Self-esteem is very important. It is the way we view and feel about ourselves that has a profound effect on how we live our lives. These opinions are shaped by experiences within the family, at school, from friendships and in wider society. Self-esteem involves our ability to think, to deal with life and to be happy. Self-esteem is not so much how people view you, but how you view yourself.
From infancy we look for encouragement and approval. Yet our culture does not readily give this. Parents can be tough taskmasters in seeking the best for their children. Young people have a tendency to be intolerant or indifferent and often mock their peers who are clever or hard working. There is a constant bombardment of messages telling us we should be young, slim, beautiful, fashionably dressed, have a lover and money to spend. Even when we have pride in our ability and pride in ourselves, this can be regarded as being arrogant, boastful or conceited.
Rejection or loss at any age is likely to undermine self-esteem. Events like parents separating, an unsuccessful business deal, having an accident, a burglary or coping with a death are likely to provoke feelings of loss and threat. For some this is temporary, whilst for others the effects are longer-lasting.
On the other hand success is a great ego booster, and academic achievement can be an obvious signal of success. However a competitive environment can easily lead to self-doubt and insecurity. You may even feel that other people over-estimate your ability and this burden of expectation can lead to a sense of failure and impossibility.
However, what we feel about ourselves is not based solely on what we do. It usually involves our relationships with others and whether we feel worthwhile as people. We have a basic human need to be wanted, noticed, and included. We want to contribute, to be of value, and make a difference - in other words, to matter.
Our self-esteem will continually fluctuate and is affected by events and encounters with other people. We are also constantly judging and evaluating ourselves, often in comparison with others. Observing ourselves in relation to other people can be a helpful source of learning and feedback. Yet all too often comparison slips into competition and others become a yardstick by which we evaluate ourselves as good or bad, competent or inadequate.
The reality is we are all different. Each of us has strengths and limitations which we need to learn about and learn to live with. There are aspects of our behaviour and appearance we may seek to change or develop, but a sense of self is also based on self-awareness and self-acceptance.
Change is not easy. It means stepping into the unknown and taking a risk. Inevitably this means that some initiatives you take will work well, whilst others don't work out as you hoped. You can help yourself by being realistic in your choices and seeing each success as a step in the right direction. This is why realistic goal setting is important.