Self-esteem is a concept in psychology which refers to someone's personal assessment of self worth. Someone with high self-esteem tends to be very confident, and he or she feels good and has a lot of personal pride. Individuals with low self-esteem, on the other hand, think that they are worthless, and they struggle with confidence and pride. From a very early age, people are establishing their self-esteem, and there are a number of factors which can influence someone's sense of self-worth.
Social and cultural factors play a huge role. For example, a child who is routinely praised by parents and teachers is more likely to feel confident and valuable, while a child who is frequently criticized or who lives in an unstable home may feel worthless. Approval of one's peers can also be an important factor in self-worth; people who are popular tend to feel better about themselves, while people who are marginalized and ignored by their peers feel less confident and proud of themselves.
Low self-esteem can contribute to the development of depression and antisocial behavior. It is also usually unmerited, because it is a reflection of personal opinion, not someone's actual worth and skills. Everyone has unique talents and abilities, including people with low self-worth, and people are sometimes surprised to learn that people who are lacking in self confidence may have hidden facets to their personalities, such as an astonishing talent for music, or excellent writing skills.
Because building self-worth is so dependent on social factors, parents and teachers are often encouraged to use praise and other positive techniques to build up confidence in the minds of their charges. When a child despairs because an art project isn't going right, for example, an instructor might point out that the use of colors is interesting, or ask if the child wants to work in another medium to explore other possibilities. By positively reinforcing children and reminding them that they are valuable, people can ensure that those children will feel good about themselves.
Adults can be influenced in the same way, and they can also work on self-esteem building exercises which are designed to increase confidence. A salary worker at the bottom of the totem pole might, for example, go home and make a list of his or her skills and positive traits, as a reminder that lackluster performance at work doesn't make someone worthless. Some people also find that their self-worth improves when they get active, involve themselves in community activities, or do something simple like getting a hair cut or buying a nice pair of shoes.
Low self-worth is difficult to quantify. When people seek assistance from a mental health professional because they feel bad about themselves, the professional may administer a self reporting test which is designed to gauge someone's feelings. By examining the answers to the questions on the test, as well as looking at how the patient interacts with people and behaves, the therapist can learn about the patient's level of confidence, and provide treatment accordingly.