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Self-Esteem


Information and resources for improving self-esteem and anxiety and depression.


arrow_red.gif       Understanding self-esteem    |    Tips    |    Resources   






 Understanding self-esteem



What is self-esteem?



Self-esteem refers to our own sense of worth as a person.  It’s a complex issue, but essentially self-esteem is our subjective rating of whether we are adequate or inadequate in this world: it is our opinion of how well we respect and like ourselves. 

  • It is common for our esteem to vary across different experiences and areas of our life, such as work, relationships, recreation, appearance, and health and wellbeing - as we face good and bad days and successes and failures (this is referred to as situational esteem). 
  • Overall however, our general level of esteem about ourselves seems to stay relatively constant (global esteem).


High vs. Low?

  • High self-esteem usually means a person has a strong sense of self-respect, self-worth, confidence, and a feeling of basic goodness and acceptance about themselves.
  • In contrast, low self-esteem usually involves self-doubt, poor self-confidence, timidity, insecurity, extreme shyness, self-criticism, self-punishment, negativity, feelings of inferiority, anger, guilt, and shame. 



Why is low self-esteem a problem?


Whilst it’s difficult to feel great about ourselves all the time, some people unfortunately deal with a consistently low sense of esteem—thinking poorly of themselves, not feeling worthy of love or attention. This is problematic as it may lead to missed opportunities, poor performance, strained relationships, loneliness and social isolation, poor physical health, depression, anxiety, unfulfilled potential, and unhappiness.


How healthy is your esteem? Do you recognise any of the following?



Thoughts:

  • Do you have a low opinion of yourself?
  • Do you typically think of yourself in negative or critical ways? 
  • Do you compare yourself unfavourably to others? 
  • Do you doubt your decisions and actions, fearing you can’t do things well? 

Feelings: 

  • Do you feel like you aren’t worthy?
  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed about your place in the world (feeling like a “fraud”)?
  • Do you feel inferior when you compare yourself to others?
  • Do you feel depressed or anxious due to your poor self-belief?

Behaviours:
 

  • Do you avoid tasks or decisions because you lack belief that you can do them properly?
  • Do you avoid opportunities because you aren’t “worthy” of them?
  • Are you generally timid, insecure, and lacking confidence?
  • Do you talk down about yourself with others? 
  • Do you minimise compliments you receive?


Test yourself






 Tips for improving self-esteem


arrow_red.gif     Tip Sheet for Improving Self-Esteem  pdf_icon.gif


Below we provide some tips for challenging your low self-esteem. 

Sometimes we have many subconscious thoughts that drive our low sense of esteem. Here's some examples, with some alternative ways of thinking about the issue:



Unhelpful beliefHealthier alternative
I often think that I’m no good at all.Perhaps instead of looking only at what I’m NOT, I can look at what I AM.   I can acknowledge my positives and boost myself UP rather than drag myself DOWN.  Other people would objectively be able to list many positives about me—perhaps I can give these more weight.
I feel so worthless. I feel I have to be perfect before people will value meMost people are very accepting of others.  I accept others who aren’t perfect.  Perhaps I can accept myself as I am—flawed, imperfect, valuable.
I avoid doing things because I’m “not good enough” to do them.
I am much more capable than I admit.  I may not be the best at everything, but I’ve got plenty of skills.  It’s good for me to give things a go even if it’s challenging—it’ll give me more confidence over time.



How can I do things differently?


Believing in my value as a person

You may believe that you don’t have any natural good qualities—feeling inherently “worthless”.  Challenge yourself: every single person in the world has worth, including you.  You are the only one that can make this statement real for you—to acknowledge that it can be true.  This may take some time—perhaps you’ve had decades of criticism (from yourself or others).  Notice your negative self-talk; “I’m no good”, “I can’t do it”.  Our thoughts are powerful—if we constantly think in negative ways this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, impacting our confidence, self-belief, and actions.

How we THINK influences how we FEEL which influences how we BEHAVE.  Believe in yourself.  Appreciate who YOU are.  You might not believe that you are the most excellent, wonderful, and perfect person—but you don’t have to. Perhaps you can start with just being “okay”. I AM OKAY.  Become comfortable with that. Then you can work on making the best version of you.

Be kind to yourself—would you dare treat other people the way you treat yourself? Encourage yourself—research shows that benefits come from being hopeful, optimistic, and embracing positive language and thoughts.


