While we have an intuitive knowledge of what it means to love and accept oneself, it is sometimes a challenge to define self-esteem in practical terms. Naturally, it is a tough concept to pin down without sounding too abstract, to the point that some psychologists, such as Albert Ellis (2005) – also writer and founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy – have questioned its relevance. Even if we do not agree on the power of self-esteem, we are still able to recognize the behaviours that make us “feel good”, confident and in harmony with ourselves.
As it is not my intention to add to the debate or bore you with a long list of synonyms, I have gathered 5 concepts that I consider the pillars of a healthy self-esteem. My goal is to explain self-esteem in practical terms, so that you are able to develop a clearer map of what it entails.
Here is self-esteem in practical terms:
IDENTITY: my self-esteem is high when I know who I am and what I want, my likes and dislikes. Good self-esteem is reflective of my ability to identify with whom I am. My sense of identity allows me to live in accordance with what enhances my character and personality. It also connects me to the here and now and guides me where I genuinely want to be. It makes me feel whole and congruent.
Strengths associated with a good sense of identity: confidence, self-assurance, congruence, autonomy, integrity
BOUNDARIES: my personal boundaries, when safe and active, give me a sense of control and autonomy over myself. When I am able to say “no” to what does not suit me, I prioritise my well-being against harmful interference. My limits also protect my integrity and preserve my wholeness. By honouring my feelings and respecting my boundaries, I confirm myself through my own actions and behaviours.
Strengths associated with healthy personal boundaries: assertiveness, self-respect, independence, reliability
FLEXIBLE VALUES: good self-esteem also relies on my ability to restructure my beliefs to suit my identity. Healthy values adjust to my needs and personal circumstances. When what I believe in is line with whom I am and the choices I make, I am at one with myself. My value are not stagnant or meant to transcend time, but develop along with my own process of change and personal growth.
Strengths associated with flexible values: flexibility, tolerance, kindness, empathy, spontaneity, creativity, open-mindedness, compassion
POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES & VULNERABILITIES: those with a healthy self-esteem are able to recognize their qualities and live at peace with their weaknesses. They display a high level of self-awareness by taking into consideration every single aspect that makes them unique. Above all, they do so without exaggerations and in an unbiased manner.
Strengths associated with positive attributes and vulnerabilities: objectivity, impartiality, maturity, honesty, levelheadedness, self-acceptance
BALANCED JUDGEMENT: the ability to separate from my own thoughts and behaviours and analyse them from a realistic perspective is one of the best ways to show love and respect for myself. Your self-esteem receives a lasting boost when you are able not to equate your worth solely to the quality of your actions, but value yourself regardless of the outcome.
Strengths associated with a balanced judgment: sensibility, clarity, intelligence, rationality, precision, reliability
Depending on your upbringing and cognitive profile, you may struggle to keep the above pillars erect. If you are in need of some support, check my recommended reading on the topic of self-esteem. For professional help, you can contact me to find out how I can help you raise self-esteem with CBT.
Ellis, Albert (2005). The Myth of Self-esteem: How Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Can Change Your Life Forever. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.