How to Improve your Self-EsteemBefore you build up your Self-Esteem, there is one thing you need make sure is taken care of first. There is no getting around it, because if you do not have these things, you can not have steady self-esteem. That is – meeting your BASIC needs first!

Our Basic Needs

That’s right – our basic needs must be met before we can start pumping our self-esteem back up. Basic needs are what we need for human survival. Yes, this includes shelter, food, water, etc; but there is more to our basic needs than that. According to Abraham Maslow, we have a “Hierarchy of Needs” that consists of 5 levels. I will list them in the order they need to be met. Note, you cannot move to one level, without first meeting the needs of the one before it.

  1. Physiological: This is obvious, because your physiological needs must be the first thing met to survive. This is oxygen, food, water, sleep.
  2. Safety Needs: This can be addressed once physiological needs are met. This would include clothing, shelter, and a stable environment. A stable environment is one in which the person is not experiencing war, natural disaster, abuse, or violence of some sort. An unstable environment could also be one in which financial uncertainty exists, or lack of job security. Lack of income can lead to lack of ability to pay for shelter and food. Lastly, a safety is met when the person is not experiencing a physical illness. If someone is battling cancer, or their health is doing quite poorly, the person’s life is essentially in danger, therefore they are not safe.
  3. Love and Belonging: Once we are physically safe, we all need love and belonging. Humans are social beings, and need love and affection from others. Things that cause us to feel unloved or unbelonging would be neglect, being bullied at school, lack of friends, or being shunned in any shape or form. A sense of belonging could come from being around family, being around friends you have developed at work, social clubs, a close-knit group of friends.
  4. Esteem: Esteem is essentially self-esteem. This is the level at which we are hoping to get to. When we have esteem, we have respect for ourselves. When we feel we are not respected by others, we lose self-confidence, and respect for ourselves. Maslow notes that there are two levels of esteem, a lower one, and a higher one. The lower one is respect from others, desire for attention, and higher status. The higher level is self-respect, internal strength, independence, and self-confidence. So, it starts off with how we feel others views us, and ends in how we view ourselves.
  5. Self-Actualization: This is the ultimate level of need. Once we reach this, any need we could have is met. Once we have achieved self-actualization, we feel we have met our potential, and need nothing else. For example, if our goal is to be a happy person, great parent, great teacher, or the best friend we can be – we have reached self-actualization when we feel we have met these goals that we hold so valuable to ourselves.

According to Maslow’s estimation, “The average American satisfied perhaps 90% of physiological needs, 70% of safety needs, 50% of love and belonging needs, 40% of esteem needs, and 10% of the need for self-actualization,” (Bourne, 2010).  If you translate what his estimates mean, and yes, they are estimates – I do not know the actual current data – that would mean just under half of American suffer from low self-esteem.

What’s the next step?

So what’s so important about knowing about needs and what the levels are? The point is so you know where you stand, with that knowledge, you know what you need to work on so that you can move forward. Look at the following table, and check off what needs you feel are NOT being met. This may be a starting ground for you to work from to determine where on the hierarchy you stand.

        Physical Safety        Financial Security        Friendship        Attention of Others

Being Listened to        Guidance        Respect        Validation        Expressing & Sharing Feelings

Sense of Belonging        Nurturing        Physically touching & Being Touched        Intimacy

Sexual Expression        Loyalty and Trust        Sense of Accomplishment        Creativity

Feeling Competent        Fun & Play        Independence        Unconditional Love

Whoever “they” are, say knowledge is power – and they’re right. By knowing where on the hierarchy you stand, you hold the power to start improving your own self-esteem. Once you know where you stand in the hierarchy, set goals for yourself. The goal should not be “by next month, I want to have AWESOME self-esteem”, that’s not realistic. If lack of job-security is where you are at, maybe set a goal that, “This month, I will spend a minimum of 5 hours a week looking for job options.” If you have problems feeling you belong at work – maybe a realistic goal would be to try to initiate a simple conversation with one co-worker a week. Goals do not have to be magnificently large, because the beauty is, that once you meet that goal, you can always make another one.

If after setting goals, you still are not feeling as if you are accomplishing something, sit down and make a list of what you have accomplished. Sometimes we may even need to enlist the help of others. Tell your close friends or families what your goals are, and ask them what they feel you have accomplished. Sometimes we just need to physically see what we’ve done written down on paper.

In sum –

These suggestions are not meant to “cure” low-self esteem, nor is it guaranteed to make you feel better. The point of these suggestions if to educate you a bit about what can help, and get you started on the road of self-discovery and self-improvement. Please tell us, what things do you help yourself with to feel better? What have you found that helps improve your self-esteem?

Works Cited & Recommended Reading

PsychCentral: 6 Tips to Improve your Self-Esteem

PsychCentral: How to Raise your Self-Esteem

Bourne, E. J. (2010). The anxiety and phobia workbook. (5 ed., pp. 315). Oakland, CA: Rainycoast Books.

Note for therapists: If you are looking for handouts to teach this to clients, this information is found in the book, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook – 5th edition, by Dr. Bourne.

How to Improve your Self-Esteem
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