Monday 5 December 2016

Well-being: Esteemed company

People with high self-esteem do things differently

Published 08/12/2015 | 02:30

Nathaniel Branden
Nathaniel Branden

When we think of our most important relationships, our thoughts often turn to the dynamics we have with our parents, siblings, children, spouses, friends and even pets. Yet rarely do we take into consideration the most important one of all - the relationship we have with ourselves.

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The holy trinity of self-confidence, self-respect and self-belief can be encapsulated as self-esteem, and it is no exaggeration to conclude that it is the single most important contributor to overall health and happiness.

"Tell me how a person judges his or her self-esteem," wrote the late psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden, "and I will tell you how that person operates at work, in love, in sex, in parenting, in every important aspect of existence - and how high he or she is likely to rise".

Those with high self-esteem fundamentally feel worthy - and they are treated accordingly. Those with low self-esteem fundamentally believe that they are not good enough or lesser than. They habitually take the back seat, accept the first offer and refuse the last slice of cake.

It may not be a diagnosable disorder, but this particular disposition is arguably the bedrock of many dysfunctional behaviours and addictions.

Self-esteem is essentially the value we place on ourselves, but remember that not all high self-esteem is created equal. Researchers often differentiate between fragile high self-esteem and secure high self-esteem. The former is brash and self-aggrandising. The latter is modest and quietly confident. Here we list the 10 habits of people with secure high self-esteem:

THEY ACCEPT CRITICISM

Research shows that those with low self-esteem and fragile high self-esteem are more likely to be defensive and closed to anything that even resembles criticism. Conversely, those with secure high self-esteem know that negative feedback is a positive tool for growth. If you have a tendency to become defensive, remember that the criticism that stings the sharpest is generally the shortcoming you need to work on most.

THEY PRACTISE SELF-COMPASSION

High self-esteem means accepting your limitations, taking adequate rest and recovery and practising self-care. It also means not equating productivity with self-worth. Those with high self-esteem tend to have better work habits. They take their lunch break, work late only when it's absolutely necessary and have no difficulty asking for a raise.

THEY ARE OPEN TO RECEIVING

People with high self-esteem have found the balance between giving and receiving. They can accept compliments, favours and gifts with the same ease with which they can give them. On the contrary, those with low self-esteem often have difficulty receiving. Worse, their 'all give and no take' approach leaves them wide open to controllers, manipulators, users and abusers.

THEY VALUE THEIR TIME

When we value ourselves, we value our time. People with high self-esteem say no to obligations that they can't fulfil. Or, at the very least, they have developed a diplomatic evasion tactic.

THEY DON'T PEOPLE-PLEASE

It's one thing to buy the occasional coffee for a colleague, quite another to buy chai lattes for your entire team. The subtext of people-pleasing is 'please like me'. People with low self-esteem derive their worth from other people's perceptions of them. People with high self-esteem don't rely on external validation.

THEY ARE ASSERTIVE

People with high self-esteem close deals, broach awkward conversations and don't shy away from confrontation. Those with low self-esteem take the passive approach for fear of upsetting others. Unfortunately their frustration tends to build up and provoke a reaction that is both dramatic and disproportionate.

THEY USE POSITIVE SELF-TALK

People with high self-esteem are not self-critical. Their inner dialogue is reassuring and encouraging - even when they make a schoolboy error. "Remember, you have been criticising yourself for years and it hasn't worked," writes Louise Hay. "Try approving of yourself and see what happens".

THEY DON'T STAY IN UNHAPPY RELATIONSHIPS

Low self-esteem and lower quality relationships go hand in hand. Indeed, studies show that those with low self-esteem are also more likely to stay in unhappy relationships. Conversely, those with higher self-esteem walk away from relationships as soon as they reach their sell-by date, just as they are more likely to establish nourishing, emotionally mature unions.

THEY DON'T LIVE IN THE PAST

People with high self-esteem don't describe themselves in the past tense - the job they used to have, the person they used to date, the weight they used to be... They are comfortable with the person they are right now.

THEY ARE FOCUSSED ON A CAUSE BIGGER THAN THEMSELVES

The paradox of building authentic self-esteem is that we derive our greatest worth from self-surrender. As Marianne Williamson writes: "The path to self-esteem lies in getting over yourself. There is nothing to esteem about our smaller dramas; it's our commitment to something beyond ourselves that is truly estimable to ourself and others".

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