Is low self-esteem dominating your life?
Of course there are times when all of us don’t feel as confident as we would like, however low self-esteem can become a long term problem resulting in us not taking good care of ourselves or our needs and sometimes lead to anxiety and depression. We might not notice the impact that low self-esteem is having on our lives until we experience other symptoms such as; withdrawing from social situations, finding it hard to be assertive or make decisions, being unable to tolerate criticism, not challenging ourselves or moving out of our comfort zone, or becoming exhausted because we are always trying to please others and have forgotten how to say “no”.
Self-esteem is the opinion we hold about ourselves and is moulded over the years by our experiences and interactions with others such as parents, teachers, friends, work colleagues and the media. I won’t be the only therapist that encounters people suffering from low self-esteem as a direct result of the comparisons they make of themselves with others on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
When we experience good self-esteem we tend to have a healthy opinion of ourselves and respect our own needs as much as other peoples. We feel just as important as them and don’t perceive our needs as being less important than theirs. We’re likely to have a positive outlook and will therefore be able to easily cope with life’s inevitable up's and down's.
But the experience of low self-esteem is much less comfortable; it becomes much easier for us to listen to those critical, self-loathing voices in our heads that make us feel less important than others and not good enough. It might feel impossible to ask for or accept help or know how to get our needs met, after all our low self-esteem is making us feel unworthy! Because it feels like others are better than us and more deserving we might have difficulty saying “no” and put our needs to the bottom of the pile. It’s not surprising that approaching the world with this mind-set can feel lonely, intolerable and exhausting. Life’s little up's and down's are likely to feel overwhelming.
We are not born with low self-esteem and it won’t just appear overnight; it is likely to have started to develop in childhood, our friends, family and even social media have a part to play in the opinion we formulate about ourselves, both positive and negative. If we are more prone to negative self-talk it makes sense that we are likely to hold on to the negative messages, if we found it difficult to live up to other people’s expectations of us we may not ever feel good enough and if we grew up experiencing abuse or neglect within the home it is very likely that we won’t have internalised a nurturing compassionate voice.
Don’t be too disheartened if low self-esteem is dominating your life; our self-esteem isn’t cast in stone and we can make steps to improve it.
How can we improve our self-esteem?
- First of all, can you identify the negative thoughts you hold about yourself?
Take some time to collect this information and write down what your internal critic is telling you. Does it tell you you’re not good enough, that you haven’t worked hard enough, that you’re undeserving or unlovable? Perhaps it says you are selfish if you put your needs before others? Perhaps it tells you something else?
For example, maybe you tell yourself: “I’m not interesting enough to have a relationship or conversation” or “I’m too stupid to apply for that job.”
- Start noting down the negative beliefs you have about yourself. If necessary carry a notebook and jot these thoughts down over the course of a few days.
- When did you start to hold these beliefs? Where do they stem from?
- Are you able to challenge those thoughts by finding evidence to the contrary?
For example, to challenge the example above: “people are interested when I talk about my hobbies” and “I’ve made good progress in my current job.”
- Also write down the good things that other people say about you and start recognising your strengths. Don’t discount the compliments, learn to accept them. Armed with this positive list, keep it somewhere you can see it. Refer back to it often and keep adding to it.
- Notice the people around you that bring you down. Start spending less time with them and seek out people that make you feel positive and appreciate you.
- Show yourself compassion, be gentle with yourself when you need to be and treat yourself with the same kindness you give to others.
- Learn to say “no”. People with low self-esteem often feel they have to say yes to others, even when they really want to say no. This can lead to you becoming exhausted, angry, resentful and depressed.
- Be assertive. Respect other’s opinions and ideas and expect that same respect back.
- Set yourself a challenge, make it Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timely. Don’t let your low self-esteem stop you trying out new things or giving things a go.
Remember you are not alone. Many people around you will be suffering from low self-esteem either too ashamed to admit it or without recognising the symptoms. You may have developed low self -esteem for many different reasons in your childhood but you can take positive steps to develop a better view of yourself at any age. Keep on growing.
If this article has resonated with you but you still feel powerless to make changes, perhaps counselling could help to get you started and remember that you are worth it.