Explore:      Self-acceptance; reframing; positive psychology; optimism; Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)


I'm good, not perfect

We may think that we need to be perfect otherwise people will see our flaws.  We don’t like making mistakes or failing in case it gives others “proof” that we are no good and shouldn’t be valued.  We are our harshest critics — condemning our performances, minimizing our positives, and setting excessive standards that we don't expect of others (’musts’, 'oughts', and 'shoulds').  Our need for perfection overwhelms us, holding us back from making decisions, taking actions and seizing opportunities.

Aim for good, not for perfect.  Be selective in applying your high standards—think about why you are setting them and for whom?  Practice setting realistic goals and try not to compare yourself with others.  Take small risks and fail often—mistakes are essential for learning: we get good at things by being bad at them first.  Be gentle on yourself and give yourself credit for each step you achieve. 


Explore:     Perfectionism; fear of failure; indecisiveness; decision-making; Goal-setting.


Building my skills and confidence - achieve by starting

We might not think we have the skills or competence to do anything well.  Realistically we CAN and DO achieve more than we give ourselves credit for. 

Sometimes we can strengthen our esteem just by “giving things a go”.   Find an activity you want to achieve. Break the task into smaller tasks to get a realistic appreciation of what’s involved.  Allow yourself the freedom to explore with trial and error; attempt small steps which are within reach, enabling you to get “quick wins” which boost confidence.  Ramp up the difficulty as you go.  Most achievement is hard work—keep trying as effort builds momentum, competence, and confidence.
 

Explore:      Achievement ; planning; time management; motivation; willpower; positive risk-taking; Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).


The need for approval

We want others to love and accept us.  However we don't often love or accept ourselves. We don't feel we are worthy of the attention or love of others.  We may think that "If only I were better then people would like me - If I were better looking, more intelligent, funnier, wealthier, good at sports, good at everything, then this would give people reasons to like me".  It's as though we see only flaws in ourselves - "I am flawed and not very good and therefore people shouldn't love me". 

Everyone feels this way at times. However, being perfect or being the most interesting person in the world won’t "make" others love us—acceptance comes from within. 


Explore:      Self-worth; self-acceptance; assertiveness; positive psychology.




Perspectives on self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence, self-doubt, mistakes


If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
Buddha
Your mind is a garden, your thoughts are the seeds, you can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.
Anon.
You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
Winnie the Pooh
The things that make me different are the things that make me.
A.A. Milne
The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Make the most of yourself....for that is all there is of youRalph Waldo Emerson
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.
The Little Engine That Could
Believe you can and you're halfway there.
Theodore Roosevelt
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Lao Tzu
You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
Martin Luther King, Jr
The maxim, "Nothing prevails but perfection," may be spelled PARALYSIS
Winston Churchill
Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.
Confucius
If you look for perfection, you'll never be content.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
We learn from failure, not from success!
Bram Stoker, Dracula
Why would anyone want perfection when growth comes from flaws?
Shannon L. Alder
Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything.
Theodore Roosevelt
A person who makes few mistakes makes little progress.
Bryant H. McGill
The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake - you can't learn anything from being perfect
Adam Osborne







 Helpful Resources


Mental Health Professionals

You might find it helpful to discuss your sense of esteem with a health professional who can provide insight and perspective on the issues. Some therapists specialise in dealing with self-esteem and will be able to provide tips and techniques for managing problematic aspects of low self-esteem.




Courses and Workshops

  • ADAVIC runs lectures and workshops for improving self-esteem. Please see our current events.



Peer Support

You might like to share your experiences and seek support from fellow members of the community. ADAVIC can link you in with others who understand your experience, via our:




Websites


Test Yourself
Articles and Research
Peer Support
Online Learning
Tools and Techniques





Books


  • Burns, David, Dr. (2000).  10 days to great self-esteem: 10 easy steps to brighten your moods and discovering the joy in everyday living. Random House, Sydney.
  • McGonigal, K. PhD. (2012). The willpower instinct: How self-control works, why it matters, and what you can do to get more of it.  Penguin Group, Melbourne.





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Acknowledgements

This webpage on self-esteem was made possible through the support of Community Enterprise Foundation™, Rotary Club of Balwyn and City of Boroondara via the project; “Practical tools for managing perfectionism, procrastination, and self-esteem”.

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