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How do you feel about yourself when you look in the mirror? Many people don’t understand why self-esteem is important, and it goes well beyond your physical appearance. It’s a statement of your agency in the world. Your way of saying, “I am here, a complete human being, willing and able to use my abilities and talents to create the rich, meaningful life of my dreams.”
People who lack self-esteem often struggle in life. Instead of mindfully making the best choices based on their available resources, their need to protect their egos drives their decisions. As a result, they can go down a dangerous path in their quest for acceptance and belonging.
Developing a strong sense of yourself and your values makes it tougher for others to exploit you. It liberates you to make the best decisions and act with intention, deliberation and integrity. Here are the psychological reasons why self-esteem is important.
It Makes You a Better Person
It’s easier to see why self-esteem is important when you look at what happens when you don’t have it. You can see this phenomenon illustrated in many people with certain Cluster B personality disorders.
For example, people with narcissistic personality disorder have a fragile sense of self. As a result, they cultivate the following traits to protect their ego:
- Defensiveness/false self: They may become boastful and exaggerate their achievements, lying to make themselves look better. Conversely, they may become overly defensive and cultivate a perpetual victim identity, assuming everyone is out to attack them.
- Overly judgmental: Since creating a false self prevents authenticity, they don’t hide their contempt for anyone who does things differently. If others don’t behave like they expect, they judge them harshly.
- Lacking empathy: Protecting the false self takes all their energy. They don’t consider the feelings or perspectives of others. The world revolves around them, and they take everything personally. The cashier didn’t forget to smile and greet them because they just got bad news — oh, no, it’s because they can’t put aside their personal feelings to do their job instead of being human.
- Inauthentic and phony: Other people can see through a false self. While they may or may not point out the inconsistencies in your behavior to you, especially if you hold a position of power over them, they will seek ways to avoid being around you.
Such individuals make life difficult for everyone around them. They also rain suffering upon themselves. Without authentically being themselves, they can’t form genuine, loving relationships. They might have lots of stuff, as American culture sadly encourages narcissism. However, they will never know the kind of richness that stems from a life where you participate in meaningful work that uplifts others and healthy connections that make life worth living in the first place.
Cultivating healthy self-esteem in yourself won’t change such individuals. On one level, they understand how their actions affect others. But sadly, the immense shame they feel drives them to commit future bad acts in an attempt to protect their egos instead of coming clean, leading to more shame. And the cycle continues. However, healthy self-esteem lets you see such individuals for who they are and take measures to protect yourself from falling into their traps.
The good news is, if you worry that you might have narcissistic personality disorder traits, you have the power to change yourself. Work on cultivating your authentic self, including doing what the 12-step folks call a fearless moral inventory. The steps offer a beautiful pathway forward to the rich, meaningful life you deserve, even if you don’t struggle with substance abuse.
Other precepts include confessing what you’ve done to another living person and making amends if and when possible. Doing so is a vital first step in reclaiming your authenticity. You may be surprised that people like you and treat you better when you start taking accountability for your actions.
It Helps You Set Appropriate Boundaries
It’s crucial to note that not everyone with low self-esteem develops a personality disorder. However, having low self-esteem can make it more likely that you’ll fall prey to someone who does. That can have just as much of a negative impact on your life’s trajectory.
Another reason self-esteem is important is that it helps you set appropriate boundaries so that you don’t become a victim — in any aspect of life. People often think of abuse victims as romantic partners, but friends, other family members and employers can also abuse. It’s easier for them to treat you poorly if you subconsciously believe they’re somehow superior to you and that you deserve mistreatment.
For example, it’s one thing to put in occasional overtime. However, if your boss says, “I can insist that you stay as long as I want whenever I want,” and expects you to stay late with no notice, that’s an unhealthy workplace dynamic. You might set an appropriate boundary by providing specific days to work overtime or requiring notice to rearrange your schedule.
If your boss refuses reasonable requests, you know it’s time to dust off your resume. However, doing so as a conscious choice to honor yourself empowers you. It’s a far cry from, “I have to do whatever these guys want because I have no alternatives.” That is a thought that can lead you down a dark path of seeking escape through any means necessary.
It Helps Move You Toward the Rich and Meaningful Life You Deserve
Self-esteem is important because you need it to move toward the rich and meaningful life of your dreams. There’s truth to the saying that you must believe something before achieving it. If you don’t think you’re worthy of a happy existence, sadly, no one else will hand it to you on a silver platter.
You are as worthy and deserving of happiness as any other human being on this planet. Your worth isn’t defined by what you produce, the size of your salary, whether you own the right home or car or even have one at all. It’s only society setting up the artificial measurements of “success,” but you’re free to define that term any way you choose.
It shouldn’t affect how you feel about yourself, but it often does. The best way to counteract it is to surround yourself with the positive. Spend time in mindfulness daily, tuning into your thoughts — simply neutrally observe what goes on in your head. Do you catch yourself thinking, “I’m such a loser?”
Then, take action to counter those ideas. Don’t cover it up with bluster, but truth. You might start combatting negative self-talk with nothing more than, “I’m here, I’m human and I’m allowed to exist.” Then think of one thing you can do to make you closer to the ideal person you want to be and do it — only one to shift the dark energy. For example:
- If you feel low about your appearance: Make your next meal a healthy one, go for a brisk walk or treat yourself to a nice bath and a beauty treatment.
- If you feel low about finances: Do something to pad your bottom line, even if it’s writing one paragraph in that novel you hope to sell. Better yet, do something to help someone less fortunate than yourself.
- If you feel low about your relationships: Reach out to an old friend you haven’t talked to in a while or attend an event where you have a chance to connect with others.
Why Is Self-Esteem Important?
Perhaps you’ve wondered why self-esteem is important. After all, you don’t need it as a survival skill — or do you? In fact, a healthy sense of who you are can help you navigate modern life more successfully.
Now that you understand why self-esteem is important, get mindful. Start by simply tuning into how you speak to yourself. Then, take action to correct the things that make you feel less and remind yourself daily that you are enough.
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