What affects self-esteem refers to the way you perceive yourself and your abilities. Most of us have at one time or another tried to evaluate ourselves using these scales but they are only as good as your memories. That is, they reflect what you remember, not how you feel. In order to truly improve your self-esteem you must go back to the basics: your true self. This is the type of self-image, you have been most disconnected from since childhood.
Your low self-esteem or self-talk can be a result of how you were treated in childhood. If you did not have loving and positive experiences, these will seep into your subconscious mind and affect how you perceive yourself. Childhood experiences that leave you with a poor self-image include being abused, neglect, ridicule and criticism. Your self-talk about these events may even be incorporated into your adult conversations. If you say things like, “I am so self-critical”, or “I was always made fun of” these negative memories will be stuck in your mind and will affect your self-esteem.
Self-esteem also depends on three other factors: your general self-image, your level of competence and your level of activity. Your self-image is your mental picture of yourself; your competence is your level of accomplishment in the areas where you excel; and your level of activity is your commitment to getting out of bed in the morning. All of these domains fall into the category of general self-esteem. They each affect the way you see yourself in different ways and through various domains of the physical appearance. If one of these domains is lessened, then your self-esteem will be lowered as well.
The third factor that influences self-esteem relates to your level of activity. In general, people who are more mature (or at least experience some amount of change) have a better self-image than those who are more stuck in the same rut. In the new research, for example, older adults were more self-confident and had higher self-esteem than younger adults. Those who were relatively sedentary did not have higher self-esteem than those who participated in some form of exercise. So we know that the self-confidence, self-image, and self-esteem aspects of the maturity principle all depend on participation in some sort of social activity. The study also showed that the extent to which participants participated in social activity was related to their level of self-esteem.
This new research strengthens the importance of including physical appearance self-esteem and age in the psychotherapy triumvirate. Physical appearance is an important component of physical attractiveness and many people develop a sense of self-worth based on this. But many people do not think of it as a domain of self-esteem. They would be surprised to find out that it is. The extent to which participants see themselves as physically attractive, or in good physical shape, is correlated with the extent to which they think they have high self-esteem. And the same is true when it comes to their level of social activity.
By making changes in how you dress and get older, you can improve your self-image, but they won’t directly affect your level of general self-esteem. That’s because the facets of self-esteem that are affected by physical appearance – self-confidence, social activity, and assertiveness – are also facets that are linked to overall self-esteem. So if your goal is to increase your self-esteem, then these changes probably won’t help much. But if you’re concerned about your physical appearance and want to do something concrete that will have lasting benefits, these changes are very important. The results of this study reinforce the need for psychologists and other professionals to pay more attention to the interdependence of these three domains.
Physical attractiveness has a lot to do with self-esteem, but it is only one of the factors. Another factor is our personality. People with higher trait self-esteem tend to do better in life, and they generally do better emotionally and socially. And the link between physical appearance and self-esteem refers to the part of the equation that relates how we look to how we feel. People with good self-esteem tend to be happier and healthier.
People with low self-esteem have a problem with how they look, and this problem is usually compounded by their lack of social activity. Low self-esteem usually stems from negative events in someone else’s life. People with high self-esteem do not have these events in their lives, so their self-image and their self-esteem don’t take a big hit. People with physical appearance self-esteem may have low self-image, but they do not have a problem with themselves.