Self-Esteem’s Role in Therapy and The Healing Process
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-Esteem is our opinion of ourselves. Now that being said self-esteem can fluctuate between the extremes of self-defeating shame and self-defeating pride, with healthy self-esteem falling right in the middle of those two extremes. Self-defeating pride is when an individual sees themselves as more than human and tends to present themselves in a ‘I’m better and more important’ way. While self-defeating shame is the opposite, where individuals view themselves as worthless and less than human. Thus, individuals with a healthy sense of self-esteem will view themselves as neither more than human or less than human, but rather be able to acknowledge and accept that they are simply human. They are able to coexist with imperfection and recognize that their faults do not make them less, instead they make them unique and contribute to who they are.
Self-esteem in of itself can be a complex and complicated to conceptualize. There are approximately seven different concepts that are related to self-esteem that often causes us to ignore the true depths of our self-esteem.
These seven concepts are:
Identity: This refers to the age-old question of ‘Who am I?’. Identity envelopes all that defines who we are and our essential character, providing us with a sense of self and individuality.
Appreciation: This refers to our ability to value, recognize and appropriately estimate the good qualities of someone or something.
Acceptance: When referring to the self, this concept encapsulates our ability to believe in ourselves and being able to receive ourselves in a favorable manor, while also being able to acknowledge one’s faults. Healthy self-acceptance dialogue might look like “I acknowledge that I make mistakes. I love myself, though not all of my behaviors I choose to engage in. As I improve my behaviors, I can feel good about my choices moving forward”.
Self-confidence: Typically refers to your beliefs about your abilities and competence around desired skills and/or subjects. On a deeper level this explores our belief in ourselves and leads to a general sense of ‘I can do it’. While self-confidence and competence are related to self-esteem it doesn’t mean it dictates our self-esteem. If we were to base our worth off competence and achievements, then if we fail we have no worth.
Pride: There are two sides of pride that relate to our self-esteem; self-defeating and healthy. Self-defeating pride refers to the attitude that one is superior more valuable and important than others. Whereas a healthy sense of pride is a realistic sense of one’s own worth.
Humility: There are also two sides to humility, self-defeating and healthy. Self-defeating humility manifests as submissiveness, contemptibility and a general lacking of self-respect. Healthy humility involves the recognition of imperfections or weaknesses.
Selfishness: Many people equate taking time to take care of yourself as selfish, but that’s far from the truth. If you spend every waking moment giving yourself to others how in the world are you making time to listen and take care of your own body and mind? When we take the time to heal past and present experienced pain, we allow ourselves to be freer to love others and enjoy life. An individual with a healthy self-esteem is one who loves by choice from a secure base, as opposed to an individual who is co-dependent and struggles with having a sense of self-esteem, choice or both.
What is Self-Esteem’s Role in Healing?
Having and building a healthy self-esteem is essential in our growth and healing journey as it allows us to create the space we need to heal. Self-esteem is built upon 3 foundational factors; unconditional worth, love and growth. Most often we jump straight into the growth process while neglecting to build unconditional worth and love. Without building these two important bases your overall concept of self-esteem will topple over.
Unconditional worth refers to your ability to recognize that you are an important and valuable person because your core self is unique and valuable. Whereas unconditional love refers to your emotional experiences related to those that show you love, such as your parents, significant others, and yourself. While not all of us have experienced love from all three of these areas, you do have the ability to control the love that you give to yourself. Being able to recognize and accept that you have worth and are deserving of love is an important step in the overall healing process.
When we experience self-dislike, it can contribute or worsen symptoms related to:
Hostility, excessive or deep-seated anger, dislike and distrust of others
Entering or staying in abusive relationships
Alcohol and drug use
Eating disorders and unhealthy eating
Social struggles such as isolation, withdrawal and loneliness
While this is not an exhaustive list, it gives you an idea of just how important a role self-esteem not only plays in one’s life but in one’s ability to heal from current or past traumatic experiences. If you want to learn more don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health provider in your area. They are trained to provide you with a safe space to process, build, and grow from all types of traumatic experiences.