Let’s talk about: Self- ESTEEM

When I had C. as my client, it took me some time to establish rapport with her. Once I understood that she was able to trust me, I challenged her by asking her “What’s self-esteem?” She replied, “I don’t know, but I want it.” That moment I realized that on a societal level, we’ve paired self-esteem with success; yet, we don’t know how to have self-esteem or what it is. So, my next question was “How can you have or want to have something that you don’t know what is?” She kept quiet with a eureka gaze in her eyes. I’d never told her, but that was also a eureka moment for me because the picture was becoming clear for me as well. The first obstacle which keeps people from having a healthy self-esteem is because they do not know what they want. So, what is self-esteem?

The origin of the word “esteem” stems from the Latin word “aestimare” which means “to estimate.” Through the years the meaning of the word changed to “worth” and “reputation.” As my session with C continued, she explained to me that she believes she has “low” self-esteem because “I’m worthless at whatever I do.” Without being aware, C. told me herself the second barrier which keeps her from achieving healthy self-esteem. Self-esteem is the estimation/worth you decided to give to your abilities. In other words, self-esteem is an attitude which it’s cultivated based on your self-image.

Let me distill what I mean. Humans have the ability and tendency to place value on aspects of themselves. This ability is beneficial since we can indicate our strengths and weaknesses. By realistically evaluating our abilities, we get the choice to improve.

Now, let’s take a look at how healthy self-esteem looks like. We consider someone to have healthy self-esteem by the way he/she handles an at-risk situation. When someone is in an at-risk situation (usually an unknown situation or a situation associated with fear and stress) he/she activates their core beliefs which act as filters to evaluate the situation. A core belief can be either positive or negative. In the case of healthy self-esteem, you will develop more balanced evaluations and realistic expectations about the situation you have to face, through your positive core belief. These thoughts will automatically lead you in engaging in helpful behaviors.

Make no mistake, having positive core beliefs does not mean you ignore the risks or possibilities of failure. It simply means you have a positive approach regardless of the consequences and the result. According to Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), having healthy self-esteem is the acceptance of your vulnerabilities.

Speaking of REBT, when I first met Terry London who is one of the Co-Director at the Chicago Institute for Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), he said that even if he fails at the presentation that he was giving at that moment, he will go home think of what to change and improve to become a better speaker. Not being good at this presentation is not about himself, but about his skills. Considering that self-esteem is about our abilities, it suggests that it can be changed by situation and period. Therefore once you get equipped with the skills, developing healthy self-esteem becomes a skill on which you could keep working continuously.