The Components of Self Esteem
Self-esteem is something we psychologists work with on
a daily basis. It affects everything we do–every
conversation we have with someone, potentially every business
transaction, our relationships with significant others, and on
In my twenty plus years as an outpatient psychologist,
I have distilled the four primary aspects or qualities of this
very big concept. I call them powers, because each contributes
to our personal effectiveness, personal integration, hence
self-empowerment. The four powers of self-esteem are Worth,
Competence, Ego Strength and Self-Acceptance.
Worth has to do with our basic, fundamental, deep-seated
assumptions about ourselves. These values, thoughts and ideas
stem from how life went for us during our formative years.
How did our parents treat us? Were we loved? What happened
to us during this time? We all have had good and bad experiences,
especially during our earliest times. Were these experiences
supportive or traumatic? How did we take these in? How did we
interpret them? These all structure our sense of Worth.
Competence has to do with our real or actual abilities.
Our developed skills fall into this category. This may be a
natural or acquired skill. Can we speak better than our peers?
Are we more or less intelligent? In grade school, we noted whether
we could run faster than our classmates. What kind of grades did
we make, compared to others. In adulthood, are we better at our
jobs than our competitors? Are we going to get that promotion
based upon what we can do or whether we are dating the boss’
daughter? Competence has to do with what we actually manifest.
How we do that is about our abilities.
Ego-strength is really two components. The first is
assertiveness. Assertiveness is about sharing our experience
with the world. I call this beginning assertiveness. We just
tell the world how it is for us, in whatever way works. The usual
and most effective way is through words, so we usually need an
adequate vocabulary of feelings. Intermediate assertiveness is
about asking for what we want. It is one thing to share our
innermost experiences, but it requires more assertion to ask others
to give us something. Advanced assertiveness is what psychologists,
police or other professionals occasionally have to do, but also
usually try to avoid. This is when we talk someone down from a
high place, like a bridge or tall building. This is when we negotiate
for a hostage release when there is a crime. Most of us never have
to do these things.
The second aspect of ego-strength is thick-Skinnedness.
This is not a clinical term, but a quality that comes from practice.
Usually it evolves from assertiveness. If we are effective in
dealing with the world at large, stating our opinions and asking
for what we want, we also develop an “orientation” about how it is
in that world. We know there will be times when we do not get what
we want. We know there is conflict everywhere. We know that to get
what we want, we have to endure things, again, conflict being the
most central. We know people will disagree with us, and at times
be very critical. All of this contributes to a mental posturing, and “attitude” that allows us to be tough. I call this thick-Skinnedness,
and when developed, fosters greater self-esteem.
The last of the four powers of self-esteem is Self-Acceptance.
This is also an attitude, but a relatively uncritical one. It
involves acknowledging and accepting oneself, including all of our
good or bad qualities. In an ebook I wrote, there is the example
of the overweight, toothless, sixth-grade educated underachiever who
accepted himself just as he is. His self-acceptance is high; hence
his self-esteem in this area is also high. Contrast this with the
high-powered executive who makes a six-figure annual salary, who
constantly berates himself for not making the next better deal or
outsmarting the competition. He has, by most societal standards,
achieved a lot, yet has very low self-acceptance. His self-esteem
in this area is low. Self-acceptance does not necessarily have
anything to do with achievement.
The in-dept version of this article, as well as information
about how self-esteem is formed and improved quickly can be found
in one of my ebooks, available at my website.
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