Self-esteem – photo by Antonio Guillem – Shutterstock

Self-esteem and why it’s important to you

In Coaching, Counselling and Personal Development by Daniel Van der Pluym2 Comments

Do you frequently wonder if you are good enough? Do you worry if you’ll ever be thin enough, or smart enough? What about talented enough, or likeable enough?

Maybe you are permanently scarred by a hurtful remark made by a school bully. Or a belittling comment loudly whispered across the office. Or maybe it’s just a general feeling that you can never live up to the benchmarks this big old world seems to have set..?

Next time you look in the mirror, and feel that niggling voice of criticism, ask yourself a question:

“How high is my self-esteem today?”

Self-esteem – photo by Antonio Guillem – ShutterstockIf you don’t check in on how you truly feel about yourself, but continue to find self-worth in outside things and in what other people think, you may never understand the true joy of being comfortable in your own skin. True happiness is less about having, and often about being.

Who are you being in this moment? How do you truly feel about yourself?

I invite you to close your eyes, and find out where you lie on the self-confidence dial today.

Are you super confident and feel you can cope with whatever life throws at you? Are you happy with your own self-image and abilities? Do you feel assertive enough to say no if you don’t want to do something? Perhaps you’re having a good day and you rate your self-esteem an 8, 9 or 10. Or maybe today you’re feeling on the lower end of the scale, and struggling to find good points about yourself.

The way you are feeling about yourself today is a valid part of your experience. I also give you permission to allow yourself to draw positivity from your ability to be resilient and to survive when you’re not feeling your best.

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So just what is self-esteem? Why is it so important anyway?

In a nutshell, self-esteem is the ability to cope with life’s basic daily challenges. To believe that you are worthy of happiness. Believe that you are loveable, and that you are likeable. And that you have enough self-respect to say no if you need to. It also means you can be proactive when you need to need to be.

Sometimes self-esteem issues come from a traumatic childhood event, such as bullying, unsupportive parents, or verbal or sexual abuse.

Self-esteem – photo by Antonio Guillem – Shutterstock

Poor academic performance, issues with body image, health issues, family issues, depression and anxiety, or even the recent isolation and anxiety around COVID-19, or climate change could all undermine our self-esteem, self-safety and self-belief – not just in our teens, but well into adulthood.

Gender and self-esteem

Our self-esteem and our ability to assert ourselves can also be gender related and impact our adult lives too. Robust evidence repeatedly shows that working men tend to have greater levels of self-esteem than working women. Men are four times more likely than women to negotiate salary increases. And other research shows that men will apply for a job with only 60% of the qualifications advertised, while women prefer to have 100% of the qualifications. In other words, women need to feel they are more of a ‘perfect fit’.

The good news is that confidence is just as importance as competence. And when a woman is equally qualified, and also believes in her own ability, she is likely to feel more secure and stable in her career or relationship.

Unstable identity and self-esteem

While poor self-esteem is an issue for any stage of life, low self-esteem can be particularly hard for teenagers and young adults because, during puberty, teens are thrown head first into an often ‘unstable identity crisis’. This can cause paralysing doubts and low self-esteem to seem even more insurmountable.

For teenagers between the ages of about 12 and 18, the human brain undergoes a radical stage of psychosocial development, where it is trying to carve out its own identity.

During the period of very rapid change and hormonal shifts, the body and brain experience rapid physical growth, sexual maturity, integration of adult ideas – all while learning to be autonomous in preparation for adult life.

It’s during this the time that we search to understand who we are, and who we want to be. We strive to develop a sense of ‘self-identity’. During these rapid hormonal shifts and brain development, it is often hard to think straight. Many teenagers may feel moody or muddled in their thinking as the adolescent brain continues to grow.

On a global scale, self-esteem generally follows a predictable trajectory

The notion that self-esteem is generally ‘at its worst’ during the awkward teenage years needs to be slightly revised. A 2018 study by Orth and Colleagues, which tracked 165,000 people of all ages, found that self-esteem increases markedly from the age of 4 to 11. Then it plateaus, but generally does not decline from the age of 11 to 15. It then continues to increase markedly into the 30s, and then more gradually up until the 60s and to stabilise in the 70s.

However – and this is a big caveat – if you have experienced a severe self-esteem crisis in childhood or young adulthood, without an adequate buffer or emotional support, there is a likelihood that self-esteem issues may continue throughout adulthood, and result in negative self-talk, relationship difficulties, and possibly hindered career prospects.

In contrast, if there is adequate emotional support and provision of strategies and internal resources as a buffer, there is every opportunity for you to develop strength and resilience in response to such life challenges.

Self-esteem – photo by Antonio Guillem – Shutterstock

Now that you understand a little bit more about self-esteem and unstable identity, read on to find my top five strategies to boost self-esteem instantly:

1. Run your own race

In a world where it is easy to get caught up in following the milestones and achievements of others, it has never been more important to learn how to compete with ourselves. That is, spend more time focusing inwards on your own performance, rather than comparing yourself to others.

