Self-Esteem: The Good, Bad and Ugly!

Self-esteem, the foundation of our self-worth and confidence, plays a crucial role in shaping our lives. It is our overall evaluation of our own worth or value as a human being. It is how we feel about ourselves, our abilities, and our place in the world. It impacts our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in various contexts and is influenced by past experiences, social comparisons, and personal achievements or failures. Therefore, it is the lens through which we see ourselves and influences how we make sense of the world. Ultimately, our self-esteem shapes our worldview and our sense of identity. People with high self-esteem are more confident and believe in their own abilities. They are better equipped to set and achieve goals and face challenges with resilience. As Nathaniel Branden famously said, “Self-esteem is the foundation of all happiness.”

Self-esteem is, therefore, vital in shaping our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. However, self-esteem is not a one-size-fits-all concept; it can show in different ways. We discuss the three types of self-esteem: healthy self-esteem, low self-esteem, and excessive self-esteem, and how finding a balance between them is essential for personal growth and well-being.

Healthy Self-Esteem: Nurturing a Positive Sense of Self

Healthy self-esteem is the foundation of a successful and balanced life. It is about having a positive and realistic view of oneself, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses, and valuing oneself as worthy.

Examples of Healthy Self-Esteem:

  • Accepting compliments with gratitude and without downplaying one’s achievements. If a friend praises your cooking skills, you might say, “Thank you! I enjoy cooking, and it’s nice to hear you like it too.”
  • Embracing new challenges and opportunities with a belief in one’s abilities. Whether learning a new skill, trying a different hobby, or taking up a leadership role, you believe in your ability to learn and grow.
  • Setting boundaries in relationships to protect personal well-being. You have the confidence to say “no” when necessary. You prioritise your well-being without feeling guilty. For instance, if someone asks for help but you already have other commitments, you can politely decline, understanding your limitations.
  • Viewing criticism as a chance for growth and learning. You regard feedback as an opportunity to learn and improve rather than taking it personally.
  • Celebrating achievements without feeling boastful. Whether completing a project at work or accomplishing a personal goal, you celebrate your successes.
  • Maintaining healthy relationships by nurturing positive and respectful relationships with others. You don’t seek validation from external sources and instead form connections based on mutual respect and support.
  • Embracing imperfections by understanding that everyone has flaws. You don’t strive for perfection but focus on self-improvement and accepting yourself as you are.
  • Pursuing personal growth by engaging in activities that nourish their mind, body, and soul, such as exercising, reading, or practising mindfulness.
  • Handling setbacks and failures positively and with resilience. You view challenges as learning opportunities and use setbacks as stepping stones for future success.
  • Expressing thoughts and feelings assertively and honestly. You communicate your needs and desires without being overly aggressive or passive.

Low Self-Esteem: Unravelling the Chains of Self-Doubt

Low self-esteem involves having a negative and diminished view of oneself. Individuals with low self-esteem may struggle to recognise their strengths, tend to focus on their weaknesses and feel unworthy of love, success, or happiness. Low self-esteem can harm one’s overall well-being and impact various aspects of life. As Maxwell Maltz says: “Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand brake on”.

Examples of Low Self-Esteem:

  • Constant self-criticism and negative self-talk. For example, you might criticise yourself when making a mistake, saying, “I’m so stupid. I always mess things up.”
  • Avoid new challenges because you fear failure and doubt your abilities. They may think, “I’m not good enough to handle this. I’ll probably fail anyway.”
  • Seeking constant validation from others to feel worthy and accepted. You rely heavily on external praise and reassurance to feel good about yourself.
  • Difficulty accepting compliments graciously, often dismissing or downplaying positive feedback. For instance, if someone praises your appearance, you might respond, “Oh, no, I don’t look that good. You’re just being nice.”
  • Feeling inferior or unworthy in your relationships, believing your partner or friends deserve better. You may fear being abandoned or rejected by others.
  • Negative body image: constantly comparing yourself to others, and might feel insecure about your appearance, believing you are unattractive or undesirable.
  • Avoiding social situations or feeling uncomfortable in groups, fearing judgment or rejection from others. You may isolate yourself to protect you from potential criticism.
  • Downplaying achievements and attributing success to luck or external factors rather than recognising their efforts and abilities.
  • Self-Sabotaging behaviours and undermining your success or happiness because you believe you don’t deserve positive outcomes.
  • Excessive people-pleasing by putting others’ needs and desires above your own to gain approval and avoid conflict.

Excessive Self-Esteem: Finding Humility In Confidence

Excessive self-esteem, often called narcissism, involves an inflated, unrealistic sense of self-importance. Individuals with excessive self-esteem constantly seek admiration, lack empathy for others, and believe they are superior to those around them. While some level of self-confidence is healthy, an excessive focus on oneself can lead to damaged relationships and unfair behaviour. Balancing confidence and humility is vital for maintaining faithful connections with others.

Examples of Excessive Self-Esteem:

  • Constantly talking about themselves, dominating conversations, and steering discussions towards themselves. They often boast about their achievements and accomplishments, seeking admiration and attention from others.
  • Need constant recognition and have an insatiable need for praise, and they may become upset if they feel their accomplishments are not acknowledged or appreciated.
  • An exaggerated sense of importance and often believe they are superior to others. They may dismiss or belittle the opinions and contributions of others, considering their views as the only valid ones.
  • Sense of entitlement to special treatment and expect others to serve their needs and desires without question.
  • Lack of empathy and often prioritise their own needs and interests over those of others. They may have difficulty understanding or caring about others’ feelings and experiences.
  • Exploitative behaviour and might use others for their benefit without considering the well-being or feelings of those they exploit.
  • Reacting negatively to criticism by viewing it as a personal attack on their perceived superiority. They may not take feedback constructively and might dismiss or retaliate against critics.
  • Inflated sense of impressiveness and may have grandiose fantasies of success, power, or beauty. They may believe they are destined for greatness or have unique qualities that set them apart.
  • Exploiting relationships and using others to maintain their sense of self-importance. They may surround themselves with individuals who feed their ego and admiration needs.
  • Difficult to maintain genuine connections because they focus primarily on themselves and their needs.

Understanding the three types of self-esteem – healthy, low, and excessive – empowers us to introspect and develop a balanced view of ourselves. Healthy self-esteem enables personal growth, resilience, and positive relationships, while low and excessive self-esteem challenges well-being. By developing self-awareness, seeking support, and practising self-compassion, we can balance confidence and humility, achieving a healthier and more successful life. Remember, self-esteem is a process; we can nurture a positive and true sense of self with patience and effort.

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