Overview

Your self-esteem is the way you look at yourself. If you have good self-esteem it means that you like yourself and you believe that you are as 'OK' as everyone else. If you have poor self-esteem it means that you believe that you are not OK, or that you are inferior to others. Explore this section to find out more.

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My absolute most favourite thing in the world is animals. I have saved an animals life before. I was walking down the street when I saw a dog running across the road several times, I watched for a while, and during this, a car turned around from the street corner and the dog was in the middle of the road. I predicted the worse would happen so I ran and grabbed the dog by the leash first just before the car came. I not only risked my life but I saved anothers^_^

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I got a really great feeling afterwards

Factsheet

Provided by Reach Out

We have partnered with Reach Out to bring you the best factsheet information we can on this topic. Reach Out offers information, support and resources to help young people improve their understanding of mental health issues, develop resilience, and increase their coping skills and help-seeking behaviour.

Self Esteem

Image sourced from Flickr CC http://www.flickr.com/photos/exper/2016537402Your self-esteem is the way you look at yourself. If you have good self-esteem it means that you like yourself and you believe that you are as 'OK' as everyone else. If you have poor self-esteem it means that you believe that you are not OK, or that you are inferior to others.

People who have poor self-esteem tend to focus on and magnify their perceived shortcomings, and ignore their strengths and achievements. It's like looking into the mirror and seeing a warped picture - a bit like the ones at fun parks that make you look distorted - completely blowing reality out of proportion.

How does your self-esteem affect your life?

Your self-esteem can affect how you feel, how you relate to other people, how you deal with challenges and how relaxed and safe you feel in your daily life.

The way you feel

In order to be happy you need to like yourself. If you believe that you are not OK, or if you are constantly putting yourself down, you are more likely to feel depressed, anxious or miserable than someone who has a positive view of themselves.

Your relationships

Low self-esteem can influence the way you behave with other people. For instance, you might find yourself being unassertive (not saying what we think, feel or want), and doing things you don't want to do. Or you might find yourself trying too hard to please other people - agreeing with them and offering to do things for them in order to 'earn' their friendship.

Low self-esteem might also cause you to seek reassurance from your friends, because deep down, you may not be sure that they like you. You might allow others to 'walk all over you' because you believe you have no rights, and that your needs don't matter. Being treated badly by other people can reinforce the belief that you are not good enough, and can lower your self-esteem even more.

Your willingness to move out of your comfort zone

Trying new things and moving out of our 'comfort zone' at times is important for growing and developing as a person. Low self-esteem might hold you back from new experiences because you become overly concerned with the possibility of failure or looking stupid.

How relaxed and comfortable you feel in the world

When your self-esteem is low, it is difficult to feel relaxed and comfortable in day to day situations. For instance, if you believe that you are not OK you might feel awkward and self-conscious in many situations. You might worry too much about what others think of you, and might be constantly on the lookout for signs that people don't like you. If someone doesn't acknowledge you, you might immediately assume that they don't like you.

The self-fulfilling prophecy of self-esteem

Low self-esteem can become a bit of a vicious circle. For example, if you don't feel OK, you might often withdraw from people and give out unfriendly vibes, not look people in the eye, and not smile or initiate conversation. This kind of behaviour might make you appear cold and distant, and as a result, people might make little effort to be friendly towards you.

You would then probably detect that people aren't very friendly towards you, and your belief that you're not very likeable would be reinforced. This is called a 'self-fulfilling prophecy' because the belief that you are not OK affects your behaviour towards others, which in turn causes people to be distant towards you, which reinforces your belief that you are not OK.

BELIEF - 'I Am Not OK'

BEHAVIOUR - Don't initiate conversations or look people in the eye.

FEEDBACK - Other people make little effort to be friendly towards you.

PERCEPTION - People don't like me; I am not OK. (Therefore, the original belief is reinforced).

Some people mistakenly think that good self-esteem means being 'full of yourself' and arrogant - this is not the case at all. People with good self-esteem don't need to be telling others how great they are because they already feel OK about themselves. In fact, it is often people with low self-esteem who boast and bully others. This is their way of trying to build themselves up, because they want to convince others that they are superior. (If someone has to try to prove that they are superior, it is often because they do not feel OK about themselves.)

