By Valeria Vilar, MA, BEd, LMHC
How we usually feel about ourselves affects directly our experience in life, our job, love life, friendships, and the possibility to progress in life in the direction of our dreams. The way we respond to the challenges of our lives comes from our perception of who or what we think we are.
Self-esteem is the measurement system we employ to value ourselves. Since self-esteem is based in our own perception of us, it is subject to the quality of our insight into our own emotions and thought, and could sometimes be misleading. Like an accounting Profits & Losses report, self-esteem measures on a daily basis the balance of our positive and negative image of ourselves, constantly updated by our experiences and the impact of our self-evaluation and the evaluation of the people we interact with produce.
Keeping a truthful self-esteem balance is the clue to understand ourselves and those around us. A positive or high self -esteem allows us to feel trusted and valued. Negative or low selves esteem forces us to feel useless, mistaken, understandably lonely and socially handicapped. Life experiences affect the way we feel about ourselves, and people who have not trained their self-esteem to react with flexibility to the inevitable ups and downs of life fluctuate drastically between feeling valuable and useless, assertive and plain wrong, incoherent in their own behavior.
The capacity to develop trust and healthy respect for ourselves is inherent to our nature, but it also needs to be trained, and the way we have been raised directly influence the way we esteem ourselves. Ideally all people deserve to enjoy a high level of self-esteem, but we all know how difficult it is. For example, Ashley proudly submitted a project to her boss, after two months of working on it. Her boss glanced over it and briefly pointed out to two things Ashley should change before bringing it back on the following day. Ashley could have at least two different reactions: she could have felt “I do everything wrong, I’ve been working for two months and nothing valuable came out as a result of my efforts, I don’t know how my boss is keeping me working here…I’m gonna be fired!, or she could have also felt: “Great, my boss is very strict and he only found two little things to change, that means that he liked it”, or, before her boss’ request, “Oops, he is right; ok, it’s a quick change and it is going to be ready for tomorrow”. Undoubtedly, Ashley’s chosen reaction among the alternatives listed – that we don’t need to know - would have expressed the balance on her self-esteem account, since we have no way of knowing her boss’ intentions and, like her, we need to wait until her boss gives her appropriate feedback once the final project is submitted.
According to the situation and the kind of Ashley we are, many possibilities could fit. It is important that we train our self-esteem to absorb the impact of the challenges we face in order to have a positive and accurate image of ourselves. To train and develop our self-esteem is to exercise the conviction that we can become competent in life, and that we can deserve true happiness. To train our self-esteem is to broaden our capacity to be happy.