We know very well that having a healthy sense of high self-esteem can help us flourish in many areas of our lives. Cultivating high self-esteem is a process that is unique to each of us and touches upon our accumulated experiences and the perspective we choose to view the world from. From the outside, self-esteem appears to be a construct that offers us nothing but potential for positive gains. It must be acknowledged, however, that an unbalanced foundation of self-esteem can leave us feeling unsteady as we navigate life. The key is fostering true self-esteem.
Three Perspectives on Self-Esteem
There are multiple ways to interpret and understand the meaning and purpose of self-esteem. The way you perceive self-esteem is influenced by the way you were taught to think about the construct as well as your personal experiences in nourishing it within yourself. On a larger scale, there are three main ways that self-esteem is generally interpreted.
- Success as a measurement of self-esteem. This interpretation of the construct is arguably the most popular. When we think of raising our self-esteem, we often consider what we can do or achieve in order to feel better about ourselves. The need to achieve and exceed expectations can cause a panic attack. External successes become the collector’s items we use as anxiety management. This temporarily raises our self-esteem. The other side of the coin plays a role too. When we find ourselves facing perceived failure after failure, we can fall into the trap of believing that this somehow holds bearing on who we are. Just as perceived external success can raise self-esteem levels, perceived failures can lower them.
- Feeling good about yourself as a measure of self-esteem. Having a healthy relationship with the Self is vital to living a life grounded in well-being. Problems can arise, however, when we play into the idea that simply feeling good about ourselves or believing we are ‘worthy’ is enough to constitute a genuine sense of self-esteem. Think about ‘spoiled’ children. While they may be loaded with an exaggerated sense of worthiness in the form of ideas others have fed them, their self-worth is not necessarily something they have internalized and integrated into their core.
- Interplay between worthiness and competence in self-esteem. This take on self-esteem focuses on combining the experiences of competence and worthiness to build a sense of self that is based on different aspects of a person’s journey. The idea behind this perspective is that it is the blend of a person’s self-worth and their competence in external handlings that fosters sufficient self-esteem.
Each of these perspectives on self-esteem makes sense in its own right, but which do you think leads to developing authentic self-esteem?
If you guessed the third perspective on self-esteem, you’re headed in the right direction. The interplay between competence and worthiness is the key ingredient to ensure that you create a balanced self-esteem within yourself. Self-esteem permeates all areas of our lives including career, sex, and even stress management because of its role in influencing how we tackle daily happenings.
You may be surprised by an essential part of fostering authentic self-esteem. When we think of this construct, we focus on ourselves. Self-esteem is something that talks about how we feel about ourselves, right? So, that means we need to think about what we can do to make ourselves feel good as often as possible. Or does it? One of the core components of authentic self-esteem is doing what we consider (based on cultural and societal standards) to be right or just. That means our self-esteem relies just as much on how we interact with the rest of the world as it does on what personal achievements we rack up.
What is the importance of this? It reminds us that authentic self-esteem comes from being grounded, self-aware, and intentional in the way we live.
Being competent and worthy in regard to external measurements only goes so far. It is the sense of competence and worthiness nourished when we live genuinely and give from a place of honesty that translates into true self-esteem. This type of self-esteem cannot be shaken by labeled ‘failures’ because it is not built on extrinsic requirements.
In recent years, there have been many conversations about the legitimacy of self-esteem as it has been fed to the public for decades. Conversations and questions have arisen because there is an unfortunate trend of teaching people to cultivate inauthentic self-esteem. Low and defensive self-esteem leave people feeling fragile, unstable, insecure, unhappy, and unable to navigate interpersonal relationships. This is not the self-esteem we want to propagate in our world.
Widespread education about the essence of authentic self-esteem is needed so that we may shift the direction of development to shape a more loving, trusting, and compassionate world. The change starts with you. Check in with your self-esteem and ask yourself if it can truly be called authentic.
Cultivating Authentic Self-Esteem
The first question to ask yourself when examining your self-esteem for authenticity, is whether you feel viscerally unnerved by perceived ‘failures.’ Remember, authentic self-esteem has roots in inner competence and worthiness.
Here are a few tips to help you cultivate authentic self-esteem:
- Consider working with a Life Coach, Mental health counselor, Life Mentor to identify any strands of low or defensive self-esteem.
- Spend time actively exploring and working on your personal strengths. Counseling is a productive way to expand upon your character strengths.
- Keep reminders of personal successes that were meaningful to you. Whether you collect thank-you cards or hang certificates, practicing gratitude for the things you have achieved will keep you connected with your internal sense of competence and worthiness.
- Accept and embrace your limitations. Once you have accepted yourself wholly, the work you do to improve yourself will be magnified and flourish.
At the end of the day, authentic self-esteem is built upon the understanding that our power lies within. Rather than depending on external gratification for a sense of worthiness, center in your natural competency and allow your true self to luminate your path.
Self-esteem has the potential to be one tool in your toolkit or an integrated part of your overall perception of and attitude toward life. Choosing to cultivate authentic self-esteem will create more opportunity for genuine joy, gratitude, and love in your life.