Identity & Self Esteem

Self-esteem and identity are a big part of mental health.

How we feel about ourselves impacts our mental and physical health and wellness and how we interact and see the world.

Gender identity is an internal feeling or awareness we all have about being a male, female, neither or both. While mainstream norms about gender teach us there are only two options (i.e. the gender binary of male/female), in reality, people experience and express their gender in much more varied and complex ways.

There are many different gender identities, including, but not limited to:

Agender: a person who doesn’t identify with any gender, or identifies as being genderless. Their gender identity may live outside of the gender binary. Agender people may or may not identify as transgender (trans).

Androgynous (androgyne): a person whose gender expression (e.g. clothing, hairstyle, etc.) doesn’t fall into the gender binary, or falls somewhere in between male and female.

Cisgender: a person whose gender identity and gender expression match the sex they were assigned at birth.

Gender fluid: a person whose gender identity and gender expression are not static, and can shift with time and/or circumstance.

Genderqueer: a person who identifies as neither, both or a mix of male and female. Individuals who identify as genderqueer may or may not also identify as trans.

Non-binary: a person who doesn’t accept a society that only acknowledges the gender binary of male and female and defines their gender outside of those norms. People who are non-binary may identify as having no gender, feel in between genders or have a gender that is not always the same. Individuals who identify as non-binary may or may not also identify as trans.

Transgender (trans): a person who identifies with a gender that’s different from the sex they were assigned at birth. People whose gender identity falls outside of the gender binary may also call themselves trans.

Two-spirit (2 Spirit or 2S): a person with both a feminine and a masculine spirit living in the same body. It’s an important term within some Indigenous cultures and some Indigenous people use it to describe their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or spiritual identity.
These are just some of the many gender identities you may relate to — everyone is unique.

Identity and self-esteem are closely related and are very important to good mental health. Your sense of identity has to do with who you think you are and how you perceive yourself. It has to do with your sense of self-worth and how you define yourself. Self-esteem is how you value yourself. Both affect your mental health, your behavior and how you relate to other people. Healthy self-esteem is based on our ability to assess ourselves and still be accepting of who we are. This means being able to acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses (we all have them!) and at the same time recognize that we are worthy and worthwhile. Understanding how we develop our identity and self-esteem is important because poor sense of self can negatively impact our lives. It’s normal to be affected to a degree by the way others treat us, but a strong self-esteem and identity, allows us to feel good about ourselves and even protects us when others treat us poorly.

The only way to know the real you, is to take time to listen and discover what makes you, you! What are your values? What makes you special and unique? What is important to you? Knowing this can lead you closer towards decisions which help you live the life you want and deserve, not as you feel you “should” or how others want you to. Knowing who you are is very important because it will affect the way you feel about yourself and how you behave in challenging situations. Write down a list of goals you want to achieve. What are some of the things you have already achieved? Think about the life events that have already happened and have shaped or affected you. Everybody has a story. What’s yours? Seek out what makes you light up and passionate. Ask yourself difficult and far-reaching questions, and record your answers. Ask yourself, “Who am I?”. A healthy person continues to reinvent themselves throughout their life. By asking this question regularly, it updates your understanding of who you are, and how you have changed. Instead of answering who you think you ought to be, keep it focused on who you actually are, because in all likelihood that’s a very good answer.

Our self-esteem evolves throughout our lives as we develop an image of ourselves through our experiences with different people and activities. Experiences during childhood play a large role in the shaping of self-esteem. When we were growing up, our successes, failures, and how we were treated by our family, teachers, coaches, community members, and peers, all contributed to the creation of our self-esteem.

Body image is a person’s feelings and perceptions about their body. Self-esteem is how we value ourselves as a whole person. Body image and self-esteem influence each other because it can be hard to feel good about our whole selves if we dislike our bodies. Both body image and self-esteem can be influenced by others and by culture in general. Having a positive body image means overall you feel comfortable and good about your body. When you feel good about your body, you are more likely to take care of your body’s needs by providing it with adequate rest, enjoyable physical activity and nourishing food. Having a positive body image not only impacts how you feel about what your body looks like but also helps you to appreciate what your body can do. People who generally dislike their bodies are at risk for low self-esteem, anxiety, eating disorders/disordered eating, avoiding physical activity and other mental health issues.

We live in a culture that promotes unrealistic standards of thinness/muscularity and a narrow definition of beauty. Even if we know that images in the media have been altered, we still compare ourselves and others to these unrealistic standards. We are also bombarded with the message that being thin automatically means being healthy. Research has shown that many shapes and sizes can be healthy. It is not the number on the scale that matters, but it is about living the healthiest lifestyle that we can. You can start by becoming aware of how you think and speak about your body. Do you engage in ‘fat talk’ or ‘body bashing’, such as “I feel so fat today” or “I need to lose weight before my vacation”? This type of talk promotes negative thoughts related to your body and may lead to a poor body image. Focus on what your body can do and engage in enjoyable activities that help you appreciate your strengths. Limit magazines and other media that show unrealistic images of beauty or promote dieting and ‘quick fix’ solutions. When you do look at these images, consider how they are altered, are they real? Do these people really look this way? If negative feelings about your body are affecting your daily life and overall well-being, talk to a trusted friend, family member or healthcare professional.

An eating disorder develops when a person thinks about weight and food so much that it begins to control their life. An eating disorder can affect people of all shapes, sizes, genders and ethnic backgrounds. It is important to remember that professional help is available and it is not your fault. The first step is often the most difficult; realizing that you no longer want thoughts about weight and food to control your life. The next step is talking to someone. This could be a trusted friend, family doctor or family member. Eating disorders can cause very serious health problems so it is important to get help as soon as possible. Is there hope in recovering from an eating disorder? Yes! Eating disorders are treatable and people do recover. With help, many people make the necessary changes and go on with their lives without the eating disorder. The key is reaching out and getting help as soon as you can. Support is available. Visit the Find Support page of this app to see services in your area.