Emotional Wellbeing


Self Improvement

Mandy Kloppers

High self esteem


confident photo

High self esteem


How high is your self esteem? How do you behave towards others and what internal dialogue do you have with yourself on a regular basis?

Can self esteem be boosted by external factors or is it something that only you can give yourself? According to Martin Seligman, a Professor of Positive Psychology, self esteem cannot be obtained through external means. It has to come from within an individual. This makes sense to me, as when feeling good about yourself comes solely from the appreciation of others, we place ourselves in a precarious and vulnerable position. One where we cannot feel good about ourselves in the absence of approval from others. I certainly don’t want to be reliant on others for my self worth.

Professor Jean Twenge supports Martin Seligman’s idea that self esteem comes from within. It is now over ten years since Baumeister’s research completely demolished the notion that self-esteem building is some kind of magic bullet and more than five years since Emler’s research indicating it might be positively harmful. Yet in the US the self-esteem bandwagon rolls on unabated. Twenge reports that in January 2006 a search on Google for Elementary School Mission Statements for Self-Esteem yielded a staggering 308,000 web pages.

Self-esteem in the U.K.

One would assume that the UK, with its inclination to ‘put down’ rather than ‘big up’ would provide less fertile ground for self esteem work but this seems not to be the case. There is a thriving self-help book market and many focus on self esteem. A search on Google using ‘self esteem’ and ‘UK’ as keywords provides three million hits.

Across education in the U.K. many teachers are consciously aiming to improve pupils’ self-esteem, either through increased praise and awards, or through specific programmes. A retired head teacher member of the Professional Association of Teachers put forward a motion at the 2005 annual conference proposing that the word ‘fail’ be deleted from school vocabulary and replaced it with the term ‘deferred success’ as a way to protect young people with fragile self-esteem. The motion was defeated but some argued it was unnecessary as schools no longer use the word ‘fail’ anyway.

In 2004 two prestigious, and influential think tank bodies published reports on self-esteem. One was for Demos and called ‘The Self-Esteem Society’. In it the author acknowledges the research by Baumeister and Emler but still proposes widespread action throughout society to create a self-esteem society. Her argument is that we need to boost self-esteem to protect and develop democracy. She argues that individuals with high self-esteem make ‘good citizens’ and ‘good choices’. But in fact Twenge’s research on young people in the US, who have high self-esteem, does not indicate this at all. She shows they are obsessed with themselves and their feelings, prone to anxiety and depression, lonely and lacking in belief that you can do anything much to change the world round about you.

What is also odd about the Demos research is that they conducted their own poll and asked people to rate their self-esteem. Only 6% of the sample rated their self-esteem as low or very low – so hardly something that needs widespread action.

The Work Foundation produced a similar paper in 2004. It is called ‘Me, Myself and Work’. It makes passing reference to Emler’s work but largely ignores his conclusions or that of Professor Roy Baumeister. Referring to the California task-force’s original research the author writes:

It found that the family – and parental influences in particular – was an important factor in establishing. The school climate was considered crucial. Once people had developed higher self-esteem they were less likely to be involved in self-destructive behaviour such as alcohol abuse, violence or crime and less likely to become pregnant as teenagers.

Having completely failed to grasp that this simply is not true, the author then goes on to exhort the Labour Government to do more to ensure that self-esteem is increased in ‘early years, general education – welfare to work’ and so forth, without one question, of the merit of such an approach.

So, can self esteem be boosted by artificial means and do people with high self esteem become self obsessed individuals?


Research has shown that there is very little correlation between self esteem and academic performance. This who perform well in their studies do not necessarily have high self regard. Good academic performance is down to IQ, family background and ability.


Evidence suggests that people with high self esteem tend to do better in relationships as they are more likely to approach members of the opposite sex. Research also suggests that those with high self esteem are also more likely to end a relationship if they are dissatisfied which could have negative consequences in terms of divorce levels and broken homes for children.

 Effects of high self esteem:

People with high self esteem have more confidence in their ideas and opinions and will be more likely to speak out even when their opinion may not be popular. There is also evidence to suggest that people with high self esteem are less likely to stay in abusive relationships and have the confidence to participate in altruistic behaviours for the greater good. They are also more likely to stand up to bullies.

Ways to improve self esteem

Self esteem should ideally come from within but there is no denying that external validation helps boost self esteem. Here are a few tips/reminders to consider for improving self esteem:

1) Watch the negative self talk – it serves no purpose other than to deflate you so why do it?

2) Remind yourself regularly of all the great things you like about yourself.

3) Focus on strengths more than weaknesses.

4) Watch your interpretations of the world – for example. See failure as a learning curve, something that didn’t work rather than seeing YOU as the failure.

5) Keep perspective – no one is perfect. Cut yourself some slack. Get to know and like yourself as you are.

6) Never compare yourself to others unless you are comparing yourself in a favourable light. Comparisons are often based on assumptions – they may not even be correct.


Champion yourself, be your number one fan. Help others – this always makes us feel good about ourselves and keep a sense of purpose in your life. Live your life for you, no one else. Too much people pleasing leads to resentment and can affect self esteem. Monitor your levels of self acceptance regularly. Live with integrity and make sure you like who you see in the mirror and you’re on the right track!

Mandy X



Scroll to Top