Self-esteem is one of the most worked concepts in psychology , and something we experience constantly throughout our lives. It is linked to our perception of ourselves, to the notion that there is an “I”, and precisely because of this, it is at the core of our way of being and behaving. To learn more about it, we have asked Adela Lasierra, a psychologist and expert on the subject, several questions.
Adela Lasierra: self-esteem to keep moving forward
Adela Lasierra is a psychologist and trainer at the European Institute of Positive Psychology, one of the main references in the field of Positive Psychology both in professional training and therapy. In this interview she will talk to us about self-esteem: what it is, how it develops and how it affects us in our daily lives and in the challenges we face.
Many people do not distinguish these two terms, but… what is the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence? What is really our self-esteem?
It is difficult to give a unitary definition of the concept of self-esteem because for each author who has studied it extensively it implies different elements. Personally I like very much the approaches of Walter Riso, Enrique Rojas Marcos or Silvia Congost.
Putting them all together, we can define self-esteem as the “internal, and therefore subjective, picture that each person has of himself on a physical, psychological and social level”. There are people who use the word self-confidence as a synonym, but I find it closer to associate self-confidence with the feeling of capacity that we have for each of the areas of our life (as professionals, as friends, as a couple, as children…), and that in terms of self-esteem we call self-efficacy.
Why is the correct development of self-esteem important during childhood? What affects its development?
A well-known psychiatrist says that “childhood is the schoolyard where we play the rest of our lives”. I think that this sentence answers the question very well since childhood experiences are part of the explanation of the level of self-esteem with which a person comes to the consultation.
At that time, it is configured according to the bond with the parental figures, which can be of conditioned love or of unconditional love and of the experiences with significant persons: relatives, later on school mates… Later on, it will be influenced by the adolescence and finally by the present moment, based on the personal achievements and the internal value.
Can self-esteem vary throughout our lives?
Yes, it can fluctuate slightly and that’s a logical and normal thing to do. My goal in consultation is to achieve a good baseline based not on external achievements but on an internal feeling in which the person’s experiences affect him/her but do not condition him/her. It is about feeling a valid and capable person all the time.
How do the thoughts we have relate to our self-esteem?
They are the most important thing, the cornerstone! Working on self-esteem is working on our internal dialogue, that is, our thoughts. Because in many cases the person who is having more signs of self-loathing and more frequent is yourself.
What about emotional intelligence?
It is key: emotional intelligence is knowing how to choose the thoughts that suit you. It is taking the path of the brave: working on your well-being. The lack of emotional intelligence leads us to take the opposite path, which is the easy one, choosing for example passive complaining or constant criticism.
Having a good self-esteem is key to overcome the obstacles that can appear in our life. Why?
Because the person who is going to get you out of all those obstacles is most likely going to be you. It’s about turning your thoughts into your allies, not your worst enemy.
How can we cultivate good self-esteem?
It’s a process that takes time and effort just like if we wanted to get a toned body!
The first step I would recommend would be to work on selective attention, that is, to become aware that the mind sometimes distorts reality and we only look at the elements of ourselves that we don’t like, both physical and psychological as well as when we relate to other people. We say, for example, “you made a mistake in writing this report, what a mess you are” and we overlook the fact that the rest of the morning you got the job done satisfactorily, without mistakes and on time.
You need to stop zooming in on what you don’t like about us and see the full picture. This does not mean denying reality and focusing only on the good, but, taking the example above, saying “it’s true, you’ve made a mistake in one piece of information in the report, but what else did you do the rest of the morning? You got the job done on time and with excellent quality”
At IEPP you offer a practical course in self-esteem and positive psychology. What are the benefits for your participants?
The course provides them with a case of techniques and specific tools to improve or strengthen their confidence. We work specifically on personal strengths, that is, the elements that contribute to people’s well-being, which make their functioning optimal.
At the end of the course, if the recommended dynamics have been put into practice and there has been a proactive commitment to the study of the video lessons, the feeling of personal capacity and worth increases substantially and people get rid of many fears and doubts that were weighing down their achievement of their potentialities, that which Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology defined as “extraordinary life” and which is none other than the purpose of study on which positive psychology focuses.