“To me, self-esteem is not self-love. It is self-acknowledgement, as in recognizing and accepting who you are.”

Kwan, V. Y., John, O. P., Kenny, D. A., Bond, M. H., & Robins, R. W. (2004). Reconceptualizing individual differences in self-enhancement bias: An interpersonal approach. Psychological Review111(1), 94-110. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.111.1.94

Kirkpatick, L. A., & Ellis, B. J. (2001). Evolutionary perspectives on self-evaluation and self-esteem. In M. Clark & G. Fletcher (Eds.), The Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol. 2: Interpersonal processes (pp. 411–436). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Following these guidelines will encourage your client to develop a better sense of self-love, self-worth, self-acceptance, and self-esteem, as well as discouraging “needless shame” and learning how to separate herself from her behavior (Gilbertson, 2016).

Self-esteem is not self-concept, although self-esteem may be a part of self-concept. Self-concept is the perception that we have of ourselves, our answer when we ask ourselves the question “Who am I?” It is knowing about one’s own tendencies, thoughts, preferences and habits, hobbies, skills, and areas of weakness.

Self-esteem researcher and expert Dr. John M. Grohol outlined six practical tips on how to increase your sense of self-esteem, which include:

Mark Twain:

Mead, G. H. (1934).  Mind, Self, and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” 

I hardly got involved in anything my friends did because I felt I would just hold them back. I stayed friends with them all through high school but I feel like I missed out on a lot.

According to Carl Rogers, founder of client-centered therapy, self-concept is an overarching construct that self-esteem is one of the components of it (McLeod, 2008).

Henry James:

If this sounds at all familiar to you, here are some tips to help you break the cycle of unfulfilling friendships and low self-esteem:

Indirect measures of self-esteem have been created—measures that may provide a more accurate picture of the self-concept because they are less influenced by the desire to make a positive impression. Anthony Greenwald and Shelly Farnham (2000) used the Implicit Association Test to study the self-concept indirectly. Participants worked at a computer and were presented with a series of words, each of which they were to categorize in one of two ways. One categorization decision involved whether the words were related to the self (e.g., me, myself, mine) or to another person (e.g., other, them, their). A second categorization decision involved determining whether words were pleasant (e.g., joy, smile, pleasant) or unpleasant (e.g., pain, death, tragedy). On some trials, the self words were paired with the pleasant items, and the other words with the unpleasant items. On other trials, the self words were paired with the unpleasant items, and the other words with the pleasant items. Greenwald and Farnham found that on average, participants were significantly faster at categorizing positive words that were presented with self words than they were at categorizing negative words that were presented with self words, suggesting, again, that people did have positive self-esteem. Furthermore, there were also meaningful differences among people in the speed of responding, suggesting that the measure captured some individual variation in implicit self-esteem.

While self-esteem issues can originate from a variety of places (anything from the effects of a bad romantic relationship, an overbearing boss, or abusive parents), it typically works on you over time to make you believe that you don't deserve good things or people in your life.

Baumeister and colleagues (2003) conducted an extensive review of the research literature to determine whether having high self-esteem was as helpful as many people seem to think it is. They began by assessing which variables were correlated with high self-esteem and then considered the extent to which high self-esteem caused these outcomes. They found that high self-esteem does correlate with many positive outcomes. People with high self-esteem get better grades, are less depressed, feel less stress, and may even live longer than those who view themselves more negatively. The researchers also found that high self-esteem is correlated with greater initiative and activity; people with high self-esteem just do more things. They are also more more likely to defend victims against bullies compared with people with low self-esteem, and they are more likely to initiate relationships and to speak up in groups. High self-esteem people also work harder in response to initial failure and are more willing to switch to a new line of endeavor if the present one seems unpromising. Thus, having high self-esteem seems to be a valuable resource—people with high self-esteem are happier, more active, and in many ways better able to deal with their environment.

Although we naturally desire to have social status and high self-esteem, we cannot always promote ourselves without any regard to the accuracy of our self-characterizations. If we consistently distort our capabilities, and particularly if we do this over a long period of time, we will just end up fooling ourselves and perhaps engaging in behaviors that are not actually beneficial to us. Most of us probably know someone who is convinced that he or she has a particular talent at a professional level, but we, and others, can see that this person is deluded (but perhaps we are too kind to say this). Some individuals who audition on television talent shows spring to mind. Such self-delusion can become problematic because although this high self-esteem might propel people to work harder, and although they may enjoy thinking positively about themselves, they may be setting themselves up for long-term disappointment and failure. Their pursuit of unrealistic goals may also take valuable time away from finding areas they have more chance to succeed in.

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Self-esteem can make it very hard for you to forge new relationships. If you don't believe you're worthy of good friends, you might turn down offers from new people for parties or even just to meet for coffee. You might assume that once someone gets to know you, they won't like you anyway. As a result, you stop trying.

