years of work, my overall (or trait) self-esteem is good. However, there are times I don’t feel great e.g. my ‘trait’ self-esteem might be poor following a rejection letter, a poor performance, or exclusion from a friends party invitations.

You are not alone and just because you feel like shit, doesn’t mean you are shit

Jerry Colonna

What have values got to do with it?

I am not exactly sure. What I do know is that when women go through my values process they report improved self-esteem, without me actually asking. It just comes up.

The values process involves a deep dive into what makes you tick, what matters when all else falls away. You create your own 100% customised values circumplex. We then work to make your lifestyle, decisions and behaviours align with this.

I’m guessing this turns your reference point internally, becoming less concerned and less aware how others might see you.

Awareness is Queen

Self-awareness is king (or queen as I like to call it). Life is tricky and sometimes awareness is hard to do. Our thoughts are so frequent and quick we often don’t even really notice them. Journaling helps.

I wish I could suggest something a little less cringeworthy. I can suggest voice memos to yourself on your phone – but that might be worse.

Imagine if elite sportspeople were not encouraged to reflect on their performance nor given detailed expert opinions on what they could do better? Reviewing our performance is encouraged at school, work and sport, yet our life performance not so much.

Four or Three steps to help your self-esteem

The image on the left (or top on mobile) summarises (a little tongue in cheek) advice from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) CBT is a proven tool to help with a range of mental health challenges. Low self-esteem included.

Here is a little more on these four steps:

1. Think about the situations that trouble you e.g. social events, giving presentations, changing circumstances or driving on the motorway.

2. Become aware of the thoughts and beliefs you have about this situation. This can take some time, journalling or chatting to a friend or professional can help.

3. Challenge these thoughts! Ask yourself is this true? What evidence can you find to support it NOT being true? Would I say it to a friend who said this about themselves? Reviewing these common cognitive distortions might help you here.

4. Focus on some of the helpful suggestions you had when challenging yourself in step three. Try things like “sure this is tough, but I can handle it” or “my presentation might not have been perfect, but I got some of my points across at least”. It is important not to go all positive affirmation crazy. By which I mean don’t repeat or chant totally unrealistic things that your mind isn’t going to thank you for e.g. “that was the best presentation in the universe, I can’t wait to make another one”.

But wait there is more. If you don’t enjoy the CBT approach, and third wave tool is ‘on the market’. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). ACT brings in ideas of mindfulness, acceptance and values. So clearly I am mad for it.

A great ACT tip for getting some distance from your negative thoughts about your self-esteem seems counter-intuitive. Try repeating them over and over, or writing them in a funny way, say them in a funny voice, maybe even sing a song about them. This helps you see they are just words, they are harmless in themselves.

Then instead of trying to argue logically with these thoughts, as you might in CBT, ACT would suggest you sit with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, using mindfulness techniques.

Not sure whether ACT or CBT is for you? Try them both see what works for you. Let me know how you go?


Has this raised some upsetting issues for you – help is at hand, do please reach out.

For more see ‘Self-esteem Research: 20 most fascinating Findings’ on positive psychology dot com

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