Before working through ways to increase self-esteem, it is important to understand the influential factors that shape self-esteem, debunk misconceptions, and the review the ranges of self-esteem.
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is simply how you see yourself. Healthy self-esteem is feeling positive about yourself, being appropriately assertive, and acting with confidence. It includes being resilient and having an overall sense of well-being. Because we act and feel according to how we see ourselves, a healthy self-concept is important. If we see ourselves as adequate, influential, and valuable we will act confidently, talk to others freely, and express our opinions openly. If we see ourselves as inadequate and inferior, opinions are withheld, other people avoided, and new friendships approached with caution.
It is important to note self-esteem is NOT:
- Being perfect
- Never making a mistake
- Always winning or being first
- Having more than others
- Being an ideal weight
- Always being happy
- Having everyone’s approval
- Always being noticed
- Never being noticed
- Being good at everything
- Always being calm
- Looking good
- Being better than others
Self-esteem is shaped by our own self-perceptions, thoughts, and past experiences. Trauma, especially an emotionally or physically abusive childhood or sexual abuse, can add to feelings of inadequacy and leave someone feeling damaged. Self-concept is often more related to internal self-perception than external appearance. Your value is not determined by what others think of you.
Low self-esteem will keep you from valuing your own ideas and opinions. Poor regard for your worth may make it difficult to receive compliments for a job well done. Weaknesses and faults can be blown out of proportion, while skills and abilities are underestimated.
Influential Factors that Shape Self Esteem
Many factors shape and influence your self-esteem and its development, beginning in early childhood. These can include:
- Your own thoughts and perceptions
- How others respond and react to you
- Experiences at school or work
- Being compared unfavorably to others
- Religious views of family or community
- Traumatic experiences such as physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse
- Cultural view toward you
- Community attitudes toward you
- Having a chronic illness
- Having an injury or disability
The Ranges of Self Esteem
Depending on your circumstances, self-esteem will fluctuate over time. It is normal to have times you feel down about yourself and judge yourself unfavorably, and there will also be times you feel especially good.
1. Overly High Self Esteem – Those with overly high self-esteem regard themselves very highly and have an unrealistically positive view of themselves. An inflated self-esteem makes them feel superior to others and can lead them to be arrogant, self-absorbed, and self-indulgent.
2. Low Self Esteem – Low self-esteem can lead to chronic indecision, insecurity, perfectionism, hostility, guilt, pessimism, and jealousy.
3. Healthy Self Esteem – Healthy self-esteem lies between these two extremes. It means having a balanced, accurate view of yourself, a good opinion of your abilities, and healthy recognition of your flaws. When you value yourself and have good self-esteem, you feel secure, worthwhile, and generally have positive relationships with others.
9 Ways to Increase Self Esteem
1. Identify and replace your negative self-talk. People with low self-esteem often put themselves down or even call themselves names. Practice speaking positively to yourself, about yourself, to increase self-confidence.
2. Review positive attributes about yourself. Write a list of the positive characteristics, attitudes, personality traits, and attributes you possess. Regular review will increase your self-esteem and act as a defense against your negative self-talk.
3. Set character goals. Set a goal to be kind, loving, understanding, or patient. Rather than comparing your appearance, performance, wealth, or social standing against your friends or family members, compare yourself with your own character goals.
4. Highlight and review victories. Minimize setbacks and failures. To increase a positive sense of self, it is helpful to highlight progress and improvements and spend your time focusing on these things. Maximize success and minimize your struggles.
5. Focus on the things you can change. Many people spend too much time focusing on situations, circumstances, other people’s feelings toward them, and any number of issues outside their control. Time is better spent focusing on the character goals you set. You are the one who controls your mood, attitude, and disposition, so focus on these things.
6. Increase exercise. Endorphins are the body’s natural anti-depressant, and adding activity and exercise to your life can boost endorphin production. Daily exercise can energize you, improve your mood, make it easier to interact with others, and help you feel better about yourself.
7. Add hobbies, interests, and activities. Schedule some time for relaxation, fun, and entertainment. Anxiety and worry rob you of the simple pleasures in life. Give yourself permission to enjoy the wide variety of experiences and opportunities life offers. This can increase your positive outlook and keep you from feeling deprived.
8. Do something nice for someone and don’t tell anyone about it. Helping someone else can increase positive feelings about yourself.
9. Increase your independence. Self-esteem is often increased as you do more to improve your own situation. As you become more responsible for your own mood, you will become less dependent on others to help you feel good about yourself.
Change Follows Acceptance
It is not difficult to see how co-occurring disorders and low self-esteem go hand in hand, and how a healthy self-esteem goes along with solid recovery. Changing yourself because you dislike yourself is not effective motivation. You can accept and like yourself the way you are and use that acceptance as a platform and foundation to change yourself for the better and apply these 9 ways to increase self esteem. Learning to like and believe in yourself is a process and it has many rewards for your recovery and beyond.
Written By: Hal Baumchen, PsyD, LP, LADC
Complete the Checklist
Download our self-esteem checklist that helps you evaluate and reflect on your own personal self-concept and analyze ways to increase self esteem.