A fine balance is self esteem. Too little will see negative feelings take hold, affecting motivation, relationships and the capacity to cope, and ultimately our overall wellbeing. Too much leads to an air of superiority, smugness through boasting, impulsiveness, insensitivity of others and a blindness to one’s faults.
Sticking to the middle ground of self esteem and trying to stay there can be a challenge, particularly when moving from childhood to being a teenager.
Changes to self esteem in adolescence
One of the most complex transitions in our lifetime is experienced as teenagers, with the pace of growth and degree of change second only to infancy. During this time these complex physical changes include the development of fertility, but also see a maturity of neurobiological processes. The psychological changes in this period effects social and emotional behaviour along with cognitive functions such as thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition.
All of these changes are meant to help the journey from dependance as children to independence as a adults. Rare is this journey smooth sailing, rather it is more often likened to a roller coaster, where emotions such as anger and depression cannot be explained, and where heartfelt feelings are not reciprocated.
What does self esteem provide in adolescence
Enter self esteem, a reflection of a ‘person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth‘. With so many psychological changes during adolescence, it is not surprising that self esteem will join the roller coaster ride.
Our esteem needs to be at a healthy level as it impacts our life and choices, the self value it reflects is essential for our mental health. Having a balanced view of our self importance and worth, can help in the belief that we are worthy of other things such as happiness and respect. This then builds confidence in the tasks that we perform throughout the day, leaving success or failure to be dealt with in equal measure.
Having value and respect through self worth will have a flow on effect to others. Should the opposite happen, and instead we openly show a lack of self value, this will be viewed by those around us as a cue to do the same.
Internally the way we view ourselves has a profound effect on our thoughts, emotions, desires and goals. Self esteem can provide control and direction, allowing us to act independently and take responsibility for our actions, regardless of the results.
A good esteem of oneself offers clarity to understand our personal qualities. This provides self belief in what we are capable of, thus making challenges easier to tackle and better handling of criticism. It can lead to more fulfilling relationships, completion of desired achievements, which is integral to personal happiness.
This nurturing of a positive self esteem not only provides a feel good experience, it allows us to respond to others in a more positive way. Being effective and productive in what we do is encouraging to others and there is no longer the need to bring others down to bolster our image.
It is important to note that self esteem encompasses both the positive and negative judgements of ourselves, and the emotional states we experience. A healthy level can provide the security needed to trust our personal judgement, values and principles, to defend them when challenged, yet be flexible enough to change them as we gain life experience.
Ways in which to boost or maintain our self esteem
There is a well known quote that could be a mantra for self esteem;
‘It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be?’
Clearly valuing ourselves is a mind set, yet difficulty in accessing the tools we need to make changes to or maintain a positive level of self esteem is not unique. Perhaps knowing that others have the same difficulty is the first thing to remind ourselves of and secondly that self esteem is not permanent once achieved, but rather like an old bicycle, needs to be lovingly maintained to achieve a smoother ride.
Self sabotage is high on the list, as your inner voice can either lift you up or drag you down. Negative thoughts tend to repeat themselves like a broken record. Rather than trying to turn it off, instead think of this voice as a radio station, that can be switched to another channel. ‘This is never going to work’ can be switched ‘I’ll do my best and see what happens’ or perhaps change ‘I’m pretty sure they don’t like me’ to ‘It’s hard to know what they are thinking. Just be myself’.
If the negative mumbling continues try exercise or a task that requires full concentration. At least then, if once you finish the task the mumbling resumes, you have had a break and can tackle it with some positive statements before those thoughts gain momentum. Also if the task is something new and outside your comfort zone, then not only will it require more concentration but there will be a sense of satisfaction at the end.
For some writing down these mantras as an affirmation can help. These can be generic or specific to a goal, and should be referred to daily to remind you of your personal strengths or the benefits for reaching that aim. An example of using a daily affirmation would be to place the list somewhere prominent, such as the back of a bedroom door, to be read out to start the day, as soon as you get out of bed . In this list you may wish to include counter arguments to common themes that turn up with internal chatter, then when self sabotage attempts to set in, little effort will be required to recall these helpful phrases.
A reality check is always healthy as often your perception needs adjusting. Comparing yourself to others is human nature but can easily become a destructive habit. Looking at what others have, whether it be physical or material is a sure way of ending up with ‘I’m not good enough’. Rather keep in mind that we all have something but no one has everything. Often our views are selective and only pick the best of each individual, failing to have a more balanced view. For example we only see what possessions someone has, but have not witnessed the hard work and sacrifices made to get there.
Similarly to looking at the combined attributes of others and aspiring to them all, perfectionism is also unrealistic if applied to every task. Better to set yourself up for success by aiming at a level that would require your best efforts, rather than a lofty expectation or measuring your achievements by someone else’s idea of what is good.
Just as we are kind to ourselves when managing our self esteem, we need to do the same with those around us. Often simple things like listening to someone vent, encouraging someone taking on a new venture or simply holding open a door, will not only make you feel helpful but could be reciprocated later. Of course you don’t have to do this with everyone, and in fact it is better to be more supportive to those who prove to be supportive of you.
This interactive side to building self worth can be extended through to what you read, watch and listen to. Once again surround yourself with things that make you feel positive and that are informative. The saying goes that small minds talk about people, average minds about events, and that great minds discuss ideas. Finding more of the latter may take some work but your state of mind will benefit in the long run.
Self esteem after all is just like a balanced diet, having a healthy view of both our strengths and weaknesses, acceptance of success and failure, is sure to build confidence in our day to day lives, no matter what stage of life we are in.