While it may be helpful to use others’ ideas and accomplishments to build motivation, it is important to remember we are all born as individuals, with unique strengths and skillsets. So next time you’re looking at your favourite celebrity profile’s amazing body transformation photos, it might be an idea to gently shift your attention inwards and ask yourself, ‘What is it that I want for my own health and what are some positive messages I can adopt in relating to my own body image?’

2. Find beauty in your flaws

Some of our biggest perceived flaws end up leading to our greatest strengths.

Have you ever wondered why some of the most successful people have unique quirks, mannerisms, or characteristics? It is because they learnt to embrace the beauty of their uniqueness and use it as a trademark in building towards higher fulfilment. With every perceived negative trait, there is potential to transform into something positive.

As Carl Jung said, “We cannot change anything unless we accept it.” By learning to accept and embrace our perceived flaws and weaknesses, we gain the opportunity to transform them into our greatest allies. So next time you’re judging yourself for something you said, or looking in the mirror and not feeling good about that little dimple, or the extra bit of skin that’s hanging over your jeans, try saying to yourself, ‘I am perfectly imperfect, and I give myself permission to unconditionally love and accept myself, just as I am.’

Self-esteem – photo by Antonio Guillem – Shutterstock

3. Be persistent and patient

Ever wondered why some people are just ‘naturals’ at doing something, whereas for you it just takes forever to get it right? While some people are born with a natural ability to perform certain tasks or skills, most successful people in the world perfected their art through practice, repetition, persistence and patience. Did you know that when he first started playing basketball in high school, Michael Jordan was just another kid in the gym, along with 50 or so of his classmates trying out for the school team? There were 15 roster spots and Jordan did not get one!

The rest is history. The point is that it takes time, dedication and persistence to direct your time and energy towards your goal. Your passion is what will continue to drive your energy in striving towards greatness. So when you don’t get it right the first time, remember it’s all part of the journey towards your growth.

4. Build a positive, permanent sense of self

One of the most deeply philosophical questions that people may come to ask themselves at various stages of life is, who am I? Or even, what am I? As human beings, we are obviously made up of different components that all seem to function together almost like a machine – our bodies, our brains and cells always communicating to keep us functioning.

But is this our identity? What is our identity made of? The Oxford dictionary defines identity as ‘the sameness of a person or thing at all times or in all circumstances; the condition or fact that a person or thing is itself and not something else; individuality, personality.’ As identity is defined as a set of fixed and stable traits, what are some of the traits with which you can identify in order to build a stronger, more positive, permanent sense of self?

While our physical image will change as we age, and our level of pay, or Instagram followers may change and fluctuate, there is a range of personal qualities that we can exemplify, to provide us more permanence. Think about some of the more altruistic traits and how we can be of service to the world and others as a permanent measure of the value we bring. Research has shown our level of self-worth and value increases when we refocus our attention and energy towards intentions, words and actions of service and compassion. Next time you’re questioning your worth in this world, ask yourself “How can I be of service today?”

5. Develop a self-appreciation ritual

If you’re feeling down on yourself about the way your life is going, set aside some ‘me time’ so you can reflect and create a new experience for yourself.

When we are not feeling so good about ourselves, often the cause is an outcome or set of circumstances that have contributed. By taking time to reflect and understand the root causes of our self-esteem difficulties, we allow ourselves the opportunity to address the circumstances. Further, by engaging in practices and rituals that allow us to focus on the bigger picture of our lives, we gain an opportunity to reframe our minds and how we feel about ourselves.

Start by writing a list of your accomplishments over time: over the day; your week; the month; the year; and the whole list of accomplishments over your lifetime. Accomplishments do not have to be amazing, big feats. They can be as simple as being there for a friend in need. Or perhaps a random act of kindness towards a stranger. No matter how big or small, your accomplishments are something to be proud of. So take the opportunity to sit, acknowledge and receive your greatness – let this positive feeling run through you.

Self-esteem – photo by Antonio Guillem – Shutterstock

Just like everything in life, high self-esteem and high self-confidence are about discipline and training. If you believe in yourself, then in many ways you have won before you have started.


– Being yourself authentic self is worth more than any copy of someone else.

– Whoever is trying to bring you down is already below you; so be the bigger person.

– Accept and learn from criticism, but turn down any ‘noise’ said in anger that you know is not true. Let it go.

– Finally, to be the true master of the self-esteem universe, remind yourself that no one can make you feel bad without your consent.

About the author

Daniel Van der Pluym

With a background in psychology Daniel Van is a well-being and performance coach focused on helping people manage stress and overcome challenging circumstances in their lives. He offers workplace and community group meditation and founded 'Deeper Potential':

Article images: all photos by Antonio Guillem, on Shutterstock.

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  1. I read somewhere that it takes 10 positive affirmations to counter 1 negative one. Considering how strong most of our inner critics are its all the more important to work hard to balance it out by using strategies such as the ones you’ve listed to boost our self-esteem.

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