What is self-esteem?
Self-worth is our own assessment of ourselves, or how we see and perceive ourselves. Often this has to do with the evaluation of our personality and our skills and competencies. Self-worth is the basis for our self-confidence and self-esteem.
This means that even if we attribute our self-esteem to ourselves, it can have a tremendous effect on our interpersonal relationships. If self-esteem is too high, we quickly come across as arrogant, but if it is too low, we usually act very reserved and distance ourselves from other people and interactions.
Self-worth and self-confidence
Even though self-worth and self-confidence are not the same thing, they often have the same effect on your everyday life. While self-worth has to do with how you see yourself and what you think of yourself, self-confidence often has more to do with your abilities. How do you value your abilities and skills? Do you believe in yourself?
People with strong self-confidence often approach certain situations more directly and courageously, without hesitating for a long time. That is why they are often more successful. On the other hand, people with poor self-confidence often suffer from self-doubt about their abilities and skills. If you lack self-confidence, you should specifically build up your self-worth. Because this sits from a psychological point of view one layer deeper and affects your self-confidence.
The 4 pillars of self-esteem
According to a model by Friederike Potreck-Rose/Gitta Jacob (2017), self-esteem can be divided into 4 pillars:
1. Self-acceptance: the positive attitude towards oneself. It includes
of one’s own person regardless of achievements, abilities, and social successes.
2. Self-confidence: a positive attitude towards one’s own abilities and achievements. This also includes
- being able to let go of something
3. Social competence: the experience of being able to make contact. This means being able to interact and deal with other people, even in difficult situations, and feeling and regulating resonance and closeness.
4. Social network: the experience of being included in social relationships, e.g. family relationships, friendships or partnerships.
Was determines self-worth?
Self-worth is determined by one’s own assessment of oneself as well as by feedback and reactions from one’s environment. Experiencing success, recognition, and acceptance increases self-worth. In addition, other areas such as spiritual values or virtues can play a role. The importance of the areas for one’s own self-worth is very individual.
What is healthy self-esteem?
Healthy self-esteem is not universal. That is, each person is comfortable with different self-esteem. Some have a very high self-image, while others have a rather lower self-image. However, even though neither is necessarily optimal, it by no means means that you can’t be happy that way.
There is no such thing as the optimal self-image, yet there are healthier and unhealthy self-images. The important thing is that it is a realistic self-assessment to the circumstances. A healthy self-esteem is associated with positive and uplifting thoughts. Moreover, your self-worth should remain stable and constant.
It is important to understand that your self-worth is not only dependent on you and your individual feelings. Interpersonal situations and the recognition of others can strongly influence us and our self-esteem. Therefore, it is even more important not to take the sometimes negative comments and bad influences from others to heart. Make yourself independent from the judgment of other people and make sure that your own opinion is the most important and loudest one.
What is unhealthy self-esteem?
Just like healthy self-esteem, it is important to understand first that there is no right or wrong self-esteem. Everyone is different and finds themselves with different self-worth. Nevertheless, there is the underestimation that comes from having too low low-esteem and the overestimation that occurs when someone has unnaturally high self-esteem. The disadvantages of both polarized self-esteem forms are further explained here.
Self-underestimation, or poor self-esteem, can have some negative consequences. People with low self-esteem are often more susceptible to emotional stress from the outside. For one thing, poor self-esteem leads affected individuals to always attribute mistakes and deficits to themselves, even when they are not necessarily the reason for their failure.
How do people with low self-esteem behave? Since people with low self-esteem often do not think very highly of themselves, they are often shy, anxious, but also more quickly offended when negative comments or evaluations come from others.
To understand this better, you can think of self-esteem as a kind of protective wall. With poor self-esteem, this wall is very broken and full of holes. As a result, these people are quickly influenced by others. In addition, those affected suffer more quickly from serious consequences such as inferiority complexes or even depressive episodes.
But it is not just poor self-esteem that can have a negative impact on your psyche or social life. Too high or too strong self-esteem can also have ist pitfalls. People with very high self-esteem are often called narcissistic or egotistical.
That is, these people are often accused of caring more about themselves than about their fellow human beings, which can also lead to a lack of empathy. Unlike people with poor self-esteem, overestimation quickly leads those affected to look for faults in others first. It is difficult for them to admit mistakes because, in their eyes, they are perfect.
What influences our self-esteem?
Our self-esteem can be influenced by many different factors. However, it is important to understand that you are ultimately the master of your own self-esteem. How you see yourself and what you think of yourself can be supported by others, but you are also the only person who can do anything about it.
Our self-esteem comes from within, which means that each person must build their self-worth as well as their self-confidence and self-love for themselves. Of course, it helps when others give us positive words, but that is only half the battle. But just as others can help you build your self-esteem, they can also be the original reason for your poor self-esteem.
How do self-esteem problems arise?
