Personal Growth

Self-Worth: Recognizing Signs of High and Low Self-Esteem

By Suzanne E. Harrill

Self-esteem is a term that gets bandied around a lot these days, often a little too frivolously. The downside is that self-esteem has become a cliché, an easy label, and the subject of considerable derisive humor. The upside is that almost everyone knows the meaning and importance of self-esteem — that happiness, self-empowerment, satisfaction in work, good relationships, and success are all built on a foundation of healthy self-esteem.

Inner Resources Gird Outer Confidence

High self-esteem is a quiet, comfortable feeling of total acceptance and love for yourself — as you are. It is respecting and valuing yourself as a worthwhile human being, honestly seeing your good and not-so-good qualities, and taking care of and nurturing yourself so you can become all that you are capable of being. High self-esteem is characterized by congruence between inner states (beliefs, feelings, attitudes) and outer states (behavior, relationships, health).

Signs of High Self-Esteem

Having an internal locus of control; getting "okayness" from within, not from others.

Taking care of yourself — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Maintaining a balance between extremes of thought, feeling and behavior; when out-of-balance, taking action to correct.

Learning from mistakes and being able to say, "I made a mistake, I’m sorry."

Managing your life responsibly.

Honoring individual differences among people.

Listening to other points of view.

Taking responsibility for your own perceptions and reactions; not projecting onto others.

Having the ability to listen to your wise inner self (your intuition), and to act on this guidance.

Demonstrating self-respect, self-confidence and self-acceptance.

Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses.

Choosing continuous self-improvement and taking positive risks.

Balancing being and doing.

Feeling warm and loving towards yourself.

Giving and receiving love easily, with no strings attached.

Extreme Views Shield Doubt and Insecurity

In twenty-eight years as a counselor, I’ve repeatedly witnessed the emotional turmoil, spiritual paralysis, and personal tragedy that can come from deep-seated problems with self-esteem. People with low self-esteem present themselves to the world in a variety of ways. I’ve learned to recognize the signs. Among the most common are extremes in thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Some people with low self-esteem are overachievers who believe that a high IQ, physical beauty, winning at sports, or being Number One assures emotional well-being. They are often motivated by feelings of inferiority that propel them to seek validation of worth (their own and others) in outer manifestations, like money, power, and praise. Others make a practice of devoting all of their time and energy to family and friends and none to themselves. Often they are "giving" for the wrong reasons, with hidden agendas and expectations. Still others believe that they can only earn love by doing something. They evaluate their worthiness based on what they do, not on who they are. Finally, many base their self-worth on the opinions of other people or on outside indicators, like the swings of the stock market.

Signs of Low Self-Esteem

Self-blame, self-criticism, or constantly putting others down through guilt, blame, shame or faultfinding.

Over- or under-achieving, eating, working, doing, etc.

Playing the victim, rationalizing that outside circumstances are the cause of your problems.

Not taking responsibility for your own life, turning power over to another to make decisions for you, then feeling victimized if the results are not to your liking.

Taking undo responsibility for the lives of others; dominating and making decisions for them.

Fear of change and reluctance to take risks, or too much change, taking dangerous, unwise risks.

Constant negativity, or being so optimistic that reality is denied.

Reacting to others with extreme emotion or no emotion.

Boastful, overbearing behavior around others, or inability to maintain integrity during interactions.

Demanding to be "right," needing to have agreement or have your own way most of the time, or constantly acquiescing to the will and opinions of others.

Constantly comparing yourself to others, and thereby feeling inferior or superior.

Black-white, either-or thinking, e.g. believing that a person is either good or bad based on rigid standards of good and bad behavior.

Having pervasive deep-seated feelings of fear, terror, or panic.

Speaking with lots of shoulds, oughts, could-haves, and yes-buts.

Interpreting the hurtful words or actions of others as proof of your unworthiness.

Building Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is the foundation of your life. If you do not like parts of your life, you have the power to rebuild that foundation. Begin with your beliefs about yourself. Update all that are false or that fail to support your growth and highest good. Remember, you alone have the power to change your inner world. As you gradually accept the truth of these new beliefs, your feelings about yourself will improve. This in turn will affect your actions, accomplishments, and relationships and you will experience more love, joy, abundance, and satisfaction in life.

You are like an acorn, that at each stage of its growth cycle does its best to become a giant oak tree. The acorn can only grow to the degree that it is nurtured by sunlight, water, and nutrients from the soil. But even if its early life is less than ideal, its growth will accelerate at any time proper nutrients become available. You, too, have done the best you can under the unique conditions that have shaped your life thus far. With additional nurturing, self-awareness and self-acceptance — just watch yourself grow!






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