The truth is that self-esteem is made up; it’s a construction.
Unlike a part of our bodies or something in the natural environment, our belief in ourselves is not a real thing – it has no objective existence of its own. We can all agree on a person’s height, weight, or even on how fast he or she can walk a mile. But, there is no standardized way for us to objectively measure self-esteem.
We may think that a person with a successful career, who seems to be productive and wealthy, also has “high” self-esteem. But that may not be the case at all. Think about it, those who strive for superiority can be attempting to overcome deep-seated feelings of inferiority. And it’s very possible that their success is a way of compensating for their “low” self-esteem.
Here’s another example: Imagine a student who gets straight A’s year after year. Do you think the student’s achievements reflect his or her high self-esteem? Or do they indicate the student’s fear of punishment for not living up to a particular standard? Similarly, can the student’s grades be indicators of his or her competitiveness?
Self-esteem is internal and cannot be gauged by the external factors in our lives. To really understand this, try to envision a financially struggling mother of five children who is happy, patient, giving, and relatively unburdened by the evident stressors in her environment. What do you think her self-esteem is like, especially based solely on this information? Her self-esteem is probably relatively high if she’s able to weather so many difficult factors unburdened.
Difference Between High and Low Self-Esteems
Self-esteem can be determined, in part, by how we interact with and respond to the situations and circumstances of our lives. Generally, we can say that people with high self-esteem are:
- Understanding and supportive
- Independent and cooperative
- Eager to learn new information
- Able to change their beliefs and behaviors based on new information
- Trusting of their capabilities
- Problem solvers
- Able to set healthy boundaries and dabble in constructive assertiveness
- Have a positive attitude
- Have an internal locus of control
People with low self-esteem can generally be characterized as:
- Overbearing and demanding
- Dependent and selfish
- Afraid of risk and challenges
- Resistant to change and growth
- Mistrusting of their capabilities
- Comfortable blaming others for their problems
- Easily manipulated
- Possessing a negative attitude
- Having an external locus of control
The higher the self-esteem, the less a person needs to seek validation from others. That’s because people who know their value and self-worth realize that it can only really come from them. Allowing their self-esteem to be influenced by other people takes away a lot of their power, making them easy to manipulate.
Individuals with low self-esteem believe they can “win” someone’s approval, thereby establishing their self-worth. But, even if this tactic proves to be successful, the rewards never last for very long; those who give their approval and validation can easily take it away. This can further weaken a person’s sense of personal power and control over his or her life, which can then yield resentments, frustrations, anger, depression, pessimism, and a negative attitude in general.
Taking Control of Your Self-Esteem
In his classic Paradise Lost, English poet John Milton stated, “The Mind is its own place and can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” Which will you choose?
We are not born with high or low self-esteem, but we can decide to find value and meaning in our lives, regardless of our circumstances; we can choose to be kind, loving, and understanding towards others and ourselves. And we can most certainly choose to change in any way we see fit.
It’s our ability to make choices and decide on a course of action that gives us power, and that power makes us free from the opinions of other people, in-effect elevating our self-esteem.