Updated: Feb 7
As we roll into February, it’s impossible to miss the heart-shaped cards and red boxes of chocolates that remind us Valentine’s Day is around the corner. As we don our red sweaters and hang our cupids in our windows, it’s a time that we focus on relationships and romantic love. It is less known that February is also International Boost Self-Esteem Month, when people across the globe focus on the importance of self-esteem. The alignment of the two events makes February the ideal time to explore the importance that self-esteem plays in our abilities to develop and engage in healthy, fulfilling relationships.
Self-esteem is one of the most frequently used and oldest themes in contemporary psychology, first found in the writings of Scottish philosopher David Hume in the 17th Century. Therapists often talk about the need to raise one’s self-esteem. But what exactly is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is an individual’s perception of, or belief in, his or her own value or importance to self and others. Self-esteem is important because your level of self-esteem drives how you approach the world, impacting most everything you do. Persons with high self-esteem feel good, accept flaws, and feel empowered to make changes. Persons with low self-esteem often feel helpless, sad, and are plagued with self-doubt. Understanding that self-esteem drives how you approach and respond to others, it is not difficult to see the importance of good self-esteem in your love relationships.
So how do you know if you have good self-esteem or if you need to work on it? It’s not always easy to see yourself the way others observing you might. Measuring the degree of self-satisfaction you have with how you are conducting your life is one way of addressing the results of your self-esteem. If you describe your life with statements such as: I am with the person or persons I want to share my life with; My decisions take me where I want to go; I am managing life’s challenges, you likely have good self-esteem.
There are decades of research linking self-esteem and the success and failure of intimate relationships. Your self-esteem not only affects how you think about yourself, but it also affects your ability to accept love and express love. Findings related to self-esteem state that two persons with good self-esteem are more likely to maintain happiness in their relationship. It follows, not surprisingly, two partners with lower self-esteem often find lesser satisfaction. Bradbury and Lavner explain that relationships between persons with lower self-esteem are less likely to handle the stress and emotionality inherent in intimate relationships. If you find that both you and your partner have low self-esteem, don’t lose hope. Research also found that when one partner increases their self-esteem, that the relationship and both partners’ benefit (Erol, et al).
In addition to negatively impacting relationships, low self-esteem can cause great emotional pain and impair achievement across all aspects of life. If you find yourself being described in the following list, consider getting some help to understand the causes of low self-esteem, how you or your situation may be reinforcing the perceptions maintaining your beliefs, and how to change them.
You frequently engage in negative self-talk, reject compliments from others and belittle yourself, outwardly or in your thoughts.
You are harsh in your comparison of yourself to others and cannot say how you contribute or are a positive addition to the people or activities around you.
You frequently choose doing something for someone else that hurts or diminishes you.
You hesitate to speak your thoughts because you don’t believe that your ideas have value to others.
You have a frequent need to prove yourself and may engage in activities that you would otherwise not do to prove to others your importance.
Fear of making a mistake or failure, stops you from doing things that you really want to do.
You accept when others hurt you because you don’t deserve better.
Fears that you are not worthy of or that others will hurt you stops you from starting new relationships.
The thing about self-esteem is that if you have too much of it, you irritate the people around you, but you feel ok. If you have too little, you suffer. Because self-esteem forms based on each individual’s perceptions, the individual has the power to improve their self-esteem by changing their perceptions and associated beliefs. No one needs to suffer and with some guidance, through a book, a therapist, or a mentor, everyone can improve their self-esteem.
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About the author, Carol Zuniga, MS, LLP, CEO of Hegira Health, Inc. is a licensed psychologist with more than 30 years’ experience in the healthcare industry. Hegira Health, Inc., is a leading provider of behavioral healthcare services with clinic locations in Western Wayne and the Downriver communities. Visit www.hegirahealth.org.
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