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Self-Esteem Can Be Improved

Self-esteem and self-worth; few topics have attracted as much attention as the topic of how we view, judge and value ourselves.  Research in this field has been vast, yet at the same time, often contradictory, and frequently unclear in terms of what the research has really tested.

What we have gleaned is that:

  • self-esteem is something that can fluctuate;
  • contrary to popular belief, low self-esteem is not necessarily linked to crime, delinquency or racism;
  • low self-esteem can increase the risk of suicide attempts, low earnings, extended unemployment, eating disorders, and risky sexual behaviour including teenage pregnancies;
  • parents play a pivotal role in the development of self-esteem.

Parental Influence on Self-Esteem Development

In his review of self-esteem studies and meta-analyses, for a project supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Emler (2001) notes that Coopersmith (1967) mentions behaviours towards one’s children that are crucial in their self-esteem development.  Included in these behaviours were acceptance and approval and affection shown, and clarity about acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, i.e. clear boundaries.  Furthermore, some meta-analyses highlighted the significance of the quality of communication between parents and their children (Welsh and Stewart, 1995).

The first and most significant relationships we form are those with our parents.  John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory, considered the nature of the attachment between offspring and parent (or primary caregiver) to impact the child’s development, including his/her level of self-esteem and confidence.

Bowlby stipulated that the attachment formed between the parent and child from infancy through to adolescence would largely determine how the child would expect others to respond to them in later life.  He also believed that such expectations would remain fairly constant during their lifetime.

Later research has supported the notion that these early lessons do impact how we expect others to treat us in adulthood but this does not mean that parents are to be blamed for low adult self-esteem.  One of the reasons for this is that, amongst other things, other significant relationships also help shape our level of self-esteem.  I want to cover the significant adult relationships aspect with you right now.  All other techniques are covered in my coaching packages that help with self-esteem issues, chronic and mild.

If our parents’ relationships with us did not assist us in developing a healthy level of self-esteem, as adults we have the ability to seek out relationships that can enable us to make this shift from low to healthy self-esteem.  Of course, as a relationship coach and psychologist, I am frequently faced with clients who have varied degrees of self-esteem and the shift they are able to make is quite tremendous.  Those with chronically low self-esteem can be particularly resistant to seeing realistic proof of their higher self-worth.  This is something that has also been noted in research (e.g. Brown and McGill, 1989) suggesting that the messages we perceive about our self-worth during childhood are especially powerful.  However, once such a person has truly decided that enough is enough, and they have made the decision to do something about it (e.g. coaching) they are then able to make a shift.

How Are Your Significant Relationships Shaping Your Self-Esteem?

If you currently suffer from low self-esteem and self-worth, spend a few moments taking stock of the people in your life.  Use this three-step process to help you.  You’ll need a piece of paper with three columns drawn on:

  1. Who are your main influencers, the family and friends you spend the most quality time with and/or feel closest to?  Make a list of their names in the first column.
  2. In the second column, rate their self-esteem (as you perceive it) on a scale of 1-10,
    • 1 being they feel completely unworthy of love, acceptance and good fortune,
    • 10 being they feel wholly worthy of love, acceptance and good fortune.
  3. In the third column, rate each person on a scale of 1-10, regarding their influence,
    • 1 being they are an extremely unhealthy influence that makes me feel unworthy of love, acceptance and good fortune,
    • 10 being they are an extremely healthy influence that makes me feel worthy of love, acceptance and good fortune.

The lower the rating you give for each, the more they are keeping you stuck at a low level of self-esteem and self-worth.  They may care for you, but they may not be the best influence on your self-esteem and mental health.

Is it time to spring clean your circle so that you can elevate your self-esteem and self-worth?

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