During my undergraduate program, in one of my textbooks I read a paragraph that has stuck with me. It talked about self-esteem and how our self-esteem is rooted in our childhood, that if we had a childhood filled with chaos, neglect or abuse that our self-esteem would be low, on the other hand if we grew up in a stable environment, we will have a healthy self-esteem. I was highly offended by that paragraph; I didn’t have the healthiest of childhood’s and yet I have a good healthy self-esteem. What I read in the next paragraph and what I have learned since then is that our self-esteem while it is rooted in our childhood it doesn’t necessarily stay consistent over our life time.
Our self-esteem changes throughout our life based on the different experiences that we have, the impact of those experiences, and the way we view those experiences and ourselves. Self-esteem isn’t about being perfect or appearing to be perfect. It’s about learning to accept ourselves for the way we are, and believing that we are good enough and worthy enough to be content and happy.
There are many definitions of self-esteem for instance in the dictionary the definition of self-esteem is confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect. Another definition is your own evaluation of yourself and your self-worth. One of my favorite definitions comes from Megan MacCutcheon, LPC book: The Self-Esteem workbook for women. She defines it as “holding a positive, realistic, and consistent image of yourself that demonstrates self-respect, a sense of unwavering self-worth, and an acceptance that you deserve happiness and fulfillment, despite life’s imperfections, stereotypes, challenges and setbacks.”
There are typically nine common characteristics that people with a healthy self-esteem have. They are as follows. A belief in themselves. People who have healthy self-esteem, know and understand what they are good at. They know where their strengths are and they use them to the best of their ability. They also know what their weaknesses are, they don’t beat themselves up about their weaknesses. Instead, they work on changing their weaknesses or work within them.
Second, is they understand what they need and want. One of the things people with healthy self-esteem have is the ability to tell others what they need and want, and also go out and get it.
Third, is effective communication skills. If you don’t know how to ask for something you need, then you are not going to get it. For instance, if you are going to go into your boss and ask for a raise. You must be able to say it in a clear, precise way, and talk about the reasons for why you feel you deserve a raise. This is what we call being assertive in our communication. This is the ability to talk in a way in which you are able to express what you need. Four is the drive to succeed. People with health self-esteem don’t let mistakes get them down. They learn from their mistakes, pick themselves up and try again. They are able to overcome challenges and disappointments because they figure out where they went wrong and attempt to fix it.
Five is being comfortable with change. People who have healthy self-esteem are not afraid to step outside the box. They like to try new things, are open to new ideas. They also like to learn a new skill that will help them to succeed.
Six is enjoy healthy relationships. In order to have healthy relationships, we must have the ability to communicate effectively, not be afraid to take a chance, and accept constructive criticism without it denting our confidence.
Seven is being goal-oriented. People who have a healthy self-esteem, know how to set long term goals and have the ability to breakdown their long-term goal into smaller pieces in order to attain the bigger one. For example, if you are in recovery to an addiction. The ultimate goal would be to be sober. How exactly are you going to do that? You must have a relapse prevention plan in place. Just saying “I’m staying sober.” Isn’t good enough, you must have a plan in place. People also have short term goals and are able to complete them. They have a sense of purpose and go out and achieve that with confidence.
Eight is the ability to laugh at ourselves. We all do silly things at times. Example, when I was teaching a big group at my last job, I went to write on the white board, I turned and I was much closer than I thought. (I tend to move a lot when I’m teaching a group). I smacked right into it and dropped my marker. The room went very quiet, I laughed at myself and the group started to laugh as well, they also asked if I was okay. Being able to laugh it off and move forward is much better than judging ourselves in a harsh light.
Nine is taking care of themselves, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Physically is eating healthy and exercising. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym five times a week. Going for a walk, or doing yoga are also forms of exercise. Emotionally is accepting our emotions, even when they are the ones we don’t want. Honoring them and not trying to shove them to the side. I tell my clients to picture holding the emotion in their hands and giving it space to acknowledge it, that will then allow them the space they need to manage their behaviors in a better frame of mind. For instance, anxiety, talk to it, tell it “Look I appreciate you have protected me all these years, I need you to step back a little bit, I’ve got this.” Mentally we take care of ourselves by doing our hobbies, or what ever you choose to do for fun or to relax. Watch TV or a movie. Gardening, going to the beach, going camping, reading, listening to music. These are all examples of things people do to relax. Spiritually involves doing things for your soul. Some people like to pray, read a religious text, go to their place of worship. Others, like getting out in nature, the mountains, beaches, going hiking.
Please do not be discouraged by reading the list of nine things if you don’t feel that you have all of those skills. People who have healthy self-esteem have learned these skills over their lifetime. There are different techniques you can do to improve your self-esteem. If you would like help in learning these techniques please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.