Author: Kristina Olsevska
The broadest and most frequently cited definition of self-esteem within psychology is the one developed by Morris Rosenberg (1965). He described it as a favourable or unfavourable attitude toward the self. And self-esteem has been linked to virtually every other psychological concept or domain, including concepts related to personality (e.g., shyness), behaviour (e.g., task performance), cognition (e.g., attributional bias) and clinical conditions (e.g., anxiety and depression).
Guy Winch – a licensed psychologist, author and in-demand keynote speaker – mentioned in a TED article: “Brain scan studies demonstrate that when our self-esteem is higher, we are likely to experience common emotional wounds such as rejection (Onoda K., Okamoto Y., et al., 2010) and failure (Brown, Jonathon, 2010) as less painful, and bounce back from them more quickly. When our self-esteem is higher, we are also less vulnerable to anxiety (Greenberg J., Solomon S., 1991), we release less cortisol into our bloodstream when under stress, and it is less likely to linger (Lee-Flynn SC., Pomaki G., 2011) in our system.”
Now all this scientific research is great and valuable – no doubt about that. But what can you personally do to improve your self-worth?
Marisa Peers, an international best-selling author, motivational speaker and personal development expert, once said in an interview: “Words shape your reality. If you pick better words, you have a better reality. Every word you say is a blueprint that your mind and body work to make real. But we frame everything as such a tragedy – “I’m not smart enough, pretty enough, good enough”. This emptiness inside we are taught to fill up with food or alcohol, [but] you can’t fix an emotional pain with stuff. [..] All you have to do is change how you talk to yourself. Tell yourself: I’m beautiful, I’m enough. Your mind will believe whatever you tell it, and it really is that simple.”
We hear you, Marisa, and we agree that positive self-talks are widely believed to boost mood and self-esteem. Nevertheless, while some studies have shown that repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, it may backfire and harm the very people who ‘‘need’’ these positive words the most (Joanne V Wood et al., 2008).
Joanne V. Wood with colleagues form University of Waterloo and University of New Brunswick conducted two experiments and noticed that among participants with low self-esteem, who repeated a positive self-statement (‘‘I’m a lovable person’’) or who focused on how that statement was true felt worse than those who did not repeat the statement or who focused on how it was both true and not true.
So there still are contradictions and uncertainties regarding positive self-talks. Is it really a good idea to say “I’m enough”? We would suggest complementing that statement with: “I choose to be enough, I choose to be happy, I choose not to eat that cake”. When you choose to become happy or enough or stop eating cakes, it is your own decision and responsibility. You simply start to control your own actions and do not let the environment control you.