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The Significance of Self-Esteem

October 26, 2023

Self-esteem. We’ve likely all heard the term so often that it can feel like it has lost its true meaning. But here’s the thing: self-esteem is not just a buzzword; it’s a fundamental aspect of mental wellbeing.


Self-esteem is more than just liking oneself, it refers to the overall sense of worth and the value we place on ourselves as individuals. A person with positive self-esteem has a healthy opinion of themselves, acknowledging their abilities, attributes and potential. 


It’s important to know that there can be challenges on both sides when it comes to having high or low perceptions of your self-esteem. An individual with extremely high self-esteem may find themselves struggling with aspects of relationships or personal growth because they’ve overestimated their skills and/or view themselves as perfect. Conversely, low self-esteem can lead individuals to negative self-perception and a lack of confidence. Individuals struggling with low self-esteem can sometimes display self-sabotaging behaviours because their perception of their competence or worth is at odds with reality.

Understanding self-esteem and why it’s important

To say good self-esteem is significant would be an understatement. It forms the foundation of healthy relationships, productive work environments and a fulfilling life. Many people with healthy self-esteem are motivated to pursue their goals, assert their needs and set healthy boundaries, and navigate life's challenges with resilience. 


Oftentimes, the building blocks for self-esteem are laid during childhood, although cultivating a healthy self-esteem is a lifelong endeavor. While early developmental factors can contribute toward self-esteem, an individual’s sense of self-worth can also be impacted by factors like ability or disability, genetics, socioeconomic status, thought patterns, and life experiences. Additionally, there is evidence that individuals who experience discrimination and/or racism may have their sense of worth and value negatively impacted. 


How can you identify if you have healthy self-esteem? While not an exhaustive list, here are some characteristics that may indicate an appropriate level of self-worth: 


  • An ability to communicate individual needs
  • The ability to set healthy boundaries
  • Expressing or displaying a tendency toward confidence in one’s abilities or perception of self
  • Displaying a tendency to view life experiences with a positive outlook
  • Accepting of individual strengths and imperfections

In contrast, people struggling with lower self-esteem may express challenges with motivation or mental health disorders like anxiety and depression and can sometimes find it hard to have healthy relationships with themselves or others.

Is self-esteem a psychological need and what does that mean?

Self-esteem is considered a psychological need. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist and humanist, included it at the fourth level in his hierarchy of needs, placing it above physiological, social and safety needs. This signifies its essential role in achieving a fulfilling and satisfying life. Just as we need food, water and shelter to survive, and safety and security to feel stable, self-esteem (and the need for respect and appreciation from others) is crucial for our psychological wellbeing and for motivating our behaviour. 


Psychological needs are fundamental aspects of human motivation, and influence our behaviour, thoughts and emotions. Ensuring these needs are met is important for an individual’s mental health and a sense of purpose. And what happens if these needs aren’t met? An individual may be left feeling unimportant, unconfident and lacking a sense of purpose. 

So, how do I cultivate healthy self-esteem?

Cultivating self-esteem is a journey that can involve reflection and awareness, compassion, and taking actionable steps to challenging negative thoughts. Here are some strategies that may help boost your self-esteem:


Be kind to yourself: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a good friend. Acknowledge your weaknesses without self-criticism.


Set realistic goals: Celebrate your successes, no matter how small, as they contribute to a sense of accomplishment and confidence.


Challenge negative thoughts: Learn to recognize and challenge negative thoughts about yourself. Replace them with more realistic and positive affirmations.


Accept compliments: Instead of deflecting, try to hear and accept praise.


Seek support: Getting professional help may be effective in helping you develop the skills to improve your positive self-talk habits.

Can I improve self-esteem through therapy?

Seeking professional help through therapy can be immensely beneficial in improving self-esteem. Therapists use various approaches, one of the most common being cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), to address self-esteem issues.


CBT may help individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and develop healthier, more positive beliefs about themselves. This approach has been so helpful in addressing low self-esteem that a psychologist named Melanie Fennell developed a cognitive behavioural model of low self-esteem. 


Effective CBT may help an individual

  • Identify core beliefs and rules
  • Develop healthier beliefs and rules for living
  • Replace criticism with self-compassion
  • Use behavioural experiments to test negative patterns

A psychologist can guide you through this process, providing tools and techniques in an effort to enhance self-esteem and build a positive self-image. They can tailor strategies to your specific needs and circumstances, empowering you to overcome challenges and cultivate a strong sense of self-worth.


Investing in your self-esteem is a valuable undertaking that can transform your life. If you need assistance in learning the skills to develop healthy self-esteem, the OPA can help. We can assist in finding practitioners near you who help empower individuals to nurture their self-esteem and unlock their full potential. Don't hesitate to take the first step towards a brighter, more confident future. Visit today.