Q. According to an article I read: "Self-esteem is not a gift; it can only be earned. Affirmations, self-talk and encouragement are all useful in your quest for self-esteem, but you only develop self-esteem the old-fashioned way, “You earn it!”
As you achieve, your self-esteem grows and as your self-esteem grows you feel better prepared to face greater challenges and create greater successes." Is that right?
A. Interesting conclusion, but I beg to differ. That's a superficial way of looking at the most important aspect of our lives. Self-esteem has little to do with success, per se. It cannot be 'earned'. Self esteem gradually emerges from one's childhood experiences: how one was valued or ignored, praised or criticised, affirmed or negated. A child who is never reinforced by those who are significant to him/her grows up living in doubt, with anxieties around who they are and with issues of belonging, potential and self worth. So how children are treated in the main, whether affirmed or ignored, has a long term effect on their esteem.
We get poor self esteem when we are not treated with any value or respect, which makes us loathe ourselves, and high esteem when we are clearly valued and treated in a significant way. Above all, high self-esteem is built through love and appreciation of the self. That's the only way to negate the effects of poor childhood experiences. Without self love - accepting who we are, warts and all, without seeking the approval of others - we tend to feel inadequate, to feel pessimistic about life, to feel in terms of constant loss and negativity, instead of optimism and confidence. It really is about value.
One can be very successful without high self-esteem (attributing their success to luck, to fluke, chance, or the support of others) or be unsuccessful but still very confident and high in esteem (perhaps believing that they have not done their best, or not really caring about success itself). Such people tend to act because they want to, without caring about the result in terms of social success (example artists and independent professionals).
Does self-esteem produce success, or does success improve self-esteem?
Self-esteem does not automatically produce success, but it does predispose the person to be more of an achiever than someone with low self esteem. It all depends on the individual and his/her aspirations. Again, success often improves self-esteem, but the person has to be optimistic enough to accept that their own efforts led to their success and have the desire to repeat the performance. Most important, whatever they do has to satisfy their basic needs.
The one known factor when it comes to people and their emotions, is that the better one feels about one's self (high esteem) is the more confident one tends to feel about one's world and abilities, and the more one will be inclined to put that confidence into action to test its possibilities and its limits. Successful people are always likely to be more successful, but it really depends on the individual's aims and aspirations, the support they get (which you rightly mentioned) and the belief in themselves. Anything else about that correlation would be pure conjecture.
©Elaine Sihera (Ms CYPRAH) 2011
Emotional Health and People Management Consultant
"Respect and love begin with the self. If we have none, how can we give away any?"