Let's get right to the point. This is not about finding someone to blame and condemning them for your lack of self-worth. It's about gaining awareness of how poor self-esteem arises in order to eventually get rid of the problems in this regard.
Self-esteem problems are self-inflicted
Of course, this sounds hard at first, but on closer inspection, it is a blessing. Because just as you lowered it yourself, you can also increase your self-worth again. Understanding this and really internalizing it gives you incredible power. You may think to yourself: "Nonsense! That wasn't me. That was my partner, my parents, my boss...".
These people were the trigger for your negative thoughts about yourself. But eventually, these thoughts have manifested themselves in you and have pushed you more and more into the foreground. This is totally normal because we all have this inner critical voice that sometimes pulls us down and can also build us up again. For this, we just have to slowly steer it in a positive direction.
Still not convinced?
Then you will get an example here. Please imagine the following situation.
You are called in for a meeting with the boss. The boss tells you that he is not satisfied with your performance and that is why you are being dismissed. Whether this scenario has a negative impact on your self-worth depends solely on your reaction to it.
You doubt yourself and think as a result of things like:
- I am not good enough.
- I have failed.
- I will never be successful.
You stand by yourself and think as a result of things like:
- I know I did a good job.
- I may have made a few mistakes, but I can work on them. Those mistakes don't define my worth.
- I will continue to work on myself, I guess this work relationship just wasn't right for me.
Self-esteem problems are triggered from the outside but ultimately arise solely due to your thoughts. So you literally have it in your hand!
Causes that can lead to poor self-esteem
Just being aware of what triggered your negative opinion about yourself can help you improve it. Let’s look at the 3 most common causes of poor self-esteem in the following section.
Low self-worth from childhood
At a young age, we are particularly susceptible to outside influences. Often it is those people that are close to the children that damage their self-esteem. These people can be parents, siblings, or even friends. Oftentimes, this happens without evil ulterior motives. There simply is a lack of awareness of the effect certain phrases have on a young person. Young children are easy to influence, so at this age, it is important to help a child build healthy self-esteem.
Below you can find some example sentences that you may have heard as a child and that consciously or unconsciously accompany you to this day.
- You can’t do it!
- Don’t make a fool of yourself!
- You’re not able to do that!
- Be realistic for once!
- You are too stupid for that!
- You’ll never make it!
- You’re not pretty enough!
If your self-esteem problems come from early childhood, they are usually very deep-seated and difficult to get rid of. If this is the case, you should consider seeking professional help.
Low self-esteem due to relationships
Even in adulthood, we are not immune to external influences. Especially in romantic relationships, our self-esteem can be put under a lot of pressure and suffer. Fights as well as breakups can often be a trigger for low self-esteem. Fights, even more so in toxic relationships, can strongly contribute to diminishing self-esteem. Because here, it can easily happen that a partner purposefully picks on insecurities and thus shapes an even worse self-image.
Even after the breakup, it is not unlikely that the following questions will plague you for days and weeks: Was I not good enough? How do I need to change? Will anyone ever love me again? What do I have to do to be loved? Do I deserve this? Here, it is important to understand that self-love is one of the most important kinds of love.
Because if you are convinced of yourself and stay true to yourself, then you will be happier in any relationship. If you do not have this kind of self-love, a vicious cycle arises. Because then you are desperately looking for recognition and let far too much happen to you. This is how you get into toxic relationships in the first place, and then they pull you down even further.
Every day, we are exposed to the media, and it gives us a very distorted image of a successful life. By looking at the rich and beautiful of this world every day, you unconsciously create a bad self-image. Social media like Facebook and Instagram play a major role in negatively influencing the psyche. The reason is the frequency and regularity with which many visit them and what can be seen there.
Most people present themselves on these platforms quite specifically from their best side. Pictures of great vacations and other beautiful events are posted, bus hardly anyone shares the difficult moments of life. And believe me, we all have them. But social media isn’t the only place to look for direct comparisons.
Try not to compare yourself to others in everyday life, too. Whether that’s classmates, co-workers, siblings, or friends. There will always be people who are better than you at certain things, but you can do other things better. Do not compare yourself to others but give yourself the freedom to do your best and just be the way you are.
How does poor self-esteem manifest itself?
Most people don’t realize how far-reaching the consequences of poor self-esteem are and why boosting self-esteem is so important. There are many different ways in which poor self-esteem can affect us. Here are some symptoms of poor self-esteem.
You treat your body badly
If you don’t love yourself, sometimes, it is difficult for you to treat yourself and your body with respect. Often, it can happen that you simply don’t find yourself beautiful and therefore, don’t make an effort anymore. As a result, you may eat unhealthily and stop exercising. In extreme cases, you may even turn to alcohol and/or drugs on a regular basis.
