Creating healthy self-esteem
It may be a common perception to think of self-esteem, healthy or low, as something we have rather than something we have direct impact on through what we do and how we treat ourselves. Regardless of what may have happened in our lives that may have given rise to a feeling of doubt or low confidence in ourselves it’s what we do now that can create the positive or negative self-perception that gives rise to our self-esteem. This is an encouraging thought as it means we can either nurture the habits that contribute to negative feelings or we can pick up new tools to help us develop a more realistic and positive connection with ourselves. So what are these tools or habits that can help you cultivate and develop healthy self-esteem? The good news is that there are many, and which ones are more effective depends on each person, what’s happened and the precise mechanics by which your negative self-perception has come about. In other words, it’s quite an individual process, but there are some common themes and here are a few to get you started:
Widening your lens
I would like to invite you to notice where you put your energy and attention. If you find that you are much more aware of your weaknesses than your strengths, notice how much of your energy is invested in finding fault with yourself, searching for evidence or confirmation for your pre-existing conclusions. What may be possible if you were to re-direct the same amount of energy and attention towards your strengths? It may be that at the moment you’re unsure of your strengths and perceive your weaknesses as the predominant part of you. Or that you disregard your strengths as unimportant qualities. Counselling can help you redress the balance of what you see in yourself and support you in gaining a more balanced and realistic perspective of the entirety of who you are.
The restorative capacity of pleasure
Doing things we enjoy makes us feel good, which is healing, fun and restorative in itself - there’s more to it though. Anything that receives attention grows. When you take a break from the self-perpetuating loop of negative thinking you create a gap. In that gap, however small, you create a window where something new can happen. If you re-direct time and energy towards doing things that make you feel good, more of that will grow too. Do you ever do things for those you care about that make them feel good? Why? I’m guessing this would normally make them feel valued, cared about. Likewise, when you do things you enjoy you are giving yourself an internal signal that you matter, that you are valued and you start directing higher esteem and positivity towards yourself.
Just do it
Notice what you avoid doing and how this makes you feel. You may find that you are particularly fearful of a situation and have all sorts of negative thoughts around it. What’s the worst that could happen? Avoiding something usually makes us feel worse, our imagination is likely to magnify our fears which can get out of control. Research the situation, investigate options, likely consequences and your readiness to deal with them, engage a few friends so they may support you in your endeavour, then take action. If you find those fears hard to overcome, even with the support of friends, this may be the time to reach out for professional support. Either way, confronting our fears is important as it’s usually the avoidance that feeds them - taking action becoming the hammer that breaks the chains of self-imposed limitation.
Counsel for the defense
If you find that a predominant mental habit of yours is self-criticism, acting as judge and prosecutor over yourself, spend a few moments considering whether it is not a violation of your Human Rights not to have a counsel for the defense in your own personal courtroom. Invite the counterpart of the able prosecutor you have already engaged – same skills, different job function - to act as counsel for the defense, examining the case for the poor old accused, you. How are you apportioning responsibility? Is there something you may be missing by only considering one side of the argument?
Setting realistic goals
When we achieve something we’ve set out to do, and allow ourselves to savour our success this usually makes us feel good, our warmth for ourselves increases and the realisation that we can do more grows. This feeds our self-esteem. The first step is of course trying new things, taking action, and setting realistic goals. And by this I don’t mean aim low, but aim right. If you set yourself up for failure naturally you’re not going to feel great. Take a realistic look at what the natural landmarks in your project are, then aim for the natural next stage. If something takes six months to achieve, expecting yourself to get there in a week may not be that helpful.
People experiencing low self-esteem often have negative feelings which come from the unattainable expectation to be perfect. Plain and simple, you can’t be because you’re a human. There isn’t a single human being out there who can achieve a permanent state of perfection. Being human means accepting a state of imperfection and embracing the frailty that makes us human. The trick is to accept ourselves in our strengths and vulnerabilities. Something may well have happened in your past that has made you expect the impossible of yourself and therapy is often a good route to unhook yourself from unrealistic expectations. It can help you reassess the validity of rules that demand the impossible and support you in realising that it’s sometimes in our vulnerabilities as much as our strengths that we can find our most amazing qualities.
These concepts come from the gestalt principles of use of energy and attention, perception, process, and focus on real-life contact vs relying purely on thought.
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