Mental health is often discussed from the perspective of diagnosable mental disorders, but one factor that significantly influences overall mental health is self-esteem.
Self-esteem is our internal assessment of ourselves and how we feel about who we are. It’s shaped by our experiences and beliefs about ourselves, including our successes, failures, relationships, and life circumstances. Our self-esteem reflects our thoughts and feelings about our worthiness, value, and lovability.
Healthy self-esteem can empower people to make positive life choices, build relationships, and develop a sense of security and joy in the world. On the other hand, low self-esteem can lead to feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and depression.
Let’s take a closer look at how self-esteem impacts overall mental health and discuss some strategies for promoting healthy self-esteem in our clients.
Psychologists have long studied the relationship between self-esteem and mental health. Studies have found that people with higher levels of self-esteem are generally better equipped to cope with stress and life challenges than those with lower levels of self-esteem. People with high self-esteem tend to view themselves more positively, believe in their abilities, and feel more confident in their decisions—all of which lead to better mental health outcomes over time.
Low levels of self-esteem, on the other hand, can lead to negative thoughts about oneself and negative behaviors such as avoidance or procrastination that may adversely affect one’s ability to cope with stress or life challenges. Low self-esteem has also been linked to an increased risk for depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse problems, and other types of psychological distress.
It’s important to remember that self-esteem isn’t a static trait — it can change over time depending on life experiences, successes, and failures. Encouraging clients to build a healthy self-concept is integral to promoting mental health and well-being.
When people have healthy levels of self-esteem, they tend to be more resilient in the face of life stressors and better able to cope with difficult emotions. They also tend to have higher levels of self-confidence, which can help them feel empowered to make positive choices that support their mental health.
Moreover, people with healthy self-esteem typically have strong relationships, are more likely to take risks, and are better able to enjoy life truly. All these factors can contribute to overall mental health and well-being.
So how do we go about promoting healthy self-esteem in our clients? While there’s no single answer to this question, there are a few strategies we can use to help your clients build and maintain positive self-esteem:
One way to explain the difference between self-esteem and self-worth to your clients is to explain that self-esteem depends on our circumstances while self-worth does not. Self-esteem gauges our performance in different situations, like how we handle tasks or challenges presented by our environment, while self-worth refers to the inherent value of ourselves as human beings. Helping clients understand these two concepts can help them realize that their worth is not based on any outside influences or accomplishments.
Taking on self-compassion can have a transformative effect on people’s lives. Instead of reinforcing damaging messages about their worth, self-compassion encourages a gentler and more understanding approach to life. Equipping clients with the tools to show themselves kindness can give them the power to move away from negative thinking patterns and forge healthier relationships with themselves. Make sure they understand that perfectionism may be desirable but rarely achievable.
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Rather than fixating on what they perceive as their flaws, encourage your clients to focus on their strengths and accomplishments. By doing so, they can start developing an internal dialogue rooted in positivity rather than negativity, which can be a decisive step toward building healthy self-esteem. Promote the idea that mistakes are not only normal, but they also offer valuable learning opportunities. Remind your clients that failures and setbacks do not define them and can be used to refine skills or redirect paths in life.
Setting realistic goals is a great way to start on the pathway to building up self-esteem. Having achievable and measurable goals can create a sense of accomplishment and help your clients become more confident. Help them figure out their ideal outcomes, and encourage them to break each goal into smaller, more manageable steps that they can tackle one at a time.
Building self-esteem requires looking at oneself objectively and recognizing both strengths and weaknesses. It can also be challenging, as many people are more accustomed to dwelling on the things they wish they could change. Start by helping them look at themselves objectively, praising them every time they bring up something positive about themselves, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. Positive reinforcement can also help them become aware of the strengths in those around them – seeing how others approach situations differently and observing the unique talents that make each person special.
Clients with low self-esteem may have negative thought patterns that keep them stuck in a cycle of low self-worth. Help your clients challenge these negative thoughts by encouraging them to find evidence why those thoughts may not be true. Once the evidence has been established, replace the negative thought with a more realistic and positive one. Doing this regularly can help rewire their brains so that their new way of thinking becomes habitual, and they begin to think more positively about themselves.
Your own self-esteem can be an important factor in how effective you are as a therapist. Modeling healthy self-esteem in sessions can help your clients learn to do the same and lead them toward making positive changes in their lives. Your enthusiasm and encouragement will show your clients they don’t have to fear failure, which can empower them to take risks and experiment with new ways of thinking.
Building self-esteem is a process that won’t happen overnight, so it’s important to be patient with your clients and keep reminding them of their progress throughout their journey. Often, the most minor steps can make an enormous difference in building self-esteem, so celebrate even the tiniest of successes with your clients. Similarly, never forget to give credit where it’s due – praising progress is a great way to boost motivation and confidence.
As counseling professionals, we understand the intrinsic value of self-esteem and its importance in our overall mental health. By supporting and guiding our clients through their journey of growth and development, we are enabling them to make positive changes — internally and externally –that will improve their overall well-being. While much of the process is individualized, it’s important to remember that we have the power to help and empower our clients every step of the way. With extra patience and support, your clients can begin building lasting self-esteem – ultimately taking them from a place of internal struggle to one of self-love and empowerment.
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