You put up with everything
Since you lack your own recognition, it can happen that you look for it in others. The urge to please and be recognized by others often leads to toxic friendship. As a result, you may allow other people to take advantage of you. This may make you feel needed and appreciated in the short term, but it will not make you happy in the long run. Because friendships that do not consist of mutual affection and investment will not help you increase your self-esteem.
You have trouble finding a partner
The time-honored saying, you must love yourself before you can love others, sounds cliché, but it is often true. If you don’t love yourself, you won’t allow love from the outside. If someone likes you, you just believe that to be true and you self-sabotage, because low self-esteem will always stand in your way, whether in the fear of not being enough or in doubting whether your partner really likes you. The voice of your inner critic will permanently stand in your way. Specific self-esteem exercises can help you improve your love life.
You don’t stand by your opinion
If you have low self-esteem, you are easily swayed from your opinion. In the worst case, you regularly do things you don’t want to do. If you recognize yourself here, you should strengthen your self-esteem under all circumstances.
You define yourself through status symbols
You try to increase your self-worth by buying expensive clothes, cars, and valuables – a plan that is definitely doomed to failure because no object in this world can build up your self-esteem. Only you can do that yourself.
How can I strenghten my self-esteem?
To build your self-esteem, it is important that you learn to love yourself just the way you are. This includes accepting your faults and flaws. This task probably sounds very difficult and unattainable but with the following easy tips and tricks, you can strengthen your self-esteem.
Do you want to learn more about how to boost your feeling of self-worth? Then read our article 6 effective tips to boost your self-esteem.
To build your self-esteem, it is very important that you treat yourself well. Write a list of things you like about yourself that you value and thing you have accomplished. Stick this note somewhere where you will see it often during the day, be it on the refrigerator or on your desk. Every time you see this note, read the list out loud. This will make it easier for you to internalize these things in the long run.
Examples for your list:
- I am a helpful person.
- I believe in myself.
- I can play the piano well.
- I go to my dream university.
Time for yourself
To balance out an otherwise stressful day at work or university, it is important that you take time for yourself. Strengthen your self-worth by doing something good for yourself. This can be anything from eating a bar of chocolate, taking a leisurely walk, starting a new book, or taking a long bath to relax.
The important thing is to do something that makes you happy. Don’t let others disturb you during this time and concentrate on yourself fully. It’s best to put your phone away and really switch off.
It’s normal to be afraid of failure, it’s what makes us human, but try to stay positive anyway. When you notice that negative beliefs are surfacing, target them. Make a conscious distinction mentally between “I can’t do this!” and “I will!”.
Deal with comments from others in the same way. Just as you should not allow yourself to think or talk badly about yourself, you should not accept it from others. Accept criticism, but don’t let it drag you down.
Talk to others
Even though you might be the master of your own self-esteem, it doesn’t mean that you have to walk this path alone. It is totally normal and understandable to seek help from others. Whether that is family or friends or professional help is not important.
The important thing is that you feel comfortable and reach your personal goals. Sometimes, it can also be helpful to talk to other people who feel the same way as you fo and who are struggling with the same issue. Likeminded offers online workshops and exchange groups with other people who feel the same way you do. These group sessions are also facilitated by trained psychologists. Here you can share and learn from others anonymously and confidentially.
6 tips to boost your self-esteem
Now it's time to get down to business. With the following self-esteem tips, you can actively do something for your self-image which brings us to the keyword – active! Because only if you actively change something about your current behavior and your current thought patterns, you can expect an improvement in your self-image.
Please do not take on too much at the beginning. Be good to yourself and listen to yourself and your body. It's totally normal to need a break or to be insecure, but don't let it demotivate you. Each self-esteem tip is effective in itself and it is simply utopian to integrate everything into your everyday life at once. We humans also love our routines and your current behavior patterns are deeply anchored in your brain. Therefore, don't expect everything to change overnight. Work slowly from one day to the next. Little by little you will notice a positive change, even if it may take a while.
1. Take full responsibility
You, and only you, control your emotional world. Of course, we like to be influenced or dragged down by others, but try to regain control over your feelings and thoughts about yourself. Instead of relinquishing responsibility for your situation, fully embrace it. No matter what the triggers were for your negative self-image – realize that you can get yourself out of it. Remember, however, that you are not alone. Just because the process is an internal one within you doesn't mean that others, as well as friends and family, can't help you.
2. Be aware of your thoughts
Everything starts with your thoughts. That's why the first thing to do is to start here. Become aware of unhealthy thought processes and negative beliefs. Positive thoughts can turn into positive appreciation in the long run. That is, if you actively think positively about yourself, this will also transfer into your esteem or self-worth.
Here it is advisable if you praise yourself. Listen to yourself in appropriate situations and when you feel bad while thinking. Imagine that you are eavesdropping on another person. Would you talk or think about others in the same way? You can either do this internally, but we would recommend you to write down all positive thoughts. This way you can always access your thoughts. At first, you will probably find this difficult, but eventually, you will recognize the negative thoughts shortly after they arise. This is the foundation for change.
