That kind of blew the rest of us having drinks away. Sam was the poster child for success, doing well at everything that she attempted. That included education, sport, always being in happy relationships, absolutely everything.
She was so confident about everything!
So, as soon as she disappeared for a few minutes, everybody looked at me. They knew about my fields of interest etc, and thought it likely that I could make sense of it.
And I told them that what Sam experiences is not uncommon, that many people struggle with it. It’s even why you hear about these celebrities that appear to have it all together who then inexplicably commit suicide.
So this is what I explained to them.
What is Self-Esteem?According to psychology, self-esteem is a person's impression of themselves. It is a subjective assessment of their personal qualities and characteristics. If you have high self-esteem, you can recognise your qualities and understand your worth. In contrast, having low self-esteem may blind you to your own abilities.
I really like the way that I heard somebody describe it once.
Imagine your talents are gold pieces, sitting on a table in front of you. And you have a lot of talent, so there’s a really big pile.
Having low self-esteem is like the room being in total darkness. The table with the talents on is there, but you cannot see it, and it has no positive affect on you. However, having good self-esteem is like switching on the light, and now you can see those talents, and can value them.
The Difference Between Self-Esteem And Self-ConfidenceMany people confuse self-esteem with self-confidence, but these are two entirely different concepts.
A person can be confident and believe in their abilities. But that doesn't mean they have a good image of their self. Some people have fantastic self-confidence and may project an air of total belief in self. However, their self-worth could be compromised, and they don't believe they're a 'good person' or have any personal value.
The fictional character from the Avengers, Tony Stark/Ironman, is an excellent example to illustrate the difference between self-confidence and self-esteem.
On the surface, he seems very confident and believes in his abilities. He exhibits leadership skills and can be charming.
However, Stark also seems to have self-esteem issues stemming from his uncertain childhood, medical condition, and alcoholism. Just because a person is confident doesn't mean they have a good impression of themselves.
To look at more grounded examples, let’s look at those celebrities I mentioned earlier. You can have an actor that appears incredibly self-confident. They go to auditions, win great roles, and deliver fantastic, award-winning performances. On the outside, they look confident and that all is well.
Yet inside, they’re still scared that they’re not good enough, everything is just a performance for them.
So, understanding that regardless of what it looks like on the outside, your self-esteem can be low, what actually affects your self-esteem, in a positive or negative way?
The Effects of Low Self-EsteemWhile low self-esteem itself is not categorised as a mental health disorder, it can produce negative impacts on one's life, and these can be medical.
The three main areas that prolonged low self-esteem are linked to in research are poor relationships, addiction, depression and anxiety.
What Affects Your Self-Esteem?A person’s self-esteem is influenced by many things. And it’s essential to understand the influences if you want to improve your sense of self. Here's a look at all of those influences:
a) Behaving Assertively – Assertiveness and self-esteem have a give-and-take relationship. Or rather, you could see it like the chicken and the egg, asking which comes first. They both appear to impact each other.
If you aren't able to stand by your decisions, you will eventually start doubting them and your abilities as well. And it’s really the results of not behaving assertively that affect your self-esteem. Because you don’t say no to something, and feel that you were just ignored or over-run, that is what then affects your self-esteem negatively.
On the other hand, if you behave in an assertive manner, you’re going to get your way more often. This will then make you feel good about life, and how you achieve things. So your self-esteem rises.
The key here is that self-esteem is a feeling, whereas acting assertively is a behaviour. Regardless of how you feel, you can still choose how you wish to behave, and that can have consequences, but more on that later.
b) Childhood – People that have had a happy childhood with adequate support from parents and family, generally have a strong sense of self-esteem. Some things can hamper a person's self-esteem, but unconditional support from parents can counteract a lot of outside influences.
c) Societal Influences – Society is harsh and full of people who don't hesitate to pass judgment on others. Societal influences can do a number on a person's self-esteem. For example, society has certain expectations and standards with regards to what they consider a success or failure.
People have opinions on what others should wear, how much they should earn, what their position in life should be, etc. All of these factors can influence your self-esteem.
d) Friends and Family – Friends and family can have a significant influence on a person's self-esteem. Support and love from family can help people develop a good sense of self and become confident in their decisions. If your family and friends are toxic and continuously questioning your choices, you might experience a loss of self-esteem.
e) The Media – Many people have complained about the unrealistic standards and expectations set by the media. This problem is exasperated by social media platforms like Instagram. It is not uncommon for young people to develop an unhealthy mindset because media has subliminal messages in their content. For example, celebrities like the Kardashians setting unrealistic standards of beauty, while promoting laxative and diet pills.
f) Age – Age can influence self-esteem to a great extent. As people learn and grow, they come to understand themselves well. If the growth is healthy, they learn to develop good self-esteem naturally and have a realistic assessment of themselves.
If the growth is unhealthy, they lose their self-esteem with age. Old age can be one of the most significant factors in influencing self-esteem. As people age, they become anxious and will do anything to maintain their youth.
A stronger sense of self can help combat negative influences in your life. Fortunately, it is possible to develop good self-esteem even if you don't naturally have it.
