Self-esteem is a judgment about our personal value--the degree to which we believe ourselves to be worthwhile. It has a major impact on our feelings and behavior.
Our self-concept is what we think about ourselves, how we see ourselves. It includes both positive and negative things. It is our answer to the question, who am I? Our self-concept includes the many roles we play, such as parent, spouse, family member, friend, professional; our characteristics and qualities such as personality, intelligence, skills, appearance, interests, and our values.
Self-esteem is related to self-concept. If we like most of what we see in ourselves, we will have a high level of self-esteem. If we don’t like most of what we see in ourselves, our self-esteem will be low.
We can improve our self-esteem by doing things to improve our self-concept. We can develop different interests and skills that we are proud of--for example, cooking, crafts, computer skills, photography, carpentry and many more. In order to develop these skills it does not have to cost a lot of money. There are plenty of community education classes or a local community college, YMCA or your local gyms. The other way is to just experiment and try things out on our own!
Low self-esteem is based on the belief that we lack worth. This belief presents itself most clearly in the things that we say to ourselves, or self-talk. The exact/precise words may be different for everyone; however, people with low self-esteem tend to make negative generalizations about themselves. For example, "I’m not worthy", "I’m useless", "I’m bad", "I’m no good." These damaging thoughts are based on faulty reasoning.
Most times, we do not pay attention to our self-talk. However, when we are upset, it is important to pay close attention to our self-talk to find errors in our thinking, change our self-talk, and improve our self-esteem, feelings and behavior. This process is known as disputing or challenging our self-talk. Essentially, we question what we are thinking. We evaluate whether the facts support our beliefs. The overall goal is to find other ways of looking at a situation that will make us feel better and act in more constructive ways. For example, it doesn’t do us any good to call ourselves names when we make mistakes. That only makes us more likely, not less likely, to make the same mistakes. Instead of calling yourself a failure, try thinking of yourself as a fallible human being. A fallible human being is a person who makes mistakes. Since we all make mistakes, this phrase has the advantages of being accurate and emotionally neutral. You will not harm yourself by using it, and you will be more likely to make the changes that you want.
It is so important to remember that changing habits of thinking, like changing any other habit, requires time, patience, and practice. When you are upset, a good way to practice challenging your self-talk is to put your feelings down in writing. Ideas that may be sensible in our mind can look silly to us when we see them on paper. You can expect progress, not perfection in your efforts to challenge your negative beliefs about yourself. Look at disappointments as opportunities to remind yourself that you are a human being and have the right to make mistakes. Have fun with this new way of thinking. It will be challenging, but the end result receives a prize!
Source: Hazelden, 2002, Center City, Minnesota