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October 2014
Psychology
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SELF-ESTEEM AND WELL-BEING 



Self-esteem concerns the feelings we have for ourselves, how we see ourselves, how we value ourselves and how we judge ourselves. Having high or low self-esteem reflects on three important aspects of our lives: the way we present ourselves to others, how we turn a thought into an action, in order to realise our objectives, and, finally, the way we react to success and failure. Is it possible to outline strategies to maintain or increase self-esteem in these three areas and feel better about ourselves on a personal and social level??

  • Campbell and Feher found that people with high self-esteem introduce themselves to others by using mainly positive adjectives, while those with low self-esteem use mostly negative adjectives, thus creating unfavourable impressions about themselves in their interlocutors' minds.
  • Baumgardner found that people with low self-esteem usually take more time than others to speak about themselves and sometimes they do it with some embarrassment and are not always convincing when it comes to describing the qualities they have.

From these points of view, it is clear to see that low self-esteem can be a disadvantage in situations in which you must introduce yourself to others; for example, in a job interview or when meeting new people who could become friends, colleagues or even a partner.
Furthermore, it has also been noted how people who doubt their value are more likely to change their thoughts according to the environment where they are and who they are talking to, and they find it hard to stand their ground, whilst people with high self-esteem do not as they are able to affirm their opinion. In these cases, people with low self-esteem run the risk of letting the need to be accepted predominate over another basic human need, which is the need to come into one’s own, an objective which can only be realised through confidently expressing one’s point of view and one’s value.  
A distinction should be emphasised, however: having good self-esteem does not mean being assertive at the expense of others, or acting like or being classified as a bully, rather it means being aware of your value, of everyone's rights, respecting others, coming into your own and having a place in the world. It is therefore clear to see that the more you respect and love yourself, the better you behave, thus it is easier to decide how to get things done, you trust your abilities and you achieve your goals. 
In fact, individuals with low self-esteem struggle to make decisions and often put them off: when faced with more than one choice, people with low self-esteem block up and let other people decide for them. 
This does not happen because these people are ill-willed or because they are not able to make the decision themselves, but rather because they simply do not feel confident about their worth and capabilities therefore they avoid making choices, thus their behaviour is affected by an excessive fear of failure. In this sense, the risk they run is letting themselves be too influenced by their surroundings (parents, friends, companions) concerning both mundane, everyday choices and extreme, important choices regarding their life, such as what to study, what career to follow, who to live with and so on. Having high self-esteem is not only important for making decisions though, but also for setting goals and being perseverant in reaching them by investing personal resources.

As stated by LeLord and André, while people with high self-esteem show greater persistence in succeeding in an activity they have chosen and are passionate about and reaching a goal they consider important, they are less determined in fields in which they have not invested anything, whilst people with low self-esteem are more consistent in choices dictated by social conformity, but they give up more easily when it comes to achieving their personal goals, especially if they have encountered difficulties or hear a contrary opinion to what they think.

Sometimes this attitude can lead to doing a very uninteresting job, submitting to binding constraints or giving up most of your original aspirations. In fact, for people who do not value themselves, it is easier to commit to these unsatisfying choices, rather than think about changing or even abandoning them for something better. In any case, although people with low self-esteem try to be careful by doing as little as possible and limiting their goals, we all make mistakes, but this is not a tragedy for people who have a good opinion of themselves, but it can be for those who do not value themselves enough. In fact, while people with good self-esteem are more prone to getting over failure and engaging in new activities to help them forget, people who have low self-esteem find it difficult to shake off feelings of disappointment and bitterness related to failure. Even criticisms are addressed in different ways: people with low self-esteem and are more sensitive to the intensity of discomfort caused by criticism, as well as how long it lasts.

How success is dealt with is also different. In fact, quite often we see what Branden defined as anxious happiness in people with low self-esteem, which results in a difficulty to enjoy the good times and cheer up for positive reasons, because, as well as the happiness felt at that moment, these people also perceive its precariousness and prepare to deal with possible impending disappointment.

Therefore we can see that these people do not only feel uncomfortable when facing failure but also when facing success and the social consequences of it. In addition to feeling anxious happiness, they may also experience cognitive dissonance (an internal contradiction to do with the negative feelings they are experiencing and the reality that surrounds them) and anxiety because they can foresee other situations in which they will be forced to guarantee further success, thus keeping up with the expectations that others may have of them. In other words, people with low self-esteem, even if they love success and the gratifications that come with it, also fear it because it contradicts their self-image and exposes them to situations in which they have to test themselves over and over again. From what has been said up to here, we can state that a person’s overall level of self-esteem subtly influences his/her choices and life style.

A high opinion of yourself is related to looking for ways to develop your personality and take risks, whilst low self-esteem generates defence strategies and attempts to avoid any uncertainty.

This is why people who think highly of themselves want to succeed and people with low self-esteem are focused on their fear of failure. The consequences are that high self-esteem makes you want to explore new and different places with greater conviction and making some mistakes along the way, whilst low self-esteem makes a person limit themselves to places where they feel safe and run hardly any risks of making mistakes.

Fortunately, self-esteem can be changed by certain occasions in life; for instance, meeting a partner who believes in our capabilities and who values us, making a new and meaningful friendship, becoming part of a group, starting a satisfying job or gaining a new social position. However, a simple vent is not sufficient to change our self-esteem because we also have to want to change some parts of our personality and the way we face life.

In conclusion, in order to increase self-esteem, we must act on three areas: our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with action and our relationships with others.
In order to change our relationship with ourselves, we must change our mind about ourselves, therefore it is essential to learn how to get to know ourselves, that is, being aware of our limits, needs and requirements and also our ability and, whilst continuing to make an effort to change what we can about ourselves, we must be able to accept ourselves and avoid demanding perfection from ourselves. In order to change it is essential to act, thus we have to change how we act: simply trying to achieve a goal can help us strengthen our self-esteem, even if it is just a small one, because it is better than continuing to procrastinate. It is also necessary that we silence all negative thoughts we have about ourselves and what we are doing, since they can stop us from trusting ourselves, and we must learn how to take risks and deal with any possible failures. 
In this sense, it might be useful to bear in mind that everyone has made, makes and will make mistakes in life (nobody is perfect!) and that mistakes should not be considered catastrophes, but rather opportunities to learn.
Finally, in order to increase self-esteem, it is also important to change our relationships with others: we must learn to assert ourselves, that is, be able to express what we think, want and feel, even if this means running the risk that others may not always agree, and respect what others think, want and feel.
All this requires the ability to be empathetic and understand other people's points of view without neglecting your own. By doing this, we will be able to say no without fear or aggression, feel free to ask for something without feeling we owe something in return, calmly deal with criticism and so on.
Asserting yourself will not only gain you respect and get you what you want, but it will also mean others appreciate you, you will feel good in your own skin and then, finally, you will have a good, positive self-image.

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