Ways To Boost Your Self-EsteemYou'll come across a thousand articles and opinion pieces on how to boost self-esteem. Some will contain empty tips like writing affirmations or looking in the mirror and complimenting yourself every day. These tips are nothing but empty assurances and don't last in genuinely stressful situations. Here are some research-backed ways to boost your self-esteem:
1. Be Assertive and Value Your Own JudgmentsI promised earlier that I would come back to this.
It’s difficult to build your self-esteem if you’re not assertive. If you have low self-esteem and are drowning in a sea of negative thoughts, it is crucial to assert control over your own mind and decide to be better. Without assertiveness, you can backslide into low self-esteem when things don't go your way.
Place value in your own judgments and decisions. Assertiveness will give your choices more weight and encourage people to follow your lead. That will boost your confidence and influence self-esteem.
Being assertive takes time, practice, and effort. It also requires a great deal of self-awareness and control.
People with low self-esteem can easily undermine their own assertiveness with phrases like "This always happens to me," or "This is my life," etc. But you can change that by learning to be assertive.
And let me tell you, removing such negative thoughts from your mind is necessary. Dr. Jonathan Fader, Ph.D., mentioned replacing negative language associated with sports performance with things like "periods of adjustment or healing" and "statistically acceptable variations."
This kind of assertive language, outlook and behaviour can help improve self-esteem and prevent people from relapsing. Assertiveness is a learnable skill, so if you aren't assertive and have poor self-esteem, you can change that by learning to behave assertively. All you need is some practice.
2. Use Positive Body Language and Choose the Right ClothesMost people don't want to admit that a person's self-esteem is often influenced by their appearance. But it goes deeper than just physical attractiveness. Even a person who doesn't conform to societal standards of beauty can have high self-esteem if they feel good about their body, style, and appearance.
In her popular TED talk “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are”, Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business school social psychologist says that the posture and position of the body can influence the mind. If your body occupies more space and has a wide stance, it has higher testosterone and lowers cortisol levels.
It helps reduce stress and improve your levels of self-confidence. Your posture sends a signal to your brain that you are capable and in command, which has a positive influence on your self-esteem. Practicing "power poses" like sitting back with your body language open and spread out can give you a boost of power.
3. Smell GreatThis might seem like a superficial thing, but it actually works. A study conducted by the University of Liverpool determined that men who wore scented deodorants and smelled good were more confident and self-assured than those who wore unscented deodorants.
The study also found that women were attracted to men who mentioned they wore scented deodorants, even if they hadn’t met them in person. It shows that scent is essential and can have a significant influence on people’s perception of self. While the research is only able to show a link between those that wore scented deodorant were more self-assured than those that don’t, it could not predict a cause.
Were they more self-assured because they wore the scented deodorant? Or did they wear the scented deodorant because they were more self-assured? You simply cannot say. (It’s kind of like the research that showed that women with a couple of tattoos were more self-confident than those without. Yes, those two things were linked, tattoos with high self-confidence, but were they confident because they had the tattoos, or were they getting tattoos because they were confident?)
But I think you will agree that I can say knowing that you smell good boosts your self-confidence, and that will eventually boost your self-esteem.
4. Look InwardsMany people base their self-esteem on criteria assigned by society. For example, your self-esteem might be based on your level of education or your physical appearance. Someone else might base their self-esteem on their wealth or influence in society. But these are superficial and don't really have much to do with you as a person.
According to Kristin Neff, a professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas, in Austin, Texas, your self-esteem is more grounded and rooted if it stems from feeling like you're worthy of respect, rather than from your achievements.
For example, if you intrinsically believe that you're an intelligent and compassionate person, your self-esteem will be higher and more grounded. If it is contingent on your profession or the number of degrees you hold, it will be shallow, and you will lose it if your education proves to be insufficient.
That's why it is essential to look inward and find qualities that are rooted in your personality.
5. Be Real With YourselfPositive statements like "I'm awesome" or "I will succeed" are empty and offer no benefit. They are ephemeral, and the assurance you get from them will fade away quickly when faced with a challenging situation. It is possible to get affirmation if you're real with yourself. This comes from accepting yourself as you are and focusing on what makes you worthy.
For example, if you have this immense well of compassion and are always eager to help people, remind yourself of this every day. If you’re creative and intelligent enough to find unique solutions to problems, remind yourself of that every day.
Focusing on real qualities is much better than reciting empty affirmations every day. Instead of writing down statements or a list of things you need to accomplish, focus on writing your real qualities down and make a note of things you have already accomplished.
So there you have it, five simple ways to start working on boosting your self-esteem. Some you can start easily on your own, like changing your hygiene and starting to smell great, others you may want help with, like learning how to be assertive.
So what about my friend, Sam?
It’s good news there. She returned to the table a few minutes later, having overcome the emotions that flooded her as she opened up about this, and a lot got dealt with her. Sure, she actually immediately felt a small boost to her self-esteem, as she now felt that she had found the confidence to talk about this.
But she says that she’s getting a bigger boost as she starts to make some changes. She has always looked and smelt great, but she’s working on being assertive, looking inwards more, rather than comparing herself to others, and is being a lot more real with herself.
And if this works for her, it will work for you.