Self-Esteem: Things You Didn’t Know

Self-esteem is often described interchangeably as self-respect, self-integrity, self-worth and self-regard. It refers to one’s overall sense of worth and personal value or as an opinion of one self and ones abilities. It is important because it affects how we interact with life and deal with life as a whole.

Self-esteem is defined as high, normal or low and the desired level of self-esteem is high or normal. This is because it can be considered as a basic human need according to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. It is the need of self-respect and respect from others that enables one to live a balanced and productive life.

Very often the impact of self-esteem isn’t obvious or well recognized. Self-esteem affects whether you like and value yourself, can make decisions and be assertive, are kind to yourself and take time for yourself, can try new or different things, can move past mistakes without blaming yourself unfairly and recognize your strengths. It is a common determinant of the temperature of life and directly affects the quality of the same.

When it is strong, self-esteem may make one convinced that they deserve happiness and this increases ones capacity to treat other people kindly and with respect. A higher self-esteem is associated with better ability to cope with stress and take on different tasks and adjust to life and its respective seasons and changes so this is the desired way to live.

Self-esteem develops from life experiences and starts early in life. Parents have a significant influence on their children’s self-esteem especially in the early years. Healthy self-esteem results from being listened to, spoken to respectfully, receiving appropriate attention and affection, having accomplishments recognized and mistakes or failures acknowledged and accepted. Additionally, genetic factors, mental health issues, socio-economic status or physical appearance can play a role in self-esteem.

Low self-esteem may result from harsh criticism being ignored, ridiculed or teased, expected to be perfect and abuse whether physical, sexual or emotional. Having low self-esteem is not a mental health problem in itself but it can be linked to depression and anxiety. Some experiences of low self-esteem can be signs of mental health problems if they last for long and affect one’s daily life. They may include feeling worthless or hopeless, blaming oneself unfairly, worrying about not being able to do things and hating oneself. Low self-esteem can have an impact on one’s happiness and quality of life.

Common signs of low self-esteem include social withdrawal, irritability or hostility, sensitivity to criticism, intense focus on personal problems, negative thoughts or self, feeling worthless, experiencing shame after failures, and physical problems which include fatigue, headaches and lack of sleep.

In the diagnosis process, some of the most common experiences to consider in relation to self-esteem include:

  • You feel like you hate yourself

  • You think you bring nothing to the table

  • You are over sensitive

  • You always want to be perfect

  • You often feel angry

  • You always want to please people

  • You hate your body

  • You are fearful and anxious

Low self-esteem can be dealt with and there are several things one can do.

Professional help: It is important to seek help from a mental health worker and undergo counselling or psychotherapy. This can help with one learn about the negative thoughts and biases they experience, how to avoid them and how to change certain memories to focus on.

Self-Talk: This is the things an individual says to themselves either consciously or unconsciously. It is important to identify if self-talk is positive or negative. If negative, the focus is to change it and not critique oneself too much, make an effort to be kind to yourself and learn to use positive self-talk.

Shift Focus: Focus on the things you can change instead of clinging to the past. Try to come to terms with the past and you only have control over what is going on. This could be to change a relationship you can change, a job you can move from, weight you can lose or things you can walk away from.

Take small daily actions: There are a few things that if done consistently and create change. Doing a few tasks at a time every day will create progressive change that will shift one’s self-esteem.

  • Forgive yourself for your mistakes

  • Avoid perfectionism and set realistic expectations for yourself

  • Don’t be stuck on details but see the bigger picture

  • Avoid comparing yourself to others as it steals your joy and leads to insecurity

  • Take care of your health: mind your diet and exercise regularly

  • Take care of your appearance; grooming

  • Do not be oversensitive

  • Do not dwell on past hurts; move on

  • When you are angered: learn to remain calm and do not allow hurt or feelings to build up

  • Do not over commit then feel bitter as you struggle to cope – only agree to take on what you can do and what you like to do Learn to say NO; do not please everyone at your expense

  • Set limits on others; on what you will and will not do

  • It is also important to be selfish at times and put your needs first and take care of yourself.

The bottom-line is, Start small and be patient. Do not be hard on yourself if you feel like you are making slow progress as some situations will be sorted over time. However, improving your self-esteem is possible and worth it, take the time to do so.

Dr. Jacqueline Ochieng, has been a Consultant Psychiatrist at Gilead Mental Health Consultants since 2013. She brings on board her expertise in psychiatry with great energy, enthusiasm and a passion for youth and their issues.

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