3. Replace negative thought patterns
Once you have identified your negative beliefs, you need to actively replace them with positive beliefs. This is a very effective self-esteem exercise. These thought patterns are also called pre-programmed thoughts. Every one of us has built up and trained pre-programmed thoughts since childhood. An example is a situation when you first touched a hot stove as a child and got burned. Then the next time you see a hot plate, the pre-programmed thought is "don't touch it, it can be hot and it hurts!"
These short circuits in the mind happen often and help us a lot in everyday life. But pre-programmed thoughts can also work against us and lead to poor self-esteem. In terms of self-worth, an pre-programmed thought might be that if you ever meet new people, you tell yourself, "Oh no, they won't like me anyway." A pre-programmed thought like this not only holds us back but can also greatly hurt our self-esteem. That's why it's very important that you take specific action against your pre-programmed thoughts. Even though it may feel strange at first, your subconscious mind can gradually accept the new thought patterns. Once this is done, your mind will finally work for you instead of against you. Here are a few examples:
"I can't do it!" - "I can do anything I want!"
"I am not good enough!" - "I am more than enough!"
"I'm not attractive enough!" - "I like the way I look!"
4. Forget about perfection
This self-esteem exercise is great to use while implementing the other tips. Realize that no human being is perfect. Learn to accept and appreciate your mistakes, because they are what make you an interesting person. So every time you feel yourself to be bad or not so good, try to realize that this is normal and human. Every mistake and every flaw makes you the unique person you are. Even if you are sometimes listless in the implementation, do not put yourself down. On the contrary – be proud of yourself!
5. Say goodbye to negative people
There are certain people who always talk down to you and make it difficult for you to strengthen your self-esteem. Point this out to them in a friendly but firm manner. If this does not change their behavior, say goodbye to them. This negative energy can have an incredible impact on you and limit you in your everyday life.
In the long run, you have to decide for yourself which people in your life are good for you and which ones limit your quality of life. There is nothing wrong with saying goodbye to negative influences. If for some reason this is not possible for the time being, please remember that it is still only you who decides how you deal with external influences.
6. Be a good person
If you do things that you yourself consider morally questionable, it will have a negative effect on your self-esteem. Therefore, ask yourself, "What makes a good person?" Write down the answers and live by them. Of course, no one is perfect and it is totally normal to make mistakes. But just try to be aware when you make a mistake. Insight is the first step in the right direction. Learn from your mistakes and build up good self-confidence.
3 self-esteem exercises
In the following you will get three effective self-esteem exercises to recognize and strengthen your true self-worth.
Self-esteem exercise 1 – Build self-esteem through affirmations
Affirmations are positive beliefs that influence your subconscious. They have been used successfully in self-esteem coaching for many years. Start by taking a piece of paper and pen and writing down a list of positive affirmations. Then make a second list where you go into more detail. For example, if your positive affirmation is "I like me!", write on the second list a few specific points or characteristics that you like about yourself. When you have finished both lists, read them again carefully and try to really internalize and accept all the points. It is important that you say the sentences to yourself regularly and preferably out loud. It is advisable to make a routine out of it. In the morning after brushing your teeth, for example, is a good time.
The following affirmations are especially good for strengthening self-worth:
- I like me!
- I'm not perfect and that's perfectly fine!
- I am a gift for the people around me!
- I am worth being loved!
- I am good the way I am!
Tip: The weirder these statements sound to you, the more important they are.
Self-esteem exercise 2 – Meditation for self-love
More and more people are meditating regularly and for good reason. What was considered pure esotericism in the West a few decades ago has now been scientifically proven. To increase your self-worth, guided meditation for more self-love is recommended. You can find a selection of well-known channels for audio and video material.
Self-esteem exercise 3 – Learning self-esteem through friends
The third self-esteem exercise is also incredibly effective. Maybe you can apply it directly today. It's best to make a note now for later before going to bed. It will take you just 10 minutes. The exercise works as follows.
Pick up your phone and send the following message to your closest friends and family.
"I am doing a personal development exercise right now. Please answer the following 3 questions for me."
1. What do you particularly appreciate about me?
2. What are my strengths?
3. What are my weaknesses?
Do you have a queasy feeling when you think about it? You will be surprised with which eyes the people around you perceive you. If someone suggests giving you the answers in a personal conversation, please accept with thanks. You will get free self-esteem coaching.
Professional self-esteem coaching
Especially if your low self-esteem comes from early childhood or was caused by trauma, it can be very difficult to get out of it yourself. Therefore, do not be too proud to accept help.
Targeted psychotherapy to increase self-esteem is almost always helpful. A specially trained therapist can provide you with the self-esteem coaching tools that best help in your individual case.