Happy mother with daughter.

Self-esteem: what is it and how do we get it?

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We hear quite a bit about self-esteem. So, what is it?

  • Is it a good thing? 
  •  Is it necessary? 
  •  Where does it come from?

Many psychologists have done research on self-esteem, developing theories about what it is and where it comes from. One of these researchers, the famous American psychologist Abraham Maslow, developed a concept called the “hierarchy of needs.”Happy mother with daughter.

In this concept, Maslow includes self-esteem as an important and basic human need. He says that self-esteem comes in two forms: the need to receive respect from others, and the things which we need for self-respect.

Based on Maslow’s theory we could say that we get self-esteem from other people. We receive it as a gift. And when we are those “other people” it becomes our responsibility to be certain that we offer genuine self-esteem to others (especially youngsters) through encouraging friendliness and respectful relationships. 

Regarding young people, this means that it is very important for us to take the time to get to know them personally. And once we have established a safe and meaningful relationship, it becomes our responsibility to encourage them and to point out what they do well in an honest way.

For example, when we notice that kids are kind to others, we should let them know that we have noticed their kindness and express how much we appreciate that trait of character. In doing this, they have an opportunity to see that they have value.

On the other hand, self-esteem is not conceit. The false assumption that we are better than other people is not healthy and is actually a sign of low self-esteem. But youngsters with healthy self-esteem are less likely to get involved with many of the dangerous behaviors available to our kids every day.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just be simple. Next time you interact with a young person, encourage them. Don’t lie to them by saying things to imply that they are superior at everything; they will know that you are a phony. Rather, identify what they do well and reinforce it.

So, since self-esteem is something that we can pass along to others, particularly youngsters, let’s be aware of our chances to encourage them (even at a very early age) by recognizing and reinforcing their strengths.

Author

Gary L. Hopkins, MD, DrPH, MPH is currently an associate research professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan where he is also associate director of the Institute for Prevention of Addictions, Director of the Center for Prevention Research and Director of the Center for Media Impact Research.