Self-esteem, how important it is to be aware of it
When we talk about self-esteem, we think of Erikson’s (1963) theory of psychosocial development, which states that in the first year and a half of a child’s life, which determines the evolutionary path of the future adult (directions of development of vulnerabilities and potential psychological and social development of the child) is precisely the ability to build a fundamental position of confidence in the future. Attachment theory provides additional specifications. For this, the confidence in the availability, sensitivity and responsiveness of the reference figure (the person or persons we address when we are tired, sad, scared, when we need care and support) is the pivot around which the mind builds internal models balanced functioning (cognitive and affective patterns of self, others and relationships) and expecting to receive support, reassurance and support from him (either in real or symbolic form, if not available in practice) developing a resilient, proactive, open personality, able to maintain balance under stress (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2009).
People with high self-esteem tend to be optimistic and are able to deal with negative events with serenity; on the contrary, people with low self-esteem tend to be pessimistic, develop depressive attacks more easily, and are unable to use their potential to cope with adverse events. Also, people who have a good self-esteem before undertaking an activity, solving a problem or facing a situation, seem more self-confident and are convinced that they have a high chance of success. These are people who have already achieved success in the past and this fuels their expectations, but even when they have failed in similar tasks, they tend to be optimistic. Difficult situations are seen as stimulating, as a challenge to prove their worth; they are geared towards constant improvement and the achievement of ever-increasing goals.
People with low self-esteem are in the opposite situation: before any activity, they feel anxious and worried; they feel the desire to avoid the situation instead of facing it. They have many doubts about the outcome of their efforts, they do not trust their abilities and they do not see the situation as a stimulating challenge, but as a threat to their personal worth, occasions when they risk proving that they are not capable enough, interesting or intelligent.
People with high self-esteem, although satisfied with themselves, often work hard to improve their areas of weakness, while people with low self-esteem are inclined to “give up the game” even before to end it, they tend to make little effort, to be overwhelmed by anxiety and not to persist in their efforts if the first attempts are ineffective.
When we experience an event as a success or failure, we measure our performance against an internal standard, but if our standards are too strict we may often feel dissatisfied with ourselves. Success expectations must therefore be measured realistically in relation to their own skills and characteristics. This will allow us to maintain an objective attitude and not be too strict about the results we get. It is better to set ourselves a goal that we consider ambitious in terms of our internal resources, setting ourselves a few intermediate steps, thus achieving successes that are easier to achieve realistically, thus feeding our self-esteem and gradually reaching the ultimate goal.
We learn not to put all the blame for a failure, exclusively on our incompetence, and we also learn not to evaluate ourselves too rigidly. Even if we are forced to attribute our failure exclusively to internal causes, they should not be seen as stable and unchangeable parts, but as our expressions at a certain point in life, in a certain situation, and after a certain course of experience. Failure is not proof of one’s worthlessness; each of us has shortcomings and flaws that must be noticed without being hypercritical. A positive view of oneself, an awareness of one’s strengths, and an ability to forgive are aspects that allow us to see our failures in a healthier perspective, and they will almost certainly be reduced.
There are three essential components of self-esteem: self-love, self-vision, and self-confidence. A balanced dose of these three components would be essential to feel competent and worthy of love.
Self-love is what allows us to appreciate ourselves despite our limitations and shortcomings. This self-love does not depend on our performance, even if it allows us to cope with adversity and recover after we have missed a goal. In case of difficulty, it prevents neither suffering nor doubt, but protects against despair. Self-love depends largely on the love our family gave us when we were children and the emotional nourishment we received. Self-love is the foundation of self-esteem, its deepest and most intimate component.
Self-vision is the second pillar of self-esteem, it is the look we give ourselves, the subjective assessment we make of our qualities and flaws. Self-esteem is a plastic aspect of personality. In fact, the value we place on ourselves is not static, it will vary throughout life, but it is especially an aspect that can be enhanced. As we have seen, a good level of self-esteem is closely related to quality of life and psycho-physical well-being; that is why it is important to commit to developing attitudes and behaviors that are more functional for a healthy perception of one and one’s worth. What we can say for sure is that each of us is unique, special, deserving, and worthy of affection. Remembering this can help us to see our value more clearly and to face life’s challenges more effectively.