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Where Does Self-Esteem Come From?

Where Does Self-Esteem Come From?When assessing clients I often ask, “on a scale of 1 -10, where would you rate your self-esteem?”

During a recent discussion with some friends this became a topic. Surprisingly, as a group of pretty successful, educated women, none of us gave numbers others expected. We discussed what we thought others’ numbers should have been, but began questioning why our numbers were not so great. We realized our numbers were not so great because we were feeling not so hot.

We discussed how sometimes in the hustle and bustle of getting things done, we forget how much we actually accomplish. We examined how sometimes being successful breeds the desire to be more successful, but is sometimes followed by disappointment when we don’t reach those goals. It was a very interesting conversation, to say the least. This branched off into several directions, one of which included what factors determine how we rate our self-esteem. As educated as we all appear to be, we were rating ourselves by using some pretty dumb factors.

Some were setting unrealistic expectations for themselves, while some were comparing themselves to others. This is crazy. If we are always looking at the person we believe is better than we are, has more than we do, or is capable of more than we are, how much time are we spending honestly and truly looking at ourselves? Some of us were looking at personal achievements and external circumstances. This discussion led to the conclusion that all of these things are stupid. We questioned how we got to this way of thinking, when we all knew the truth was that self-esteem comes from within.

Regardless of whether we like to admit it, we all sometimes measure ourselves by others’ expectations or our own unrealistic expectations. We all seem to have this idea of success and failure. What is “failure”? We are taught so many meanings of failure as we grow and this definition varies among cultures, statuses and individuals.

I personally do not like to view anything as a failure. If I don’t succeed at something, but I’ve walked away with a lesson learned, it’s not a failure. If I don’t complete something the correct way, but I learn how to do it correctly in the future, it’s not a failure. Our view of “failure” kills our self-esteem. As a matter of fact, most of the thinking that I’ve mentioned here could be enough to kill our self-esteem. So how do we avoid these killers? We avoid them by using these boosters!

Think positive and you will be positive.

I am a firm believer that what we think and what we believe plays a part in all of the outcomes in life. Think positive and positive things will come. Step out of your comfort zone and say “I can do this.” We tend to talk ourselves out of things before we ever begin to try them. If you don’t believe you can think positive, then as my mother and father would say, “fake it ‘til you make it.” It may seem silly, but pretend to be the confident person you wish you were. Eventually you will begin to make that role more of a reality, and you may be surprised by the results.

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Begin embracing your positive qualities.

Make a mental or actual list of all the skills, experiences, talents and resources you have that make you great. Being mindful of how wonderful you actually are will surely increase your self-esteem.

Remember, you are in control of how you feel about you. Let go of unrealistic expectations and stop making comparisons. You are you, and you are the only person who can be you. Be the best you that you can be and feel great about it!

Where Does Self-Esteem Come From?

Donna M. White, LMHC, CACP

Donna M. White, LPCS, LPC, LAC, MAC, CACII is a licensed professional counselor in practice in Charleston, SC. She specializes in the treatment of: anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, stress management, and adjustment disorders.

APA Reference
White, D. (2018). Where Does Self-Esteem Come From?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.