Self-esteem can be summarized as how we feel about ourselves. It is a powerful force that shapes our lives in numerous ways, influencing our moods/feelings about ourselves, our effectiveness, relationships, and overall well-being. In this blog post, we will explore the multifaceted nature of self-esteem and provide evidence-based suggestions for nurturing and enhancing it, including the role of authenticity and taking risks.
1. The Bidirectional Relationship between Self-Esteem and Effectiveness
Our self-esteem and our effectiveness in various aspects of life share a dynamic, bidirectional relationship. Research has shown that when we feel good about ourselves, we are more likely to take on challenges, persevere through difficulties, and achieve our goals (Baumeister et al., 2003). Conversely, achieving goals and overcoming challenges can boost our self-esteem (Judge & Bono, 2001). In therapy, I commonly will work with clients in both of these ways: by making a plan to both take on achievable challenges (and following up week over week), as well as reflecting on challenges that have been overcome in the past in order to highlight ones’ ability to do hard things.
Suggestion: Start by setting a small and achievable goal for today/tomorrow, then set a calendar reminder for yourself to set the next goal in 3 days’ time. Gradually increase the complexity and difficulty of your goals. This incremental approach can foster a sense of "I can do it" and bolster your self-esteem (Locke & Latham, 2006). Of course, it sure does help to have a non-biased 3rd party to help this process. Having an accountabilty buddy can be a critical aspect of this as well for many. Consider recruiting a partner, close friend, or family member if it feels safe enough to do so, or seek out a therapist of course.
2. The Role of Self-Compassion in Building Self-Esteem
Self-compassion, comprising mindfulness, self-kindness, and connection to others (Neff, 2003), plays a crucial role in enhancing self-esteem. Practicing self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend in times of struggle. I get it, this is an easy-to-say-yet-hard-to-do practice.
Pro tip: start a mindfulness practice, like meditation or journaling, into your daily routine to increase self-awareness and reduce self-criticism.
Engaging in acts of self-kindness and seeking connection with supportive individuals can also boost your self-esteem (Neff, 2011).
3. The Influence of Upbringing and the Benefits of Therapy
Our early life experiences, particularly in our family and social environments, significantly shape our self-esteem. Negative experiences, such as consistent criticism or neglect from a caregiver, often leads to low self-esteem in adulthood (Rosenberg, 1965). Do you have a sense that there is ‘unfinished business’ in a relationship with a caregiver (mom/dad?) - if so, it may make sense to look at ‘getting unstuck’ from those stuck feelings - which can sometimes be done with just the right conversation(s) with that parent, so they can fully see how hard that is/was for you, while other times that is not possible - not to worry - there are ways that therapists can address this ‘stuck-ness’. Therapy offers an effective means of addressing and healing these wounds. I practice emotion-focused individual therapy (EFIT) techniques for this whereby we go into these hurt places and give that part of you what it needed in those hard moments. Additionally, therapists can provide valuable tools and insights to help you build a healthier self-concept (Orth, Robins, & Roberts, 2008).
4. Romantic Attraction and Perceived Value
Self-esteem also influences our romantic relationships. Its no secret that low self-esteem leads to shying away from the risk taking involved in dating and ‘putting yourself out there’. More than that, individuals with a low perceived value may be susceptible to abuse or unhealthy relationship dynamics (being taken advantage of). People with low self-esteem may struggle to believe they are worthy of love and affection, which can impact their ability to maintain healthy relationships (Murray et al., 1996).
On the flip side, there is a ton of research illustrating a phenomenon known as ‘assortative mating’ - an automatic process whereby single humans will naturally aggregate to choosing partners with similar attractiveness, socio-economic status, IQ, etc. So, for singles - if an individual does not take care of themselves and ‘be their best self’ it’s no surprise that that impacts their self esteem and sense of hope that they may attract that great partner that they want. For those in relationships, they may find some insecure attachment coming up; worrying about the ‘safeness’ or ‘security’ of their relationship with their partner as a consistent theme.
So to feel good about ones’ self we need a sense that we can get (and keep) the partner we want, and to do that we typically need indicators from the outside world that we ARE enough (especially from prospective partners when single, or our partner when in a relationship), as well as doing our ‘internal work’ to be able to see all of the good things that we bring to a relationship.
Simple tip: Challenge negative self-perceptions in the context of romantic relationships. Remind yourself of your positive qualities and focus on building relationships with individuals who appreciate and value you for who you are (Leary et al., 2006). Challenge and reframe negative self-talk and replace it with positive affirmations that highlight your strengths and potential (McCarthy & Skowronski, 2011). Conversely, find 1-2 things you can do improve yourself and move towards being your best self. Sound like a contradiction? Yep it is! There is no silver bullet here, but there are always things you can do to create change.
5. The Role of Authenticity and Taking Risks
Being authentic means expressing your true thoughts, feelings, and values, rather than conforming to societal or peer expectations. Embracing authenticity often involves taking risks, like speaking your mind or pursuing unconventional paths. A common phenomenon I see on the therapy couch is ‘people pleasing’ or clients reporting being ‘conflict avoidant’. These patterns come from a deep need for connection and a fear of rejection (which certainly comes from somewhere in their past). Being able to 1) build a life with secure connections and attachments (ie. with the right, safe people), and 2) work on taking risks with those people (and others) to be a bit more disagreeable even when that may lead to some conflict, to say that joke which may (or may not) land, to say your political opinion, etc.
Suggestion: Step out of your comfort zone and take calculated risks to express your authentic self. Research suggests that authenticity can lead to increased self-esteem as it aligns your actions with your core values and beliefs (Wood, Linley, Maltby, & Baliousis, 2008). Pro tip: do an identity exercise wherein you can write out a description of your ‘ideal self’ - what they look, sound, and feel like; and most importantly what they do differently. Write out a scenario (a real or an imagined realistic one) - how would you currently respond? How would your ideal self respond? What would change internally (thoughts, feelings) to make the difference?
In conclusion, self-esteem is a pivotal factor that affects how we feel, our effectiveness, relationships, and overall happiness. By understanding its various facets and implementing evidence-based strategies, including the role of authenticity and taking risks, you can cultivate a healthier self-esteem and lead a more fulfilling life. Of course, feel free to reach out to me if you’d like help with this.
1. Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4(1), 1-44.
2. Judge, T. A., & Bono, J. E. (2001). Relationship of core self-evaluations traits—self-esteem, generalized self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability—with job satisfaction and job performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(1), 80-92.
3. Neff, K. D. (2003). The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion. Self and Identity, 2(3), 223-250.
4. Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop beating yourself up and leave insecurity behind. HarperCollins.
5. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton University Press.
6. Orth, U., Robins, R. W., & Roberts, B. W. (2008). Low self-esteem prospectively predicts depression in adolescence and young adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(3), 695-708.
7. Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (1996). The benefits of positive illusions: Idealization and the construction of satisfaction in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(1), 79-98.
8. Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-esteem as an interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(3), 518-530.
9. McCarthy, R. J., & Skowronski, J. J. (2011). Constructing self-narratives: The role of self‐discrepancies and affect. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41(4), 470-482.
10. Wood, A. M., Linley, P. A., Maltby, J., & Baliousis, M. (2008). Joseph. The authentic personality: A theoretical and empirical conceptualization and the development of the Authenticity Scale. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(3), 385-399.