There is a lot of talk in personal development about building self-esteem. For our purposes, I will define self-esteem as feeling good about yourself as a person. There are many ways we can feel good about ourselves, and I think most of them fall under the umbrella of contribution.
Who’s to Blame for Low Self-Esteem?
When we are young, we are most impressionable. In fact, one may argue that the younger you are, the more impressionable you are. If you were fortunate enough to have mindful parents, they would have made every effort to assure you when you did something “bad” that you were not a bad person. Shame is a very intense tactic to use on a child, and can result in a child interpreting your disapproval with them being a bad person. I would argue that much of our self-esteem when we are pre-school age comes from our parents.
When we enter school, things begin to change. Now people are asking us to do stuff. No longer do the adults in our lives congratulate us for existing, they want us to produce. And they should! I believe that it is around this time that we learn a very important lesson: “people will like me if I do a good job”. Luckily for our little selves, there are many ways to do a good job: you can be polite, funny, interesting, good-looking, cheerful, helpful, fast, strong, and so many other things.
As a teacher, one of the more peculiar things I see happening in education is how lax we are becoming with discipline. I see the good intentions. We want every child to have the opportunity to reach their potential. But I think a lack of discipline may reinforce the anti-thesis of self esteem which I call do-whatever-i-want-itis.
do-whatever-i-want-itis (noun): thinking that you can do whatever you want and people will still not only accept you, but celebrate your questionable behavior.
I see many young people completely confused when they are faced with discipline, because the apparent message they have been sent is that everything they do is okay. There are no boundaries. If someone is hurt by what they do, it is their problem.
Recipe for Disaster
So now we have a recipe for disaster. A person who thinks they can do whatever they want and are also resistant to discipline. Trust me, these people are not pleasant to be around…you know why?…because their self -esteem is low or inappropriately high.
If their self-esteem is low, they feel bad. And they want to make other people feel bad too (of course they won’t admit this). Depending on the person’s personality, this could result in anti-social behavior. If their self-esteem is inappropriately high, they are at a high susceptibility for catching do-whatever-i-want-itis because they think their actions should have no consequences.
Seven Ways to increase Self-Esteem
I would like to make the hypothesis that self-esteem is about what we can contribute. Those ways to “be good” that I listed above make us feel good because humans are social creatures and we want most people to like us and think we are good.
Some of these suggestions may sound trite, but here are some ways we can increase our self esteem:
- Be easy to work with (assertive vs. aggressive)
- Pick up trash you see in your neighborhood (if it is sanitary to do so)
- Be kind to strangers
- Speak up if you see someone being mistreated (if it is safe to do so)
- Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and apply the skills
- Help those who are in need
- Leave places better than you found them
By developing small habits like those listed above, we will develop a respect for ourselves, and it is very likely that others will respect us too. When we make a contribution to our community, nature rewards us with dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. These neurotransmitters not only make us feel good, but make us attractive to those around us.
So, the next time you are feeling down, a good question to ask may be, “How am I contributing to my community?”. Finding a way to contribute may just be the answer you needed. Until next time…