“Self-esteem is not a substitute for a roof over one’s head or food in one’s stomach, but it increases the likelihood that one will find a way to meet such needs”  (Dr Nathaniel Brandon)

I love either watching my grandchildren play or playing with them. When playing with them, I often have to act out the part of a Disney villain or a character from one of the stories they read. I am fascinated by their insight into the respective characters – if I act out the character showing little appreciation for the character’s nuanced personality, I am corrected and I have to do the scene all over again! Of particular significance in these pantomimes is the way the grandchildren get the characters to either obey or disobey authority figures (with consequences), care for other characters and demonstrate those characters who have confidence in themselves and their abilities or who need others to assist them. They seem to grasp that self-confidence, self-value and ‘a belief in one’s own abilities’ are important ingredients for integration into society and the realisation of one’s potential. My daughter and son-in-law are clearly making some headway in their parenting efforts.

Self-esteem is the degree of value that you place on yourself. Dr Nathaniel Brandon, notes: “Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves”. It is the belief that our intrinsic value does not lie in what others say about us or what the media suggests, but in our uniqueness and our special gifting and skills, in our integrity and the worth that we place on our lives. It is the knowledge that we can offer what others can’t give. Unfortunately, a third of the human race do not believe this, nor do they live this out in practise (in our workshop evaluations, 34% of people surveyed have relatively low self-esteem ratings). This low self-esteem negatively impacts self-belief and ultimately impedes the realisation of potential. In most studies, some of the following causes of low self-esteem have been identified as:

  • Disapproving authority figures – when you were young, hearing that whatever you achieved wasn’t really good enough. Excessive criticism breaks down confidence and can cause feelings of shame for “failing”.
  • Uncaring or preoccupied parents – when your achievements were not noticed and your primary caregivers didn’t seem to pay attention. Feeling unrecognised can result in the belief that you are supposed to apologise for your existence.
  • Bullying – when taunted and bullied as a child, feelings of fear can be overwhelming. Hopelessness and self-loathing are often the result. This gets reinforced when parents are unsupportive or over-supportive.
  • Conflictual family relationships – young people imbibe negative emotions and distrustful situations modelled for them. Often feeling that they are part of the problem and have potentially caused the conflict, children feel overwhelmed and threatened.
  • Trauma – physical, sexual and emotional abuse are some of the most common causes for low self-esteem. These situations break down trust and children find it incredibly difficult to manage the chaos, at times feeling they were complicit and even to blame.
  • The media and society as a whole – we are bombarded with unfair and even unrealistic portrayals of perfection on a daily basis, producing feelings of not being able to measure up and inadequacy. As media access is available younger and younger, children are exposed to these unfair comparisons from an early age.

Not dealing with these factors that have resulted in a low self-esteem at an early age can result in one’s self-esteem as an adult languishing in the condition that was developed in childhood. Dr Nathaniel Brandon, considered to be the “father” of self-esteem, suggests “six pillars” of self-esteem that need our attention:

  1. The practice of living consciously – living mindfully produces self-efficacy (a belief in one’s ability to handle difficult situations) and self-respect. A structured mind that plans adequately makes one feel competent and worthy.
  2. The practice of self-acceptance – without any form of denial or evasion, our self-acceptance is owning the reality that we are who we are, have done what we have done and feel what we feel. It is choosing to accept and value ourselves and to treat ourselves with respect.
  3. The practice of self-responsibility – this is a form of empowerment and speaks to a sense of control and a measure of personal autonomy. It suggests that we are responsible for our lives and our happiness.
  4. The practice of self-assertiveness – the willingness to stand up for oneself, live authentically, to speak and act from your innermost convictions and feelings (not faking our personhood to be liked).
  5. The practice of living purposefully – not living at the mercy of chance or outside forces, but developing a strategy proactively for possible success and achievement.
  6. The practice of personal integrity – when our behaviour is congruent with personal and professional values. Integrity is the integration of ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs and behaviour.

Improving our self-esteem is an essential ingredient in the quest to achieve success in our lives. Low self-esteem can have a crippling effect on achievement attempts. Without seeming to be simplistic, the following activities could be considered to improve self-esteem:

  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercise and drinking plenty of water
  • Participate in a hobby or activity that will help you gain confidence
  • Put a stop to negative cycles of thought and replace with positive action steps
  • Avoid negative and draining people where possible
  • Jot down positive happenings in a notebook
  • Seek professional help if low self-esteem persists

Low self-esteem drives us to negative and unhealthy comparisons with others. A positive self-esteem moves us in the direction of creating experiences that will reinforce who we are, our giftedness and increase the possibility of success.

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