The factors that affect self-esteem in adults are varied and complex. A combination of perceptions, thoughts, relationships and experiences all impact a person’s sense of self-worth or self-esteem. Psychologists consider self-esteem an enduring aspect of personality, one that develops during childhood and continues throughout life. Although this long-term feeling of self-worth is relatively stable, changes in the level of self-esteem are possible. A healthy and positive level of self-esteem creates increased satisfaction with experiences and relationships, a motivating factor for learning techniques that promote healthy self-esteem.
One of the primary factors influencing self-esteem is personal thoughts and perceptions about interactions between the self and others. As children interact with family members, teachers and members of the community, they begin building a concept of their role in society and their relative worth. These feelings of self-worth become the foundation for adult self-esteem. Increasing self-esteem can be accomplished by altering personal thoughts, perceptions and self-talk. Focusing on personal strengths and positive qualities rather than on flaws can help people shift towards a healthier level of self-esteem.
Other factors that affect self-esteem include economic, relationship and health issues. The loss of a job or a promotion can drastically alter feelings of self-worth. In the same way, the end of a romantic relationship or the beginning of a new one impacts how a person judges his or her self-worth. A long-term illness or injury may also affect how adults feel about themselves. These are times when psychologists especially recommend maintaining a focus on a person’s positive characteristics.
People with low self-esteem tend to question their own judgment and decision making skills. They may not have sufficient confidence in their ability to problem solve, tending to over analyze or delay decisions. After a decision is made, they may continue deliberating, possibly regretting the decision they made. This tendency to imagine better outcomes for alternate choices reinforces the feelings of low self-esteem. Using esteem-building techniques can change the self-perpetuating nature of low self-esteem in adults.
Other symptoms of low self-esteem include a variety of destructive patterns of behavior during interactions with others. People with low self-esteem may be overly sensitive to criticism. They also tend to be highly critical of themselves. Feelings of guilt, spending too much time worrying about the past or future, and an excess of irritability, hostility or dissatisfaction are also typical. Each negative or dissatisfying encounter becomes another factor lowering self-esteem unless esteem-building strategies are put in place.