Personal Effectiveness and Responsibility
Why Does Good Self-Esteem Matter?
At perhaps the simplest level, good self-esteem (or self-worth or self-acceptance if you prefer these terms) is most important for forming good relationships with others because accepting yourself enables you to interact with other people more effectively (and ultimately to live relatively happily in society). A lack of healthy self-esteem (on the other hand) is often the source of many relationship-centered problems such as a lack of self-confidence, criticalness of others, excessive competitiveness, jealousy or envy, taking things personally, and subtle forms of exaggerated ego.
For many people, self-criticism is an automatic thought pattern. Self-critical thoughts tend to repeat themselves over and over again. In that case, an individual may need to learn how to consciously manage his or her thought processes and in this article we will look at a few ways in which we might do this.
What can we do to lift or improve Self-esteem?
The first step to resolving the problem of too much self-criticism is to notice that it is an automatic psychological pattern rather than believing the self-criticism or projecting the criticism on to someone else. In some cases, self-criticism is related to guilt. Although we are not suggesting that building self-esteem is either a fast or easy journey for any individual, there are five key steps that can help in many situations. These are as follows:
1. Take time to think, ask questions and re-frame
A feeling of self-acceptance/esteem arises from perceptions/feelings that are both conscious and unconscious. Most of us can readily identify the conscious part of the self-esteem equation because we can identify the explicit messages that we have been given over our life (usually starting very early in childhood). Most individuals either accept or reject the messages given to them (received from parents, relatives, close friends, teachers and others) but in so doing start to form an idea about who they are – especially in comparison to others. This may be broadly positive or negative but at least the sources of the feelings are known.
Few people are explicitly aware of the more subliminal messages that we progressively take on board as a result of interpreting what we experience in life. This often manifests itself as a general non-specific feeling that we are “basically good”, “open and honest”, “mostly upbeat”, and “a fun loving person” for example, on the more positive side, or “prone to not follow through”, “forgetful”, “takes life too seriously” or “a bit of a loser” on the more negative side. We may not hear these messages explicitly but we “derive” that this is what “the world” mostly thinks about us. Individuals with higher levels of self-esteem tend to demonstrate behavior which is more flexible, more open in expressing wants and needs and more able to learn from feedback from others (and so develop a more palatable self-image). Individuals with lower levels of self-esteem tend to demonstrate behavior which is more rigid, more closed or quiet about expressing wants and needs and less able to learn from feedback from others (or even to listen to it at all). They therefore assume a much less personally attractive self-image and often feel trapped by it.
By simply reflecting on how we view ourselves we can start to become more aware of what is real and what is simply past “baggage”. We may not be able to jettison all of this but we can often make a start.
2. Carefully assess all of your forward options
When evaluating what we can personally do about low levels of self-acceptance, our evaluation should ideally be other-centered rather than self-centered. In other words, if we think about different ways in which we might stop criticizing others and accepting them for who they are, we are likely to reduce the amount of self-critical behavior we engage in. Hence, the more we think about our future possibilities for action in positive rather than negative ways (in relation to ourselves and others) the better.
3. Select the plan(s) with the best chance of succeeding
Although there are some dangers in generalizing, and there are differences in approach for people who have more extraverted or more introverted preferences, the following are likely to increase levels of self-esteem for most people as they select particular plans or courses of action on a day-to-day basis:
- Conveying the plain truth or letting others know (within reason of course) what you are feeling about any given situation, especially where it really matters to you.
- Accepting responsibility for everything that occurs in your life without seeking to blame others.
- Reading more widely, discussing deeper issues with people around you, and finding more regular time to ponder or reflect.
- Seeking to postpone judgment, listen and understand before defending or attacking or determining that what you see or hear is “wrong” or to assign fault in any way.
- Regularly checking (through reflection) whether you might be deceiving yourself or even telling yourself lies about what is happening around you.
- Questioning any limiting beliefs that you may hold and challenging your personal paradigms
- Treating everyone with respect and patience, rather than irritation and judgment, and maintaining the larger perspective as much as possible.
- Being as humble as possible in all dealings with other people.
4. Appreciate what resources will be needed to succeed
Building self-acceptance requires that individuals have a conscious choice about all the messages that are received and paid attention to-they can be a “victim” of the feedback or the “owner” of it. And the consequences of this are that we all choose to have high or low levels of self-acceptance. However, if you start out having lower self-acceptance you are likely to feel more “fragile” and need third-party resources to help you to move forward. We should therefore think very carefully about how much time and energy a task or project is likely to involve (especially personally) before we agree to take it on.
5. Implement plans and follow-though persistently
Developing a stronger level of self-acceptance is often a long journey and needs consistent effort to build it up on a “brick by brick” basis. The more people invest in non-critical behavior of others, the less prone he or she will be to be critical of him or herself but it is easy to back-slide unless we are aware of the potential for this to happen. As we therefore complete tasks and work with other people, we should constantly review whether we have acted in fair and consistent ways and met the promises we have made. The more we do this, the better we will feel about ourselves.
We choose our personal sense of self-acceptance or self-esteem, or how much self-respect we have, much more than most of us believe. We can therefore elect to change it for the better with a little focus and sustained effort. Rather than to be defensive and protective of whatever small amount of self-esteem we think we have left, if we give more of ourselves and show a greater amount of respect and humility to everyone around us, our own levels of self-acceptance will rise (slowly perhaps but surely).