Is Your Self-esteem Yours, or are You Giving it Away?

WRITTEN BY Bronagh Loughlin

April 4, 2024

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Is Your Self-esteem Yours, or are You Giving it Away?

Bronagh Loughlin

4 Apr, 2024

We are living in a world where there is an epidemic of low self-esteem. Self-esteem or self-worth refers to how you feel about yourself. It is your perception of how likeable and worthy you are. 

Despite the term giving away a big clue that self-esteem is about what you think of yourself, many of us give our self-esteem away, allowing social pressures to get in the way. 

We are social and cultural animals, and we develop and learn about the world around us through our interactions with other people. As a society, we have many rules and laws, values, and beliefs about ourselves, and these are shaped by the ‘social norms’ we develop throughout our lives. 

Social influences can be negative and positive, and different levels of social pressure exist within various cultures and communities. The overwhelming pressure to adhere to social norms often manifests as social anxiety, a fear of being evaluated or judged by others. 

It generally begins in childhood and is underpinned by a combination of different influences, one major one being parenting, among other social influences. With this in mind, social anxiety and low self-esteem are a common combination. 

In saying that, it is pivotal for your mental well-being to fully comprehend what falls under each bracket. It’s not uncommon for people to base their self-esteem on external factors like what job they have, the kind of car they drive, or how much they weigh. 

These are social pressures and also external factors that are likely to change meaning relying on these elements to determine how you feel about yourself isn’t very strong. 

With this in mind, if you are dependent on others or external factors to feel better about yourself, chances are your self-esteem will either be up and down or constantly down as you do not feel fulfilled. 

Keith Haggins, Licenced Coach for The Thrive Programme, an evidence-based mental health training course for individuals and businesses, explains: “One of the most critical misunderstandings about self-esteem is that it is fixed. People often view self-esteem as things that cannot be changed like our eye colour or the size of our feet.” 

He adds: “Additionally, while most people understand the definition of self-esteem, the majority still base theirs on perceived opinions from others and society. When we receive positive feedback, be it from friends, family, colleagues, or employers, our self-esteem goes up. However, on the flip side, if we receive negative feedback, our self-esteem goes down. At its core, self-esteem means what you currently think of yourself, so it’s important to recognise it isn’t about what other people think of you.” 

With many people relying on external validation to increase their self-esteem, it’s critical to recognise how self-esteem differs from social anxiety. Speaking on this, Keith says: “In a nutshell, social anxiety is the fear of being judged by others and society. While attending a social event or simply waiting for a bus to arrive, those who struggle with social anxiety feel under pressure and create anxiety. This anxiety comes about as our minds continuously wonder what others think about us.” 

Speaking on the differences between external and internal self-esteem, Keith says: “External self-esteem is when we evaluate ourselves based on the perceived opinions of others. We seldom validate these opinions as often they are never more than thoughts based on our low self-esteem.”

He adds: “Internal self-esteem then is aligned with the true definition of self-esteem. It is what you currently think of you and not based on factors like your looks, wealth, job, or your relationship status, for example.” 

The problem with having largely external self-esteem is that we are essentially giving our power away and relying on others to always make us feel good. Keith says: “Self-esteem is one of the cornerstones of optimal mental health and well-being. Anyone who has low self-esteem or external self-esteem will find themselves struggling in life. They may be getting by or using high avoidance coping strategies to escape feelings of being judged or observed. Learning and understanding the skills required to build an internal high self-esteem enables everyone, regardless of their current or past circumstances, to build a strong and healthy internal self-esteem in as little as two weeks.” 

How can we address this and work towards internal self-esteem? Understanding where your self-esteem comes from is the very first step. If you don’t think you are good enough or you dislike yourself, think about where these viewpoints are coming from. 

The majority of the time, you’ll find it is because you are placing your self-esteem on external elements. Once you know where your self-esteem comes from, you can gain clarity on how to improve it and experience enhanced mental health and well-being. 


Keith Haggins – Licensed Thrive Programme Coach


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