Friday, January 06, 2012

Self-Esteem Defined

Self-esteem may seem like an overused buzzword today.  Various social problems are blamed on “too much self esteem” as if liking one’s self is the same as an attitude of entitlement or something closer to narcissism.  I think self-esteem is simply the ability to respect and appreciate one’s self; sadly too many people are walking around without that ability and it has devastating consequences.   Self-esteem is essential for good mental health. 

Psychologist and author Glenn Schiraldi demonstrates in The Self-Esteem Workbook that self-esteem is as a healthy mindset situated between self-defeating shame and self-defeating pride.

He explains that those who experience self-defeating pride think they are better and more important than others as a person. Self-defeating shame on the other hand means believing you are less valuable than others.  Both types of people have an unrealistic view of their core worth that is rooted in insecurity; both types also view others in a comparative and competitive way. Someone always has to be on top and someone has to be below. 

Those with self-esteem believe they are neither more or less worthy than others.  They recognize they have faults but like themselves anyway.  They see themselves as capable and can learn from their mistakes.  This doesn't mean a lack of healthy competition such as in a soccer game or a class debate - but it does mean that the winner and loser don't tie their sense of self-worth to the outcomes of those events. 

I appreciate the often repeated Gloria Steinem quote  “Self-Esteem isn’t everything; it’s just that there is nothing without it”.    Without self-esteem, we are more susceptible to substance abuse, remaining in an unhealthy relationship, inflicting abuse on others, eating disorders, poor communication patterns (aggressiveness, defensiveness, criticism of others), dependency, loneliness, anxiety and depression.   I’ve noticed that even the most seemingly successful people - those who are held in high esteem by others because of their accomplishments, their skill or even their beauty are still not capable of happiness or enjoying their own successes when they don’t have self-esteem.

I’ve facilitated dozens of self-esteem workshops with girls.  Girls tell me that when they feel more confident, strong and valuable to themselves; they are better able to stand up to people who put them down; they are more likely to value qualities outside their physical appearance; and they are likely to make better decisions about things like smoking, drugs or sex.   Girls with self-esteem tend to be more willing to take healthy and appropriate risks to experience things outside their comfort zone, but are also more likely to ask for help when they need it.

Although early childhood has a strong influence on self-esteem, it also develops and evolves throughout our lives. Self-esteem is a learned trait; everyone can learn skills to strengthen and enhance it. 

            come back tomorrow for my 10 Tips for Fostering Girl’s Self-Esteem

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