PHOTO: Sergio Marín Gómez
Text: Alejandra Misiolek Marín
Being self-confident and having high self-esteem are terms used to talk about the same concept. We all know what they mean, or we know how to detect if someone is considered self-confident or not, however, when it comes to defining them, people find a lot of confusion.
Self-esteem is the main reason for psychological consultation and its lack, the main cause of psychological suffering. Some authors claim that 85% of the world’s population is affected by low self-esteem.
What is self-esteem?
Let´s try to define what self-esteem is. What we understand by self-esteem is a positive valuation of ourselves that we have incorporated, learned or elaborated, in other words, it is the degree of valuation that one has of oneself.
Where does low self-esteem come from?
The valuation we have of ourselves is created, especially in the early stages of our development such as childhood, through recognition by others. The people around us, by recognizing and valuing us, give us back, through the way they treat us, talk to us, listen to us, look at us, etc., an image of us, from which we form an idea of ourselves. This idea is implicit and, although it depends to a great extent on our past interactions, we are not aware of how it has been formed and often we are not even aware of what exactly is the idea we have of ourselves at an explicit level.
An example of how low self-esteem develops. *
If a child is afraid and cries
- and the parents ignore them
- or invalidate them by telling them that they should not cry,
- or scold them for crying,
- instead of attending to their emotional state and trying to understand them without judging them and help them or solve the problem (this is exactly what we do in therapy to “repair” it),
the child deduces, from the only perspective they have, which at this stage is egocentric (“I am the center of the universe so everything bad is my fault”), that their way of being is inadequate.
Consequently, many of the problems of self-esteem have this origin: if since childhood we have the continuous perception that what we feel is not validated by our environment, we will easily conclude that our way of feeling is inadequate. Therefore, we will feel ashamed for feeling the way we feel and little by little we will leave aside that feeling that is not accepted by our environment until we erase it from our conscious memory. Finally, we will be left with only the conviction, as a result of the shame of feeling inadequately, that we are defective and that, therefore, we must hide ourselves from others. Then we begin to “use” others as referents of our value. This is very dangerous because we place great power over us in the hands of others.
How is low self-esteem maintained throughout life?
When this child grows up and becomes an adult, they continue to assume, implicitly and unconsciously, that they are inadequate. Therefore, they behave according to this conviction (thye apologize for everything, thye do not embark on new projects because they assume that they will not be able to, they assume that others have more rights than they do so they allow others to treat them badly without realizing it, their internal language is negative – you are useless, etc.). By behaving in this way, they also do not receive good feedback from others and do not see themselves as good because they do not do anything interesting, and their conviction of being inadequate increases. Thye start to blame themselves for lack of success and reassure themselves that they are inadequate. Moreover, being convinced that they are inadequate, they interpret the world according to this conviction (e.g., this person has not called me, it is because he does not love me – as I am inadequate, it is normal that he does not love me). As we see, these cycles not only continue, but feedback on each other.
An extreme example of low self-esteem.
The narcissistic personality is formed from the same mechanism and taken to an extreme, where the insecure person finds great motivation to compensate for their feeling of inferiority by doing things they consider superior and thanks to the feeling of superiority over others, thye even out their self-esteem. Does this seem like a good solution? Maybe yes, but it has at least two problems: on the one hand, in the long run thye suffer because they are not able to build meaningful bonds with other people because they “use” them to boost their fragile ego. On the other hand, they need to do it constantly and live with the anxiety of losing it or with the impostor syndrome. (On the narcissistic personality and impostor syndrome we will write another post later).
The importance of self-esteem and how to raise it?
From what we have said so far, we can conclude that having a low self-concept is probably one of the most important sources of mental suffering for humans, whereas, in order to reach a state of mind of psychological well-being it is essential to enjoy a positive feeling of ourselves.
If we have already identified our self-esteem as low, how to raise it?
We will answer this question in the following blog, where we will talk about the strategies and the self-esteem pillars.
* For self-esteem to be formed, it is not enough that it happens once, it needs to be a prevalent pattern of our interactions with others.