What Is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem refers to the level of emotional value, worth, and/or importance individuals place on themselves. Self-esteem impacts a person's beliefs about what they can achieve in life, what they deserve in relationships, and how they approach challenging situations. Self-esteem is vital to a strong and healthy relationship with yourself.
How Does Self-Esteem Develop?
Self-esteem starts developing in childhood and involves feelings of love and acceptance by others; self-acceptance and self-worth; and confidence and capability in problem-solving and utilizing skills. It is also strongly developed by learning self-soothing techniques, coping techniques, and the ability to build confidence.
A child's parents have the first - and greatest impact - on the development of self-esteem, as they provide feedback about behavior and skills to the inexperienced child. Doing so allows a child to feel safe and secure, as well as builds confidence and feelings of self-worth.
Because children are very impressionable, it is important that they not only receive praise for their accomplishments, but also that parents set a good example by treating themselves and one another with respect. Children "mirror" the actions and beliefs they see around them. Praise alone will make little difference if parents do not treat themselves with the same love and self-acceptance - refraining from negative self-talk is imperative for setting a good example of healthy self-esteem for children.
Children internalize this feedback over time and it becomes the basis for their beliefs about themselves. This feedback can be affected further by teachers, coaches, and other figures of importance.
Symptoms of Low Self Esteem:
- Self-degradation and criticism
- Hypersensitivity to criticism from others
- Difficulty making decisions
- Difficulty with setting goals or working toward achieving them
- Motivation that is out of sync with abilities
- Defensive attitude
- Hostile nature
- Excessive feelings of guilt
- Poor self-care
- Compulsive people-pleasing or care-giving
- Susceptibility to peer pressure
- Distrust of others
As children grow and internalize poor self-esteem, other issues and disorders may develop.
Problems Associated with Low Self-Esteem:
Low self-esteem can cause issues that are pronounced; but low self-esteem may not be readily recognizable, as it is difficult to tangibly measure one's feelings about themselves. Low self-esteem can manifest in many ways, some of which could include:
- Eating disorders, Body Dysmorphic Disorder
- Depression, anxiety, stress, or other mental illness
- Anger management difficulties
- Poor (or no) coping skills
- Relationship conflicts
- Substance abuse
- Academic problems
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder
- Impulsive behavior
Practicing Positive Self-Esteem:
The following may be helpful in improving self-esteem at any age. Parents can assist their children with these activities:
- Set small, obtainable goals and celebrate when they are achieved
- Make a list of positive traits about yourself
- Do your best to refrain from comparing yourself to others
- Say no and set limits on what you do for others
- Avoid "should have," "could have" and "I ought" language
- Practice good self-care and hygiene
- Develop an exercise routine, join a community sports team, and/or work with a personal trainer to set goals and measure achievement
- Attend psychotherapy
- Establish a hobby
- Surround yourself with quality individuals who make you feel good
- Educate yourself about a subject or learn a new skill
- Challenge negative self-talk and thoughts by questioning their validity or by reframing them in a positive manner (i.e. Turn "I am a slow worker" into "I am a worker who takes time to do well at a task.")
- Take responsibility for your thoughts, words, and actions
- Make a conscious choice to support and care for yourself
Additional Self-Esteem Resources:
Developing Your Child's Self-Esteem from KidsHealth.org
Building Children's Self-Esteem from Family Education
PsychologyTools.org provides a Self-Esteem Assessment Tool, as well as a self-help guide for building self esteem
Alumbo provides a forum with information and resources for building self-confidence and assertiveness.
The Self-Esteem Workbook is a book that provides self-help activities and worksheets to build self-esteem.
Palo Alto Medical Foundation offers assistance for parents who are dealing with self-esteem and body image in teens.
StressingOut.org offers help for the "everyday stresses of modern life" including stress, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
Self Esteem in Children: Strategies for Nurturing a Positive Sense of Self information booklet