Self-esteem gets a bad rap. Some view self-esteem as arrogance, narcissism or selfishness. It’s anything but.
Individuals with healthy self-esteem are humble and recognize all people’s worth, according to Glenn R. Schiraldi, Ph.D., author of The Self-Esteem Workbook and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. They’re also realistic. Those with good self-esteem are able to realistically and honestly evaluate their strengths, weaknesses and potential.
According to Schiraldi, self-esteem consists of three elements: unconditional love, unconditional worth and growth — “a deep, quiet inner security that is not easily shaken under duress or after a disappointing performance.”
Research has found positive links between healthy self-esteem and many desirable outcomes, including happiness, humility, resilience and optimism. Studies show that low self-esteem is related to stress, depression and anxiety.
Some psychologists believe that self-esteem stays where it is permanently. In other words, if you have low self-esteem, there’s nothing you can do to improve it. Schiraldi disagrees and sees several reasons for this misunderstanding. “Usually, criticism springs from simplistic, or sometimes false, definitions, lack of understanding about how it changes, and measurement challenges,” he said. Improving self-esteem is not a quick or easy process, he noted, and simplistic interventions don’t work. It takes time and practice to genuinely enhance self-esteem.
Lisa Firestone, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and co-author of Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, also believes it’s possible to lift low self-esteem. She cites neuroplasticity as a major reason. Neuroplasticity is our brain’s ability to change structurally and functionally as a result of our environment.
What Doesn’t Work in Boosting Self-Esteem
Empty affirmations don’t work. Telling someone they’re smarter and better than others doesn’t boost self-esteem. Rather, it just sets people up for failure and a shaky self-esteem.
“Everyone doesn’t deserve a trophy for showing up, but everyone can feel that they have as much right to play and enjoy the process of improving as anyone else does,” Schiraldi said.