"Self-esteem" is a hokey, overused term for a pretty critical concept that it seems few of us fully understand (and even fewer of us actually possess).
See, self-esteem is not feeling sexy, or liking the way you look in a new lipstick, or secretly thinking you're, like, soooooo much happier and healthier and better off than the poor sap of a girl crying next to you on the subway.
It's about self-worth, which is so much deeper and more CORE than all that superficial stuff. Psychcentral says, "Self-esteem answers the question, 'How do I feel about who I am?' We learn self-esteem in our family of origin; we do not inherit it." This definition resonates most for me, though: "Self-esteem is how we value ourselves; it is how we perceive our value to the world and how valuable we think we are to others."
I've had self-esteem issues forever (sadly, I don't know many women who haven't). It's something I've been eternally striving to work on and sort out -- a goal I've set for myself as if it's something to be conquered (think mastering 50 pushups or learning how to speak another language). "MUST GET SELF-ESTEEM!" I remind myself in shitty moments, "THEN ALL WILL BE WELL."
But … how? That's the question I've always struggled with. When I was younger, I thought self-esteem was something you were either born with or not -- a finite resource, an elusive magic Thing. As an adult, in 12-step circles I started hearing that you get self-esteem through doing "esteemable acts." This makes a lot of sense, and it's true that I tend to feel best about myself after I've done something positive for someone else. Doing nice things for myself (i.e., genuine acts of self-care, not spending 400 bucks on a new pair of boots) feels pretty great, too, whether it's taking a bath, or setting aside time to write, or making myself dinner.
The website Queendom.com recently released a report claiming that having high self-esteem "creates an impermeable barrier" that makes negative life experiences bounce off you like you're wearing some crazy sci-fi supersonic shield. In the press release, the company's president, Dr. Ilona Jerabek, offered this bit of wisdom:
“Look at self-esteem as a painting. Every compliment, encouragement, and success adds a splash of color to the painting –- as does every insult and failure –- creating the picture of who you are inside. Some people think they need to stay with that painting and can’t change the colors because it’s who they are… but that’s not true. Self-esteem can be rebuilt, developed, and strengthened. You can start fresh with a totally new coat of paint."
Starting fresh (NOW WITH MORE SELF-ESTEEM!!!) sounds pretty great, I shan't lie. So how can we do that? Queendom's researchers suggest learning from (but letting go of) mistakes; not relying on others to make you feel good; not comparing yourself to other people; associating with good peeps who affirm you (dump the toxic assholes now, please); doing things for others (duh); and practicing happy-hippie affirmations (but "don’t just say them 3 times, and then spend the rest of the day criticizing yourself or complaining! Say your affirmations as often as you can, whether you’re on the way to work, cleaning the house, or shopping").
Self-esteem -- what does it mean to you? More importantly, do you have any? If so, please share, um, how you got it. And how you keep it! It's safe to assume I'm not the only one who's curious.
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