How We Define Self Esteem


Define Self-EsteemThe meaning of self esteem and common misconceptions

Self Esteem. It appears such a self evident concept. And of course we all have our own idea about what it means, rightly or wrongly.

This article goes into how we define self esteem and highlights some misconceptions.

It can be confusing, when we look up the word, as we may be presented with seemingly unconnected definitions. According to the Oxford dictionary, self esteem is:

Confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.

But to quote a well known psychologist from the turn of the century:

Self esteem is the ratio of our actualities to our supposed potentialities.

William James

Yet the easiest description can be found in the above illustration. No matter how much it is dressed up, it’s ultimately about how you see yourself. There is so much in that sentence, it almost begs no further comments.

But I want to expand a little  so that more of a rounded understanding can be gained.

Further explanations of Self Esteem

Self esteem is an attitude towards one’s own self; it can be positive or negative.

The way you see yourself is a unique perception of yourself and your surroundings. I have already touched on elements of this on this page and at the telling signs of low self esteem; those with low self esteem have a distorted sense of self image, that is more less shadowed by negative self views.

Those with healthy self esteem see themselves as worthy and valuable human beings, they have plenty to contribute to their social circles and are generally happy in their skin.

Types of self esteem

Psychologists have long divided it into two distinct areas; global and specific.

  • global self esteem: a person’s attitude to themselves as a whole. The underlying personality of someone, it is how we react to day-to-day challenges, the level of resilience, that is how quickly we bounce back from life’s shocks.
  • specific self esteem: relates to a certain area of someone’s life. Each of us have unique strengths and abilities we feel confident about. This can be in the domain of sports, a career or in forming relationships – areas we know we excel in.

Why is this important?

Just think of the academic who excels in the most complex subjects, but remains socially under-developed.

Self esteem isn’t strictly formed by how we see ourselves; others’ behavior and actions can influence what opinions we form about ourselves. Those who are close to us and we hold in high regard are especially important in the way they leave their mark on us.

As self esteem is formed from an early age, parents and care takers are largely responsible for the development of it in young children. Constant negative experiences are likely to produce an imbalanced young soul, that will struggle to correct defective self evaluations (if aware of them at all) later in life.

Self esteem – misconceptions

In everyday talk, we often hear people mentioning about how someone has high self esteem. This statement, however, is incorrect, as there is no such thing as high self esteem. A more suitable phrase is healthy self esteem, because it is not possible to have too much self esteem.

Surprisingly, what some refer to as high self esteem, is actually the opposite. Those who appear overly confident, or arrogant can have in fact low self esteem, and this is their way to cover up their inadequacies.

In this group of people we find the bullies, narcissists and those who exploit others. Their actions are justified, because this is the sort of behavior that gives them boost and make them feel better.

Therefore, low self esteem can take on different behaviors at opposite ends of the scale. One is the quiet, withdrawn type and the other is loud and angry. Don’t be fooled when you witness someone putting others down – they may be extremely insecure in themselves…

Further reading

To complement this article, you may want to read The Telling Signs of Low Self Esteem and How To Overcome Low Self Esteem for additional insights on this important part topic.

Image source: kateswaffer.com

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