It is common knowledge that having rationally high self-esteem brings positive outcomes. People who have this way of feeling about themselves are healthier and happier. Yet, according to Self Esteem Statistics, 85% of people all around the world are affected by low self-esteem, in particular young individuals. So, despite being a widespread concept, self-esteem is not even close to being correctly approached. 

What is self-esteem and how does it work?

Just to begin, in psychology self-esteem is generally defined as a person’s overall subjective sense of personal worth or value (Very Well Mind), and their beliefs about their own abilities and limitations (Weber State University). For Raluca Scurtu, a 21-year-old Journalism student who identifies herself as having a positive self-esteem, the confidence she has in her own strengths represents the foundation of her self-esteem. People can develop different levels of self-esteem related to different sides of their life, mainly four: society, family, school or profession, and body (Melarossa). For example, someone can have a positive image of oneself when it comes to working, but not as much when it comes to social relationships. All together these various self-esteem levels constitute global self-esteem. When it comes to this last concept, we can distinguish three main levels of self-esteem: low self-esteem, positive, yet realistic self-esteem, and overly high self-esteem (Self-Esteem: It’s Not What You Think).

Obviously, the ideal situation would be to have a positive self-esteem since it brings many benefits just like greater life satisfaction. The other two levels are far different from reality. Having overly high self-esteem means feeling superior to others, and often brings to arrogance and expressing feelings of entitlement (Weber State University). Yet, while there aren’t many people with this type of unrealistically high self-worth, there are plenty struggling with low self-esteem. According to Self Esteem Statistics, this widespread phenomenon is a thinking disorder that has been linked to lots of negative outcomes such as school dropout rates, violent behavior, suicide, teenage pregnancy, and low academic achievement. Ms. Claudia Chiorean, Ph.D., researcher and clinical psychologist, adds inactivity, frustration, disappointment, fear, and failure.

Among the causes of low self-esteem, we must mention social media platforms that show unrealistic beauty standards, which despite the use of digital manipulation in photos, can create self-esteem issues for those who get to see them. Yet the origins can go back to childhood trauma. Telling a little boy that he is “bad” will just make him keep an aggressive behavior, in consonance with what the parents consider him like (Melarossa). And this story can go on with many other reproaches like “You’re so lazy!” or “You’re not capable.” Whether we like it or not, we are not completely in charge of the development of our self-esteem, and the information (whether verbal or non-verbal) we get from the people around us about ourselves can have critical outcomes, especially when we talk about young kids (Melarossa). Claudia Chiorean states that “education during childhood, the educational system, and the relationships with people around us are crucial for the way we get to see ourselves”.

Last but not least, low self-esteem is one of the main characteristics of the imposter syndrome personality (Instituto Santa Chiara). The latter is defined as being “an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be” (Being an Imposter: Growing Out of Impostership). Yet, contrary to only experiencing exclusively low self-esteem, in the case of individuals affected by this syndrome, the will to keep up with the expectations of the people around is stronger than the fear of trying and failing (Instituto Santa Chiara).

However, self-esteem does not remain the same over the years. In fact, it changes depending on the different stages of our lives (Melarossa). Raluca says that she started developing a positive self-worth during a stressful period of her life when everything seemed to be going downhill. It was then that she realized she had to do a change within herself in order to get through that rough time: “Knowing I experienced situations that seemed to have no solution, and yet I overcame them, makes me feel strong enough to face any future challenge.” As Claudia Chiorean says, self-esteem can be also influenced by the type of personality one has.

Benefits of a positive self-esteem

As we already mentioned, a positive self-esteem can make a difference in anyone’s life, having a big impact on the decision-making process, relationships, emotional health, and overall well-being (Verywell Mind). Healthy self-worth gives you the confidence you need in order to act on achieving your goals; the belief that you can do it, as Claudia Chiorean affirms. She also adds: “In every action, if you don’t start with the premise that you can do the thing you have in mind, that you have the capacity to bring it to a good end, you won’t even start it. So, self-esteem has a fundamental role.” As for Raluca, she says that the biggest benefit she has observed over a positive self-esteem is a good mental health, which helps her a lot in everyday life. “I also accept my own flaws more easily. From ‘Why do I do things this way?’ and ‘Why am I like this?’ I arrive at ‘Ok, so these are the characteristics I have to work with: let’s see how I can get the best out of them,” Raluca adds.

Yet self-esteem is not only a resource, pushing you to go out there and achieve what you want (Verywell Mind), but also a defense mechanism. In fact, positive self-esteem helps overcome the fear of failure, and at the same time it endows people with the ability to fail without feeling bad about themselves, and who won’t agree that “life is a lot easier when one can fail without feeling bad about oneself” (Self-Esteem: It’s Not What You Think).

How to increase your self-esteem

There are plenty of ways to improve self-esteem, and each one of them starts with the person who wants to make the change. Even though there are plenty of external factors which influence our self-esteem, it is up to each one of us if we are going to let the things be as they naturally are, or, in case we see there’s something wrong, act on it and make it better. As Ivana Barberini states in an article published on Melarossa, everything starts with the mind, or better said, with the voice in our head. Most of the time, this voice does nothing but discredit us, and convinces us we are not good enough to get through difficult life situations. If you experience that then make sure you shut down that voice: this is the first step in order to building a healthy self-esteem. Instead, as a scientific article from Weber State University states, we must encourage ourselves, use positive self-talk, and avoid comparisons.

When I asked Raluca about how she sees social media when it comes to her self-esteem, with many people bragging about how amazing their life is, she said it doesn’t affect her because “on social media, things are very relative”. “I can’t compare my life with what I see X or Y post on social media since I don’t live X or Y’s life, just as they don’t live mine,” Raluca adds, saying that each one of us has a different pace, and that’s what we should focus on instead of comparing results.

Building and maintaining a healthy self-esteem is not easy, yet the positive effects it can have on our everyday life are definitely worthy. With this in mind, you might want to consider the following: “What we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are.” – Anthony Robbins.

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