Generally, there are two main types of self-esteem (SE)—trait and state (or domain). Trait SE is our overall view of ourselves—as in “I like myself” or “I’m not such a big fan of the man in the mirror.” Trait SE is a core belief, very stable and hard to challenge or change.
State or domain (some psychologists further separate the two) SE, in contrast, is not as fixed and, in fact, often fluctuates. It’s mainly based on externalities—as academic performance, appearances, money, etc. It involves comparisons to others too, but it goes deeper. For instance, we may chose to base our self-esteem on academic performance, as we deem it important to us and our future—hence, any real or perceived change in our academic standing has a potential to de-stabilize our self-assurance.
The above ideas are further intertwined in the so-called Self-Complexity Theory, which specifically examines state SE. It was developed by a former Yale professor—Patricia Linville. Her advice on remedying a volatile self-esteem is to spread wide—that is, not to put all of our “eggs in one basket.”
For instance,we may be good in school and large part of our confidence will source from this. However, we may also excel at sports, or at making friends, and so on. Whatever these diverse talents are, we have to recognize them as strengths and the stable pillars of our self-esteem.
Simply put, we should not define ourselves too narrowly—as this will make our confidence take large swings. We all have many and diverse skills and abilities—and we should learn to appreciate all of them.
And know that although there may always be someone better at work or school, or at whatever is of importance to us, they are probably not as good as we are in other areas–as sports, parenting, drawing, etc., nor may they have as many friends or strong relationships as we do.
Finally, remember what The Little Prince wisely taught us many years ago:
You alone have the stars as no one else has them.
And we should learn to appreciate this as our driving force forward.