There are many benefits associated with having good self-esteem - feeling good, taking up appropriate challenges, relating to people as equals and feeling relaxed in our daily life situations. Good self-esteem is not something that you can achieve overnight - it is something you can work on over time. This is particularly important in situations where you are faced with setbacks or difficulties.

Building self-esteem

Becoming friends with yourself

Photo sourced from Flickr Cc license http://www.flickr.com/photos/xanxhor/3835701965

Take it one brick at a time

A good way to build your self-esteem is to become your own best friend. This means talking to yourself in the same way that you would talk to your best friend. Imagine that your best friend came to you feeling upset about something - perhaps the way they look, how they went in an exam, something that a friend had said to them, etc.

How would you react? Would you have a go at them, and tell them how completely ugly and stupid they are, or what a loser they are? (Hopefully not!)

Most likely, you would listen to them, try to help them change their situation, or look at it differently. And you'd try to convince them that they really are OK, even though they may not feel good about themselves at the moment.

Now think about how you would treat yourself if you were in that situation. If your self-esteem is low you would probably give yourself a hard time. In fact, you are likely to be much harder on yourself than you would be on your friend. Isn't it strange that we often have completely different standards for ourselves than we do for other people? Imagine what would happen if you treated yourself like you would a best friend. How would things be different?

To start with, you would probably be much kinder and fairer on yourself. You would see yourself in a balanced way, and you wouldn't focus on and exaggerate your perceived flaws. If you made mistakes you would forgive yourself without putting yourself down. If someone treated you badly you would stick up for yourself, and not tell yourself that there must be something wrong with you. You would also spend more time encouraging yourself, and accept that you are not perfect, while knowing that neither is anyone else.

Challenging your critical self-talk

When your friends come to you with a problem you probably often help them by pointing out other perspectives on their situation. Without even being aware of it, you probably often help your friends to challenge their negative self-talk by logically arguing against it (e.g. 'Yes, but you're good at lots of other things! ...You didn't do well because you didn't study - not because you're dumb!').

The secret is to do this for yourself as well. Maintaining healthy self-esteem requires you to be aware of your self-talk to recognise unhelpful self-critical thoughts and to challenge your put-downs. For more info check out the Introducing self-talk fact sheet.

Try building your self-esteem

Your self-esteem is something that can be worked on. Good self-esteem isn't something that you can achieve overnight, but it is something you can work on and improve over time.

Maintaining Self Esteem

Self-esteem is something that can be built up, then kept at a healthy level. For more information about what self-esteem is, how it can affect your life and how it can be built up check out the section above.There are a number of things you can try out that might help you to maintain healthy self-esteem, including the following.

Avoid labelling yourself - stick to the facts

When you don't do very well in areas that are important to you, its easy to label yourself as 'faulty' in some way. For example, 'I am an idiot, a failure, a loser, hopeless, ugly, useless, etc.' Labelling yourself is faulty thinking because it is a huge over-generalisation. Each person is a complex mixture of characteristics, traits, qualities and behaviours, and no one can be summed up by one behaviour or trait. Labelling simply makes you feel bad about yourself, and serves no useful purpose. It is much more helpful to be specific - stick to the facts.

For example, instead of labelling and saying 'I'm a failure', stick to the facts and say 'I didn't get into my first two preferences for courses'. Check out the Reach Out factsheet on Common thinking errors for more info.

Avoid overgeneralising - stick to the facts

When things go wrong it may be tempting to generalise about yourself from the experience, rather than seeing the experience objectively. For example, instead of generalising by saying 'Nobody likes me', stick to the facts and say 'Two of the people in my class don't like me'.

Avoid personalising - be objective

When you personalise you take responsibility for things that are not your fault or you blame yourself for negative events without taking all the other factors into account. For example, Instead of personalising things by saying 'I failed because I'm dumb', be objective and say 'I failed because I didn't study' or 'I failed because I'm not good at French'.

Avoid comparing yourself

Some people are in the habit of comparing themselves to others. They compare themselves on things like their looks, their marks on assignments, their friends, their achievements and even their personality. There will always be people who seem to be doing better than you are, and if you compare yourself to them you end up feeling not ok with yourself.

