Self-Esteem and Mental Health

February is Boost Self-Esteem Month. Self-esteem is just one of many aspect of overall mental health, but it is an important one nonetheless.

Defining Self-Esteem

Everyone has their own definition of what self-esteem means to them. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines self-esteem as “The degree to which the qualities and characteristics contained in one’s self-concept are perceived to be positive. It reflects a person’s physical self-image, view of his or her accomplishments and capabilities, and values and perceived success in living up to them, as well as the ways in which others view and respond to that person. The more positive the cumulative perception of these qualities and characteristics, the higher one’s self-esteem. A reasonably high degree of self-esteem is considered an important ingredient of mental health, whereas low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness are common depressive symptoms (APA).”

Self-Esteem and Mental Health

As the definition above indicates, too low of self-esteem can lead to things like feeling down, worthless, hopeless and lead to depression.

Having low self-esteem may also bring about more anxiety. Maybe you are worried about others’ perceptions of you, or maybe you feel anxious about maintaining a positive impression. That anxiety and low self-esteem combined may transpire into the depressive symptoms mentioned above.

While low self-esteem can cause feelings of depression, “too high” of self-esteem can have the opposite effect.  But how much is too high? Self-esteem may be considered “too high” if it is contributing to views and actions in which one sees themselves as a perceived authority figure that everyone should admire, or superior to others. Too high self-esteem can lead to increased arrogance or criticism toward others, not seeing any flaws within themselves at all.

One key and common difference between the two is low self-esteem can be explained as feeling inferior to others, whereas overly high self-esteem can be explained by feeling superior to others.

With that being said, it is a balance!

How Do You Balance and Maintain Healthy Self-Esteem?

Luckily there are some things you can do to help improve self-esteem.

  • Have a supportive network, if you can. This is crucial. If you are surrounded by people who are constantly putting you down or who are not supporting you, that can be a large contributor to low self-esteem. By contrast, if you have people who want to build you up and support you, you are likely to have more self-esteem through those positive relationships.
  • Give yourself the same consideration you give others. If you find that you are being hard on yourself or are often beating yourself up for minor mistakes, try turning the table and asking yourself, would I say this to someone else who was in the same situation? When you start to feel negative things about yourself, ask yourself what positive qualities you have. Even if they seem small. It takes time and practice to be able to turn that table, but with daily practice, it will become a habit to help you get out of that cycle of self-judgement.
  • Incorporate a self-care into your routine. Incorporating a self-care routine into your daily habits, even if it is just for 5 minutes a day, allows you to recognize that you and your mind are important too. By recognizing that, you may able to challenge those believes that are contributing to low-self-esteem.
  • If you notice your self-esteem is too high or are feeling an excessive need for control or superiority to others, having a supportive network is equally crucial as it is for those with low self-esteem. Certain life situations or toxic relationships, may lead you to develop high self-esteem as a defense mechanism. Sometimes with high self-esteem comes a need for control from an area of life where we feel we do not have control. Ask yourself if that pertains to you. If it does, it may be a sign to examine those parts of your life. If you are finding that it is difficult to control these feelings of superiority, and you are struggling to maintain relationships, it may be helpful to talk to a professional who can help navigate the cause of this high self-esteem. 
  • Seeking professional guidance. As mentioned above, whether you feel your self-esteem is too low or too high and you have trouble balancing it on your own, it is more than okay to ask for help. Sometimes self-esteem can be related to internal processes in the body or brain that are be related to different mental health conditions. This requires more of a treatment plan than one capable of doing on their own. A lot of people think that self-esteem is a personal issue, that can be easily fixed with mindset and coping skills, but that not true for everyone. That is why we are explaining these connections between mental health and self-esteem.

When to seek help

Here are just a few signs that it may be time to seek help are:

  • If you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
  • When you are feeling like you can’t control the feelings you have on your own.
  • If you feel worthless, hopeless, anxious or depressed.
  • If you are struggling to socialize or maintain healthy relationships.
  • If you feel the need to be in control 24/7 or feel excessive superiority to others.
  • If you feel the way you perceive yourself has a significant impact on your actions and functioning in everyday life.

Things to remember if you are struggling with self-esteem:

  • Struggles with self-esteem are not always your fault.
  • Inability to maintain or control self-esteem does not mean there is something wrong with you. It means you just may need a little help in doing so and that is ok.
  • Seeking help does not make you weak.
  • You are not a bad person because of your struggles with self-esteem.

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