Self-esteem is a term we use all time. But what does it actually mean?
The word 'esteem' comes from a Latin word that means 'to estimate'. So, self-esteem is how you estimate, or regard, yourself.
And if you want to check whether your own levels of self-esteem are healthy, try asking yourself these questions.
Do I like myself?
Do I think I'm a good human being?
Am I someone deserving of love?
Do I deserve happiness?
Do I feel that I'm an OK person?
Why 'authenticity' is the real key to happiness
Remember – you're uniquely special!
A good way to start improving your self-esteem is to acknowledge that you are special – because there's no one else quite like you.
Not only are your fingerprints and DNA different from everyone else's (unless you have an identical twin), but your mind, and how it thinks and operates, is totally your own.
This means that out of the over 7 billion people in the world, you are a one-off. So if nature has bothered to make you unique, don't you feel you should accept that you're important and also that you have as much right as anyone else to be on this planet?
You have other rights, too. One of them is the right to make mistakes. Don't forget that 'to err is human' – and most of us learn through getting things wrong before we get them right.
Furthermore, we have the right to respect ourselves – and to be respected. And, perhaps most importantly of all, we have the right to say 'yes' or 'no' for ourselves.
Put behaviour in perspective
Unfortunately, lots of people with poor self-esteem really beat themselves up whenever they make a mistake or error of judgement.
They feel that they are 'no good' because they fail an exam, lose a job or because they're having an affair or have been dumped.
But such events – and how we behave about them and deal with them – are just a tiny part of who we are. And it's important to remember that.
It might help too to take on board that individuals with healthy self-esteem don't define themselves by their occasional failures. Their regard for themselves is based on a bigger picture.
So, if you are prone to deep despair at some aspect of yourself, try telling yourself that it's just a tiny fragment of the multiple layers and components that make up the real you. And try not to condemn the whole of your being when you make a mistake or do something you're not too proud of.
Halt destructive thoughts
Many people with poor self-esteem think they're not very important and that their views carry no weight. Is this you?
If so, try to stop these destructive thoughts because if you go around believing them, you'll encourage other people to believe them too.
Instead, start thinking of yourself as someone who has rights, opinions and ideas that are just as valid as those of anyone else. This will help you to improve your self-esteem.
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Techniques to improve self-esteem
Accentuate the positive
Often we make ourselves unhappy because we go over and over mistakes we have made. But we can improve our self-esteem if we re-think the things we believe we have done wrong or badly.
For example, one of my clients has to give presentations at work. He used to be very critical of his performance and would lose sleep afterwards over the tiniest of errors.
But now, he writes an account of each presentation shortly after he's given it and only writes about the things that went well.
He doesn't need to write about the bad things – they will stick in his memory and he will try hard not to repeat them – but he will forget the good things unless he writes them down.
So when you have a horrible day, or something goes wrong in your relationship or at work, write an account of what went right with that episode, not what went wrong.
The results will surprise you – and improve how you see yourself.
List 50 things you like about yourself
If you're seriously lacking in self-esteem, you probably find it hard to think positively about you.
So, try this exercise: write a list of 50 things that you like and admire about yourself. This could take weeks, but persevere!
You can write down your characteristics.
You can include things about your looks.
You can even write about the things you do. For example, you may buy a copy of the Big Issue on a day when you're short of money, or you may help an elderly woman in the supermarket when you're rushing to get your own shopping done.
When you have reached your 50 good things, write them down again on small pieces of card that you can carry with you at all times.
You can probably squeeze in 5 points on each card, so that you'll have 10 cards when you're finished.
Then, twice a day, shuffle the cards – so that you can view your good points in a fresh order – and then read them.
If you do this every day, you will start to accept your own goodness and worth.
And if you have a difficult task ahead – like a new date, or a job interview – always read your cards one extra time just before your challenge. This will help you to be more relaxed and optimistic.