Increasing Your Self-Esteem

Increasing Your Self-Esteem

It’s time to appreciate yourself! You are unique and special. You have your own talents and skills, your own appearance, and your own experiences. We all want to be accepted, and we all want to accept ourselves for who we are. So, we need to learn who we are – our identities, our values, our personal strengths and weaknesses. That may sound simple. But it can feel confusing during adolescence, since adolescence is a time when you may feel that ‘who you are’ is constantly changing or evolving.

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself. Self-esteem is not an unchanging characteristic of a person. We all go through times when we value ourselves highly – and we all experience periods of self-doubt. Our self-esteem changes at different points in our lives.

Your self-esteem affects the way you behave and the decisions you make. In turn, the decisions you make and your behaviour can positively or negatively affect your self-esteem. So it’s important to get a good cycle going: knowing yourself, valuing yourself, making good decisions, and feeling good about yourself. Let’s start now….

The key to feeling good about yourself is to know yourself. This means you need to recognize your strengths and positive qualities as well as your weaknesses (including those you have to live with and those you might be able to change). Growing up with healthy self-esteem helps us to be accepted by others and to achieve our goals.

People often refer to ‘high’ or ‘low’ self-esteem. High self-esteem means that you value yourself. It means you recognize your own strengths, weaknesses, and skills. People with high self-esteem acknowledge their successes and achievements, respond confidently to challenges, and practice positive thinking. When you have high self-esteem, you are generally satisfied with who you are and what you are doing with your life.

Low self-esteem means that you have negative feelings about yourself or doubt your own self-worth. People with low self-esteem feel inadequate, helpless, inferior and unable to improve their life situations. Of course, overall self-esteem is often a mix of traits you value and qualities you don’t like as much. So it is helpful to think of self-esteem on a spectrum, or a range, which can change over time. Make a list of 5-6 of your strong qualities

Are you:

  • Honest?
  • Reliable?
  • Loyal?
  • Polite?
  • Hardworking?
  • Patient?
  • A good friend?
  • Good with children?
  • Intelligent?
  • Sensitive to others’ feelings?
  • A good teammate?
  • Respectful to elders?

Do you have a talent for sports, science, drawing, dancing, singing, or anything else?  Do you have courage, creativity or a strong spiritual sense?   Are you generous or do you have a great smile?

After you make your own list, put a star next to a quality that you are especially proud of, or that you think others recognize in you.

Now make a list of 2-3 of your weaknesses. Be honest, and remember that we all have weaknesses. You can put a check-mark (x) next to the weakness that you want to change.

External Factors that Influence Self Esteem

Individuals begin to develop a sense of self-esteem when they are very young. Children who are brought up with love, warmth, and provided supportive feedback in the family are more likely to be more self-accepting. Children who receive consistent counsel from parents feel more confident about how to behave.

As we grow up and interact with a wider range of people, other people’s attitudes and behaviours can also affect our self-esteem. For example:

  • A boy who grows up in a family that is loving and supportive but lacks economic resources may have high self-esteem. But when he goes to school he may be teased about his clothes or where he lives.
  • A girl who is respected and cherished in her family may grow up to encounter people who treat her as inferior to boys.
  • A self-respecting child who lives with a physical challenge may face rejection when she or he begins to interact with the wider community.
  • Self-confident children from one culture can grow up to learn that someone from a more privileged group views them as inferior.

In other words, a person’s self-image is not determined by wealth, gender, physical abilities, or culture. Rather, it is determined by the way other people respond to the said individual based on these characteristics. Often, people respond to others based on socially learned norms that reflect the society in which they live.

These social attitudes are reinforced by the media. For example, the media (magazines, television, the Internet) help to form our ideas of what is beautiful, important, powerful, or acceptable in society. If we fit that description, we may feel accepted and thus, confident. If we don’t fit that description, we may feel inferior and even worthless.

Internal Factors Affecting Self Esteem

Your self-esteem may be affected by other people, but in the end, you have the most influence. Many people who grow up in difficult circumstances or face unfair discrimination still value themselves. Don’t let anyone take away your self-respect.

There are many ways to enhance your self-esteem.

  • Accept yourself the way you are. Do not compare yourself to someone else. You are you.
  • Identify your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself. Not aiming for anything can make you feel disappointed in yourself. (But feeling like you have to achieve something very difficult and enormous can lead to feelings of failure – not good for self-esteem!).
  • Identify your values and let them guide your behaviour.
  • Develop your abilities and be proud of them. You deserve it!
  • Cultivate positive relationships and avoid relationships where you do not feel appreciated for who you are.
  • Ask for help if you are in a relationship that makes you feel very bad about yourself.
  • Select good role models.

If you believe in yourself, chances are that you will put in more effort and be willing to try new things. This means you’ll be more likely to discover and develop your natural talents and abilities. Accepting and respecting yourself will also attract acceptance and respect from others. Hurray for feeling valued and special! (And for valuing others for their good qualities, too!)

Low self-esteem makes us less able to assert ourselves or defend our values and beliefs. As a result, other people’s values may be forced on us. You’ve heard about peer pressure, right?  People who lack self-esteem also tend to be unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. They tend to blame others for their failures and make excuses.

Increasing Your Self-Esteem

Here are four ways you can gradually gain confidence and self-regard:

  1. Know yourself: Go back to the list of qualities you wrote about yourself earlier in this article. Take pride in your strengths and positive values.
  2. Act like yourself: Take action based on the values you have set for yourself. Explore your interests and develop your abilities. Set achievable goals. Take pride in yourself and present your best self.
  3. Connect to others: Cultivate positive relationships. Sometimes helping others reminds us that we are needed and valued. Select role models whom you trust and respect. Seek help when it is needed.
  4. Be patient and optimistic: Give yourself time to gradually grow into the type of person you want to be. Do not compare yourself to someone else. You are you, and that is pretty amazing.
This article is adapted from Action Health Incorporated’s publication – “Family Life and HIV Education Students’ Handbook for Junior Secondary Schools

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