Insights into Psychology

What Is… Self-Esteem

head with cogs inside

In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms.  This week’s term is self-esteem.

Wikipedia defines self-esteem as “reflects an individual’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth”.  It reflects a person’s beliefs about the self and emotional states.  Self-esteem is predictive of outcomes such as academic achievement, happiness, and interpersonal relationships.  While there may be short-term variations, self-esteem is thought to be an enduring trait.  Self-esteem is heavily influenced by life experience, particularly childhood experiences.

People with high self-esteem firmly stick to their values/principles, trust their own judgment and problem-solving abilities, and are sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. ย People with low self-esteem tend to be self-critical and hypersensitive to criticism from others, are indecisive and fear making mistakes, tend to be perfectionistic, tend to feel guilty, and have a negative general outlook.

The last time I was in hospital, one of my doctors was a quacky psychoanalytic type.  He told me I needed to do this psychodynamic therapy-based group after discharge, and the part of the group he thought I needed most was the module on improving self-esteem.  I told him that when I’m well my self-esteem is actually quite good, and he condescendingly explained that no, it was not, because if I had good self-esteem I wouldn’t have attempted suicide.  I would’ve slapped him upside the head except that’s generally not the best approach with someone who has the final say in your discharge.

It’s true, though.  When I’m well I have good self-esteem.  I know myself well, am comfortable in my own skin, know what I’m good at and not good at, and I’m fiercely independent, which makes it easier not to spend much time worrying about what other people think of me.  I suspect a lot of that comes from a very well-adjusted childhood.  Affection was never lacking.  School was easy for me and I did well at it, and this was very positively reinforced by my parents.  By the time high school rolled around I, felt pretty far removed from the world of the “in crowd”; still, I was comfortable in my little niche.  From a young age, I wanted to do things my own way, whatever that might be. Again, this was something that was encouraged by my parents.

Being stuck in a prolonged depressive episode, my self-esteem has suffered.  I don’t know this depressed self as well because she’s an unpredictable, fluctuating self.  The things I used to know I was good at are now so much harder and are not predictably reliable.  Some of the things that used to make me me feel hidden away somewhere.  I’m not always self-critical, but I’ve become ultra-sensitive to criticism from others.  Strangely, though, while I’m sensitive to the criticism that is wielded outwardly as a weapon, I don’t care that much about what people might think about me.  As long as it stays inside their heads, I don’t place a lot of value on what others think, in large part because in general I hate people (thanks to the depression).  It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s the best explanation I can come up with.

Has your illness influenced your self-esteem?

This Improving Self-Esteem workbook is from the Centre for Clinical Interventions.

Source: Wikipedia: Self-esteem

You can find the rest of the what is… series in the Psychology Corner.

Embrace Acceptance guided journal cover

Embrace Acceptance: A Guided Journal draws on concepts from acceptance and commitment therapy to help you move towards a place of greater acceptance. It’s available from the MH@H Download Centre.

27 thoughts on “What Is… Self-Esteem”

  1. yes it has
    the autism
    and whatever else the fuck it is
    has and will
    moods and doubt
    insults and shouts
    and poor decisions
    sad to say
    and add to the fact
    that i have a son
    who is far worse
    than i am
    most disgusting
    and people say
    hey you will find
    love again
    i most certainly would hope not
    i would not inflict me
    on anyone!

  2. I suffer with low self esteem and it doesn’t take much to lower it. On the flip side I hate praise and compliments when I do well. I hate the attention and fear being good as I may fall from that height.

  3. That doctor at the hospital sounds like an idiot and a jerkface. What the heck?! To me it seems like a medical mystery that you have solid self-esteem, but then depression comes whooshing in from no definable place, ready to knock out your base structure. This is what I hate about so many psychiatrists–they think, “Oh, I know everything and I’m a genius.” AAAAARRRRRRGH.

    I have really good self-esteem, but I have no idea how that’s possible. I do get insecure though. “Does that person like me?” Or, “Did I say/do/fart something wrong?” Or, “Why hasn’t that cute guy answered my text?” Etc., etc. I tend to take things personally that might not be personal. E.g., someone might be avoiding me because they’re exhausted, and I’ll think, “Are we not friends any longer?” Maybe that’s not the same as self-esteem, though. I am quite confident. I just value relationships so much that I overthink them, maybe?

  4. My self-esteem has been low since childhood, so it’s hard to tell what is the result of depression, especially as I’m not always sure when the depression started, but it is extra low when I’m depressed – or maybe I should say it’s a little higher when I’m not so depressed, as depression is the default. The difficult situation I’m currently facing about my job would certainly be easier to resolve if I had better self-esteem and could accurately judge whether I’m likely to be able to cope with the new job conditions or not.

  5. My pdoc always seems shocked that I have fairly decent self-esteem. I don’t care so much about what other people think of me, and I feel like I am a good person. To her I guess that is strange for someone with mental illness. I never thought about how childhood could be a determining factor. I can see that in my case as well. I do get down on myself when depressed, really really down on myself.

    1. Yes I guess it’s easy to assume that low self-esteem with depression is always correlated with low self-esteem in general, but that’s just not the case.

  6. ‘…enduring trait’ hmm, that’s an interesting way to put it. Fair descriptor, really.
    I enjoyed reading this post and learning to understand what it is..this self esteem thing. I feel very detached from it, when im well. When im well, im aware that it exists, but i dont care to realise it. When im unwell, I lack it. And i suppose, that’s why i know it exists within me. For how could I miss something, that doesn’t exist?
    Another great post that managed to make me really sit and think. Remarkable job ^^

  7. I can relate to your post as everything in my childhood was great.
    To answer your question; Yes my illness had a tremendous part in depleting my self-esteem which is close to none at this time. And I am also abnormally affected by negative comments.

  8. This is so interesting. First, that doctor…ugh! My lack of self-esteem moments seem to really kick-in when self-doubt comes knocking. Typically when I am about to do, write, put myself out there in the world self doubt comes first followed by a drop in my self-esteem. My friends can spot it a mile away and thankfully call me on it. This is something I do actively work on. Another great post. Thank You!

  9. I think I probably have low self esteem most of the time. I think trauma made it worse. But it actually made my self esteem in social situations better, I think… maybe something to do with “I’ve experienced / am dealing with much more serious stuff than you, life and death issues, so shut up about your cracked phone case.” When I get angry, I stick up for myself and my worth more.

  10. My self-esteem has always been great. Yet, even I went through a phase of depression that lasted for 3 years. During that time, I still was very sure of myself, but I just couldn’t find the motivation to try or start something of my own. I guess I’m an anomaly in that sense, and I can’t explain it myself. These days I feel better.

    Interesting read, as I can relate on some level.

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