(self-i-steem) A realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect.

How people view themselves and how they respect their individuality comprises self-esteem. Those who view themselves favorably often have high self-esteem, while those who desire to be different and feel poorly about themselves often have low self-esteem. So how do people begin to decide how they feel about themselves? The development of low self-esteem can begin as early in life as infanthood. Although infants cannot compare their size or shape to others and begin to relate that to how they feel about themselves, they can begin to determine whether they are lovable and worthy based on the care they receive from others. Infants who are nurtured appropriately will likely develop a positive idea of themselves.

As one gets older, the addition to one’s self-esteem often comes from other sources. Parents, teachers, and other role models for children can have a strong impact on self-esteem based on the type of feedback the child receives. Criticism and punishment often lead to low self-esteem, while encouragement and praise often lead to high self-esteem. As children age into adolescents and teenagers, peers become increasingly important. This is also the time when the source of self-esteem is often derived from how people compare themselves to their peers or what they are told by their peers. For instance, those who are ridiculed and unaccepted by their peers will likely develop low self-esteem. As we grow into adults, the compilation of these past experiences often shapes the respect we have for ourselves. Self-esteem at this age can stem from a variety of sources.

“The tragedy is that so many people look for self-confidence and self-respect everywhere except within themselves, and so they fail in their search.” –Dr. Nathaniel Branden

So what are some symptoms or problems associated with those who develop and maintain low self-esteem? People who have low self-esteem may have problems in their relationships with others as it is difficult to feel as though you deserve the respect of others when you don’t respect yourself. Those who have low self-esteem are also more likely to harbor pessimism and negativity.

“There are two trees, each yielding its own fruit. One of them is negative . . . it grows from lack of self-worth and its fruits are fear, anger, envy, bitterness, sorrow – and any other negative emotion. Then there is the tree of positive emotions. Its nutrients include self-forgiveness and a correct self concept. Its fruits are love, joy, acceptance, self-esteem, faith, peace . . . and other uplifting emotions.” – author unknown – from Kathi’s Garden

So how can one who has low self-esteem make changes to improve it? First it would be important to recognize one’s low self-esteem and the negative thoughts and feelings associated with it. For instance, some people can identify that they become jealous of their spouse’s relationship with the opposite sex and begin to think that they themselves are too fat or maybe they shouldn’t have argued with their spouse when he/she came home late the other night. Not only are they jealous, but now they are feeling depressed and anxious each time they think of their spouse or interact with them. Rather than focusing on what one lacks, how they compare, or how they should have done things differently in the past, it’s important to focus on just the opposite.

“To establish true self-esteem we must concentrate on our successes and forget about the failures and the negatives in our lives.” -Denis Waitley

To assure healthy self-esteem, decide what’s positive in your life. Look for positive attributes all around you. Maybe your success is being a good friend to someone or being a caring sibling. Low self-esteem breeds negativity. Don’t let it control your life and your self-esteem. For we are all deserving of our own respect.

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Jody Johnson, LICSW, LIMHP, began working at Wholeness Healing Center as a therapist in 2007. Jody graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with her Masters in Social Work.  She received her bachelor degree in Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.


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