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The Elusive Self-Esteem

Self-esteem, in a nutshell, is how we feel (or think) about ourselves. Healthy self-esteem includes self-confidence and self-respect, that sense of “esteem” for yourself. Unhealthy or low self-esteem is the natural opposite: a lack of respect for or confidence in yourself; a lack of self-assuredness that can ignite or fortify a sense of insecurity.

This is probably not news to you. Most of us are taught the importance of self-esteem from a young age, whether or not we ourselves have it. We know it’s important to encourage it in kids and to bring forward in adults. There are plenty of inspirational posters, memes, and quotes to remind us to believe in ourselves or to be kind to ourselves. So why is it still such an issue? Why do so many of us struggle with self-esteem so consistently?

Looking At Self-Esteem As Conditional

I think one of the reasons self-esteem is such an elusive quality is that we choose to base it on changeable things. Think for a moment about when you feel you have the highest self-esteem. For many of us, we can recall memories of reaching a goal, winning a contest, or acing a test. Or maybe we find our highest level of self-esteem when we’ve been particularly productive, or when we’ve spent an encouraging day with some close friends.

On the other side of the spectrum, think about times when you’ve had particularly low esteem. Maybe when you failed at something, lost a game, or perhaps put down by someone meaningful.

These are normal experiences, with normal results. When we experience good, we feel better about ourselves. When we experience something negative, we feel worse about ourselves. Our self-esteem is dependent on external and temporary factors. Our self-esteem becomes conditional, ebbing and flowing based on how much or how little we’ve accomplished or experienced.

If our self-esteem is conditional, it’s no wonder it is a consistent struggle for so many of us! Life by nature is full of ups and downs, full of excitement and disappointments. When our self-esteem is anchored to things that will fade or disappear or change in an instant, our self-esteem will, too.

A Solution?

So, how can we cultivate a long-lasting, true and healthy self-esteem? We need to anchor it in something else entirely. Something strong, constant, unconditional. This is the tricky part because this might be different for everyone. Some look to religion or spirituality, philosophy or social justice ideologies. I think, though, a good starting point is looking at how to define your worth. If you are worthy or valued because of something innate, because of who you are rather than what you do, that doesn’t change. Your worth, value, and hopefully self-esteem, then, wouldn’t change.

If you find yourself struggling with the roller coaster of self-esteem, you are not alone! And it doesn’t have to be this way. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a counselor near you if you are ready to take a closer look at your own struggle with self-esteem. Any of our therapists at Optimum Joy would love to talk with you!

Written by therapist Clair Miller

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