Self esteem is an overall sense of wellbeing which arises when we have healthy levels of Self Respect (feeling good about our purpose), Self Worth (feeling good about ourselves) and Self Confidence (feeling good about our skills).
This sense of wellbeing which comes with high levels of self esteem is a rare experience for many of us. Perhaps this sense of wellbeing is a rare even among psychologists and maybe that is why we don’t hear very much about it.
Simple way to look at Self Esteem
We could think of self esteem as being like a three-leg stool. Self Esteem is the top part of the stool. One ‘leg’ of the stool would be Self Respect, another would be Self Worth and the third would be Self Confidence.
The top part of a three-leg stool holds it all together, but it also needs the legs to be strong to be functional. Self Esteem is a bit like this, in order for us to be resilient and handle the different weighty situations which will come along, the top part of the stool and the legs need to be strong.
If a three-leg stool is very weak on one leg it might tend to collapse easily, especially if pressure is applied particularly to that area. Similarly if life challenges, say, our self confidence and we are weak in that area the stool is more likely to collapse than if the challenge to other parts.
Self Esteem is a verb and a noun
Self Esteem, is not only our overall sense of wellbeing it is also our our awareness of our sense of wellbeing and our ability to take action if we get out of balance.
In other words, Esteem is not only a ‘thing’ it is also an ‘action’. We can have esteem; and we can esteem someone. If we ‘esteem’ someone we ‘praise them highly’. In other words we are doing something which creates esteem.
Likewise Self Esteem is also not only a thing, it is also an action. Self Esteem is something we do for ourselves and it is also something which we have. As we get more skillful in Self Esteem as an action (Perhaps we could call this ‘Self Esteeming’) we can better manage our sense of well being. This makes us more resilient and able to recover from challenges and painful experiences.
Self Esteem also arises from esteeming others, as long as we do that from a sense of respect or caring and not out fear or neediness. Thinking well of others is good for Self Esteem. Helping others and living up to our high standards of behavior also does that (Self Respect).
Going back to the three-leg stool model of Self Esteem: if we strengthen one of the ‘legs’ that in turn strengthens the whole ‘stool’. If we strengthen part of ourselves where we feel weak (i.e. grow more confident about our skills at something important to us) that can in turn strengthen our Self Esteem and adds to our overall sense of wellbeing.
Balance and Self Esteem
In order to have healthy Self Esteem each of the three ‘legs’ need to be developed in balance. If we have lots of Self Confidence, but are low in Self Worth or Self Respect then our Self Esteem will be fragile. Likewise if we are high in Self Worth but low in Self Confidence our Self Esteem will be fragile.
Healthy Self Esteem is really about developing a well balanced sense of self with includes; feeling good about our purpose in life (Self Respect), feeling good about who we are (Self Worth) and feeling able to achieve our goals (Self Confidence).
If either of these are lacking and we have no real sense of purpose, or we are haunted by feelings of unworthiness, or feel we are incapable of doing what we really want to do, then our Self Esteem will always be fragile no matter how strong we get in the other areas. In a sense the three-leg stool of our Self Esteem will be wobbly because one leg is weak and making the other legs even stronger (which many people tend to do) will not fix the problem.
Self esteem is what we have when we have a stable and resilient sense of wellbeing which naturally arises when we have a good balance between Self Respect (feeling purposeful), Self Worth (feeling worthy) and Self Confidence (feeling capable). We can only have a healthy and resilient sense of self esteem when the ‘three-log stool’, which makes up our self of self, is stable and secure and the different parts of ourselves have roughly equal development.