Held, B. S., (2002) The tyranny of the positive attitude in America: Observation and speculation. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 965-992. doi: 10.1002/jclp.10093

Another great TEDx Talk comes from the founder of the Girls for Change organization, Niko Everett. In this talk, she goes over the power of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, and self-love. She highlights the importance of the thoughts we have about ourselves and the impact they have on our self-esteem and shares some techniques to help both children and adults enhance their self-esteem.

Finally, self-esteem is also not self-compassion. Self-compassion centers on how we relate to ourselves rather than how we judge or perceive ourselves (Neff, n.d.). Being self-compassionate means we are kind and forgiving to ourselves, and that we avoid being harsh or overly critical of ourselves. Self-compassion can lead us to a healthy sense of self-esteem, but it is not in and of itself self-esteem.

Our self-esteem is determined by many factors, including how well we view our own performance and appearance, and how satisfied we are with our relationships with other people (Tafarodi & Swann, 1995). Self-esteem is in part a trait that is stable over time, with some people having relatively high self-esteem and others having lower self-esteem. But self-esteem is also a state that varies day to day and even hour to hour. When we have succeeded at an important task, when we have done something that we think is useful or important, or when we feel that we are accepted and valued by others, our self-concept will contain many positive thoughts and we will therefore have high self-esteem. When we have failed, done something harmful, or feel that we have been ignored or criticized, the negative aspects of the self-concept are more accessible and we experience low self-esteem.

As we have noted in our discussions of the self-concept, our sense of self is partly determined by our cognition. However, our view of ourselves is also the product of our affect, in other words how we feel about ourselves. Just as we explored in Chapter 2, cognition and affect are inextricably linked. For example, self-discrepancy theory highlights how we feel distress when we perceive a gap between our actual and ideal selves. We will now examine this feeling self, starting with perhaps its most heavily researched aspect, self-esteem.

These facts on low self-esteem are alarming and disheartening, but thankfully they don’t represent the whole story. The whole story shows that there are many people with a healthy sense of self-esteem, and they enjoy some great benefits and advantages. For instance, people with healthy self-esteem:

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Meanwhile, those whose self-esteem has them constantly questioning their own worth, feeling unsafe and uncomfortable in relationships, stick to what is familiar by having friendships in which they can never feel truly safe and comfortable. By safe, I’m talking mostly about psychological safety rather than physical safety. But regardless of the kind of safety, we all seek familiarity. If we grew up feeling unsafe and uncomfortable, we’d keep getting drawn into situations that help us stay with what we know—in this case, lack of safety and comfort.

John, O. P., & Robins, R. W. (1994). Accuracy and bias in self-perception: Individual differences in self-enhancement and the role of narcissism. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology66(1), 206-219. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.66.1.206

Explore the possibility of sharing more of yourself. Sometimes our relationships are psychologically safer than we realize. That is, with some friends it might actually be okay to let our guard down a bit, and share your more intimate, vulnerable sides.

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Swann, W. B., Bosson, J. K., & Pelham, B. W. (2002). Different partners, different selves: Strategic verification of circumscribed identities. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin28(9), 1215-1228. doi:10.1177/01461672022812007

Once again, though, there are some important cultural differences to note with people in individualistic cultures pursuing these self-enhancing strategies more vigorously and more often than those from more collectivistic backgrounds. Indeed, in a large-scale review of studies on self-enhancement, Heine (2004) concluded that these tactics are not typically used in cultures that value interdependence over dependence. In cultures where high self-esteem is not as socially valued, people presumably do not feel the same need to distort their social realities to serve their self-worth.

Self-esteem And Good Friends

Aronson, E. (1992). The return of the repressed: Dissonance theory makes a comeback. Psychological Inquiry, 3(4), 303–311.

A regular meditation practice can boost your self-esteem by helping you to let go of your preoccupation with your self, freeing you from being controlled by the thoughts and feelings your self-experiences. When you have the ability to step back and observe a disturbing or self-deprecating thought, it suddenly doesn’t have as much power over you as it used to; this deidentification with the negative thoughts you have about yourself results in less negative talk over time and freedom from your overly critical inner voice (Puddicombe, 2015).

What happens is that people become friends with those whose self-esteem most closely matches their own. So folks suffering with low self-esteem tend to attract others with the same problem. Similarly, like that old saying, “The rich get richer,” people with high self-esteem stick together. Here are these lucky people who already enjoy the pleasures of high self-esteem, and they get to have nurturing, satisfying, close relationships with their friends.

The speaker provides a definition and example of each of the six pillars and finishes the video by emphasizing the first two words of each pillar: “The Practice.” These words highlight that the effort applied to building self-esteem is, in fact, the most important factor in developing self-esteem.

But if adults scold more than they praise, it's hard to feel good about yourself. Bullying and mean teasing by siblings or peers can hurt self-esteem, too. Harsh words can stick, and become part of how you think about yourself. Luckily, it doesn't have to stay that way.

Michel de Montaigne:

They found differences in self-esteem between collective and individualistic cultures with self-esteem being lower in collectivist cultures. Expressing personal emotions, attitudes, and cognitive thoughts are highly associated with self-esteem, collectivist cultures seem to have a drop in self-esteem because of a lack of those characteristics (Diener & Diener 1995).