The reality is that people have different strengths and weaknesses, and focussing on particular strengths of particular people gives you a distorted picture, and unrealistic expectations of how you should be. It is actually much more helpful to focus on your strengths, have realistic expectations of the things that you could change or improve, and most importantly, avoid comparing yourself to others. To find out more about the benefits of focusing on you strengths, check out the Strengths and their influence on your happiness fact sheet.

Release your 'shoulds'

Be on the lookout for shoulds - beliefs about how you should or should not be, or things that you should or should not do. Your shoulds can make the difference between feeling good about yourself and feeling totally inadequate. The more rigidly you hold onto your shoulds, the more your self-esteem is on the line. Shoulds that affect your self-esteem are those to do with your performance, achievements, appearance and relationships.

Shoulds don't help you to succeed or get on with people - they only make you feel bad about yourself. They can make you feel totally inadequate because you cannot always live up to them. Of course, this doesn't mean that it's not OK to want to improve yourself, or work towards a particular goal. The challenge is to remain flexible - to convert shoulds into preferences. For more info check out Reach Out's Tyranny of the shoulds factsheet.

Self-acceptance

Every one of us has faults and weaknesses - this is part of being human. The key to good self-esteem is self-acceptance. This means accepting yourself as you are without condemning yourself for your perceived shortcomings. It means not waiting until you are 'perfect' before you can accept yourself. When you practice self-acceptance you accept yourself completely, without criticising or judging yourself.

Set life-enhancing goals

Although it is important to practice self-acceptance, this does not mean that we shouldn't aim to improve some things about our lives or ourselves. Sometimes it is very helpful to set goals for things that we would like to achieve, or to change things that we are not happy with. For example: If you feel not OK in some social situations, it might be useful for you to work on your communication skills and on taking more social risks. For more information on goal setting, check out Reach Out's Setting goals fact sheet.

Of course, the goals you set for yourself will depend on the issues that are of particular concern to you. While it is often very helpful to set meaningful goals, it is also important to maintain a flexible attitude. This means accepting yourself whether or not you achieve your goals. Avoid conditional self-acceptance, e.g. 'I'm OK as long as I can pass that exam'. Being flexible means telling yourself: 'I'd like to and I'll do my best, but I'm OK regardless of whether or not I succeed'.

Communicate assertively

The way you communicate to other people gives them information on how you feel about yourself. When you communicate what you think, feel or want in a clear way, the unspoken message you give out is 'I matter; my opinion and my needs are as valid and important as anyone else's'. Assertive communication encourages other people to treat you with respect, and helps you to feel good about yourself.

Be aware not only of the things you say, but also the way you say them. You are far more likely to be treated with respect when you communicate self-respect. This means looking the other person in the eye and speaking in a clear, audible voice, rather than looking down at your shoes and mumbling, or communicating in hostile, angry tone. For more info check out Reach Out's  Effective communication fact sheet.

Your strengths + weaknesses

Having healthy self-esteem means that you are able to feel good about yourself, even though you may not be perfect. You can acknowledge your weaknesses without judging yourself. You are also aware of your strengths. Many people are all too aware of their weaknesses but ignore their strengths and qualities. For this reason it can be helpful to spend some time thinking about all the positive qualities that you take for granted.

Activity

Take the time to write down 10 positive things about yourself (i.e. your strengths or qualities). It might be helpful to ask someone else for their suggestions to add to your list. Next, write down three things that you would like to change or improve about yourself. Put a tick next to those items you can change or modify to some degree. What sort of actions could you take in order to change them?

What sorts of things can you say to yourself to help you maintain healthy self-esteem (even though there are still things that you would like to improve)?

Try building + maintaining your self-esteem

Your self-esteem is something that can be worked on. Good self-esteem isn't something that you can achieve overnight , but it is something you can work on and improve over time, then maintain. Let us know how you go and what works for you!

Acknowledgement:

This fact sheet comes from:
Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions.
By: Dr Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond
Foundation for Life Sciences (2005)
www.fls.org.au

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