What is self-esteem?
In essence self-esteem is how we think about ourselves. It is based on our perceptions and opinions. Having high self esteem means you value yourself more, understand your strengths and believe in yourself to achieve new goals.
“Low self esteem is like driving through life with your hand break on” ~ Maxwell Maltz
The most important relationship in your life is with yourself and you are entitled to make it a good one. Be as kind and compassionate with yourself as you would be with others.
What causes low self-esteem?
Our self-esteem comes from us judging ourselves against how we think others see us. As a very small child, you will have had no cause to judge yourself in any way. You just did what you did, and you were happy! And why wouldn’t you be? However, at some point, you will have had cause to think about something you did, said or the way you looked. This will have come from someone else’s reaction. This reaction will have made you think that other people saw you differently to the way you saw yourself. And that comes as a shock…you’d never even thought about it before.
Now you’re viewing the way you look, sound or what you do, through the lens of that person’s reaction. You add it to your knowledge bank and, because it wasn’t a nice feeling being shocked like that, you’ll try to avoid feeling like that in the future. So you adjust your behaviour and expectations of yourself to fit this new reality.
The problem is that we then stick with these new expectations, and look for other evidence that this is true. We’ll also ignore evidence that contradicts it, such as when someone says something nice about us.
It’s not what it seems
Of course, this doesn’t take into account why the person who sowed this seed reacted the way they did. Whatever the reason it will have been their own issues at work. They could have been jealous, or irritable, or tired, or hurt by something you accidentally said or did. And it has now had an effect that is set to last your whole life.
But we can change this!
Long Term effects of Low self-esteem
Having low self-esteem can mean you lack confidence and feel incompetent and inadequate. Over time, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness can impact on you. They can make you feel frustrated, resentful, irritable or manipulated. You may feel that everyone is taking advantage of you, your relationships are unbalanced or you are simply exhausted. It can be detrimental to your mental health and can lead to depression, anxiety and addictions. The constant state of emotional distress also impacts on your physical health. So re-building it is worth doing!
How do you build self-esteem?
One of the most vital things to bear in mind is the earlier information about how we developed low self-esteem in the first place. That it was an outside judgement determined as a child which appeared we weren’t as good as we should be. What if we challenged that? What if we acknowledged that we have changed rather a lot since we were a small child?
Many people find that quite tricky, so another approach is to develop ourselves in various key ways. The following is a list of suggestions to try.
The important thing to remember is everyone is different. What works for one person wont necessarily work for someone else. So, take your time, try what feels comfortable, don’t be afraid to fail and most importantly be kind to yourself. Taking small steps will gradually improve your self-esteem over time.
Establishing healthy boundaries with others will improve how they treat you and therefore how you think about yourself. Boundaries are important and can be emotional, material, physical or time bound. Think about your key relationships and how these could be improved. Are you a people pleaser constantly trying to avoid conflicts? How can you achieve more of your needs from the relationship? Maybe this could be saying no to your boss about taking on an extra project. It could be waiting for your partner to ask you for help rather than instantly offering to do the task. Or it could be asking a friend to listen to your problems
Looking after yourself is so important. Make sure you have a healthy diet, regular sleep patterns, exercise and getting outside. Improving your wellbeing will have a big impact on how you think about yourself. If you feel healthy you are more likely to feel positive and this will reflect on your self-esteem.
Learn to accept compliments. It can feel awkward when someone gives you a compliment. They are however key to healthy relationships and demonstrate the positive effect you have on others. Accepting the compliment creates a pattern that you are worthy of it and will therefore improve your self-esteem.
What do you like about yourself? Make a list of your skills, character traits and values that are important to you. Read the list regularly and remember your positive traits. Understand what makes you happy and what is important in your life. Focussing on the positive will reinforce a higher self-esteem
Think positively and don’t focus on the negative. Everybody will fail at something, have a bad day or things will happen that are outside of your control. Try not to focus on the negative impact, instead identify what you can learn from the experience. For example, you were unsuccessful at achieving a promotion; do not focus on why you didn’t get it. Focus on what have you learnt and how can you use this to make you better in your current role?
Try not to compare yourself to others. You are unique, you are special and important. It doesn’t matter if x has a better car than you, or if y has a better job. Remember you do not know the full story of anyone’s life except what they choose to tell you or post on social media. Comparing instigates negative thought patterns, thereby reducing your self-esteem.
There is a lot of online learning material and courses with tips on improving self-esteem. Many of these are free, have a look on wellbeing or mental health sites such as MIND who will have some of these signposted.
Set yourself a challenge. This doesn’t have to be large or life changing. The act of achieving something will instantly make you feel good. Maybe try to make time for an old hobby that you used to enjoy, join a club or learn a new skill.
Celebrate your successes. It doesn’t matter how small they are, what is important is you acknowledge them and praise yourself. Try keeping a diary or journal and jotting down what you have achieved each day. Alternatively have a daily conversation with your partner or a family member about what you both have achieved.
We can often feel more worthwhile when we help others. Maybe try volunteering for a local charity or simply help out a neighbour. The act of kindness in itself will improve your self-esteem.
Continuous Improvement cycle
One of our emotional needs is achievement; and developing internal growth can provide us with a sense of achievement. There are several apps available that will support you in developing new habits, including those that improve self-esteem. These are often underpinned by scientific methodologies that support continuously improving ourselves. One of the simplest of these is the GROW model; Goal, Reality, Options & Way Forward.
Remember no-one is perfect, but you are valued so stop judging and be kind to yourself.
I hope you have found this information about self-esteem helpful and if you need more support then please contact us. As always, please share if you know someone who would benefit from reading it. For more information and useful downloads, head over to our website.
With very best wishes