Self-esteem is an absolutely necessary requirement for mental health and happiness. Without it, we literally couldn’t survive. But what is self-esteem, and why is it so vital to our lives?
Self-esteem has two components: self-confidence and self-respect. Self-confidence means having the conviction that you’re capable of handling life and being successful. It means having certainty in your ability to understand the world around you, make accurate judgments, make decisions, choose your values and goals and pursue and achieve them, and effectively deal with problems and challenges when they arise. Primarily, it’s a judgment about your own ability to think effectively and act on that thinking. It doesn’t mean omniscience or a complete lack of self-doubt. If you make a mistake because you lack some knowledge, you’re confident you can discover the required knowledge and do better the next time. If you have self-doubt about a particular issue, you have certainty you can objectively figure out what’s causing it and resolve the doubt.
Self-respect means that you judge yourself worthy of living and reaping the rewards of your efforts. It’s a moral judgment of yourself that you’re a good person deserving of all the happiness and success that comes as a result of your hard work. It means that at base, even before you achieve anything, you are worthy of the best you can achieve.
If you’re missing one or both of these elements, then your self-esteem will suffer. Without self-confidence, you won’t be able to deal with life, e.g., get through school, perform a job, have successful relationships, deal with problems and challenges, make decisions, choose your values and goals, or have the confidence to go after them. Lacking self-confidence means lacking trust in your ability to think and come to conclusions with certainty. It leaves you in a state of self-doubt, and chronic self-doubt can lead to problems like anxiety, depression, and relationship problems.
A lack of self-respect means that you’ll not feel deserving of the rewards you have earned, which impedes your ability to be happy, because you judge yourself not worthy of enjoying the things that create happiness. It means that you may not even aim to achieve anything too much because you don’t think you deserve it. For example you might think, “I’m not good enough for that job or that person, so I won’t even try to attain it. I’ll settle for less because that’s what I deserve.” Lack of self-respect also leads to allowing others to treat you poorly or abusively, because you may feel you’re not good enough to stick up for yourself, and that it’s even justified that you should be treated badly. It means you won’t stand up for yourself and your rights and assert your needs and boundaries.
Self-esteem operates on a continuum. It’s not that you either have it or you don’t, it’s what level of self-esteem you have, and is that the optimum level for you to be mentally healthy and happy. The good news is that self-esteem can be improved, and in future posts I will explain how.