Geminus Corporation
8400 Louisiana St.
Merrillville, Indiana
46410-6353
Phone 219.757.1800
Fax 219.757.1950
www.geminus.org  info@geminus.org

Head Start all locations Lake and Porter Counties                  1-888-893-6891


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Benefits of Healthy High Self-Esteem

Angela Oswalt, MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

The benefits of a healthy self-esteem are many. Children who have high self-esteem come to value themselves and think of themselves as worthy partners and capable problem solvers. They develop a healthy balance of liking who they are, but also recognizing that there are ways they can continue to grow and to develop. With a healthy self-esteem, children feel that they have positive characteristics and skills they can offer to other people, and they also feel they are worthy of being loved and accepted by others including family and friends. They feel fundamentally deserving of their fair share of resources like food, shelter, love, time, respect, and dignity. Children with healthy self-esteem are more likely to be happy, to make and keep positive friends, and to persevere in working through difficult situations that occur in relationships. They will see challenging situations as opportunities to try something new, even if they're not completely successful. Because they like themselves and believe they are worthy of being cared for by others, they are less likely than are people with lower self-esteem to stay in abusive or exploitive situations. They are also more likely to take care of themselves physically and emotionally, and to persist in difficult and effortful pursuits such as completing their education or mastering an occupation.

In contrast, a low (or poor) self-esteem tends to be associated with more negative outcomes. Youth with low self-esteem do not feel like they have many positive, worthy characteristics and may feel ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, sad, or angry about themselves. Because of this, they may believe that they do not deserve basic things like food, shelter, love, time, respect, or dignity from others. They may behave in negative, self-defeating ways that end up confirming their poor opinion of themselves. For example, they may convince themselves they aren't smart enough to pass a math test. Because they believe they do not believe themselves capable of earning a good grade, they do not put much energy or effort into preparing for the test. They may also anxiously dwell on thoughts about how badly they're going to perform. They then fail the test, more as a result of lack of sustained study effort, and anxious preoccupation than due to an actual lack of ability. This failure then is interpreted, incorrectly, but with great emotional "truth" weight as further proof that they are indeed bad at math. Further efforts at learning math are then discouraged in the wake of the failure experience. This type of negative feedback cycle of self-defeating thoughts and behavior is sometimes referred to as a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Youth with poor self-esteem are less likely to be happy, and more likely to have emotional and social problems than are their higher self-esteem peers. Lower self-esteem children are less likely to persevere through tough situations, because they assume they lack the ability to be effective in difficult circumstances and so give up too soon. They may be more likely to become victimized or exploited by others, because they do not strongly believe they deserve to be treated well, or because they believe they lack the capabilities necessary to better or escape from their situation.

Children with an overly inflated self-esteem based on a sense of narcissistic entitlement rather than on genuine accomplishment also face difficulties. Such children may complacently view themselves as more perfect and more deserving of access to resources than other children with the result that they come across as arrogant and are ultimately isolated and avoided by peers. They may dismiss and thus fail to benefit from constructive social criticism which other children would use to their benefit so as to identify areas for productive growth or change. They may exhibit "externalization", which is to say that they assume incorrectly that all problems they experience are caused by the failings of other people, and that they have no responsibility to change. Sometimes children with inflated self-esteem will resort to bullying others because they believe they should be allowed to judge others, and to treat them however they wish. Children who do not grow out of this immature, entitled pattern will often go on to have less success than their genuinely high self-esteem counterparts, at least with regard to their ability to form lasting and emotionally satisfying intimate relationships.