Self-esteem doesn’t have much to do with your ability or talents. It has everything to do with what you feel about yourself. It can afflict anyone – even those who seem to have everything going for them. Many of us were saddened when David Bowie died recently. He filled auditoriums with fans in the 1970s and his music is still appreciated by millions of people. Bowie confessed to a reporter ‘I had enormous self-image problems and very low self-esteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing.’ What you see on the outside may be very different from what is going on inside. When you love who you are, it makes life simpler. You are not always striving to reach some impossible standard of perfection. You are less affected by the opinions of others and no longer your own worst enemy. It is possible to learn how to build self-esteem and grow to love who you are.
Causes of low self-esteem
Why is it that people suffer from low self-esteem? There are many factors that can contribute:
- bad childhood experiences such as bullying or criticism from parents or teachers.
- difficult life experiences like a relationship breaking down or financial difficulties.
- your personality or temperament – perhaps you have a tendency towards negativity or feeling that you are ‘the odd one out’.
- your relationships – associating with people who are critical, and make you feel bad about yourself.
- your own mind – you may have fallen into a cycle of destructive thinking.
- trauma and physical, psychological or sexual abuse.
- discrimination – belonging to a family or social group not accepted by others.
Effects of low self-esteem
Low self-esteem has all kinds of effects on your behavior. You find it difficult to make decisions. You will listen to what everyone else thinks and still second-guess all your choices. You are highly offended when you feel like someone has slighted you, such as failing to include you in their plans or forgetting your birthday. You will never do anything on your own, like going to a movie, because it makes you feel like a social failure. You tend to badmouth others because it makes you feel superior. You cannot be happy when others succeed because you are not happy with yourself.
Low self-esteem makes it difficult to complete tasks, form new relationships, try new activities and over time this may lead to depression. Unhelpful behavior, like drinking or taking drugs, is often related to low self-esteem. You do not care enough about yourself to worry about the consequences.
Check your thought and speech patterns
Your internal dialogue:
Do you think about your flaws rather than your accomplishments?
Are you more likely to feel ‘I can’t do that’, than ‘I can beat this’?
Do you face every new challenge with negative thoughts?
Are you constantly putting yourself down?
When someone offers you a compliment, how do you react?
If someone compliments you on what you are wearing, is your immediate response to say you need to lose weight?
If someone compliments you on an achievement, do you downplay it because you think you are being boastful if you acknowledge it?
I recently listened to a dialogue between Carol Tuttle of ‘Dressing your Truth’ and Robyn Openshaw aka ‘Green Smoothie Girl.’ They were addressing the habit women have of putting themselves down. We tend to mention our flaws to one another. We say, ‘I look like a real mess today’ and our friends reply ‘Oh no, you’re looking great.’ Carol says this behavior, often based on generational modelling (it’s what our mothers did and taught us to do), prevents women from evolving.
10 ways to help you build self-esteem
There is no way to transform your thinking and behavior overnight. It takes time to break the cycle and you need to work on it consistently to see the results in your life. You have to break that conditioning that says ‘I’m not good enough’ and prevents you from handling any situation where you might be exposed to criticism. Management and treatment of low self esteem can be treated with Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It gives a framework for understanding your problem, what caused it and what keeps the cycle going. It offers a practical approach where you try out new ways of behaving, and observe the effect that this has on the way you feel about yourself. You learn to:
- Change your internal dialogue – you have to stop that little voice inside your head that keeps telling you that you don’t measure up. Catch yourself every time you voice something negative about yourself. Focus on your strengths instead.
- Stop thinking that you have to be perfect. It is normal to make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up over them and learn from them instead.
- Celebrate small triumphs. When you complete a task or succeed at a challenge, you will feel good about yourself. This does not have to be something too big – it can simply be accomplishing a small task or taking up a new hobby. Do not attempt anything too challenging at first or you may end up feeling overwhelmed and worse about yourself than before. Succeed at several small goals and the momentum will build.
- Keep a journal. Write down a list of things you appreciate about yourself. Be aware of your thought patterns. It may help to keep notes of situations where you have reacted in a negative way. An awareness of your negative thought patterns is the first step towards changing them. Write down what you have accomplished before you go to bed, no matter how small a task or project. If you find a blank journal intimidating, an interactive one might be more suitable for you.
Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration is an interactive journal designed to help you to take the time to know yourself and your dreams. Its features hand-lettering, images, supportive prompts and exercises as well as inspirational quotes. It also has open-ended questions and prompts, with room for writing and reflecting.
- Keep an inspiration box.
In the box keep positive quotes, cards people have written to you and any other mementos that reinforce your self-esteem. Take the box out whenever you have times of self doubt and browse through it.
- Avoid comparisons. Constantly comparing yourself with others is a very destructive habit. Instead you need to look at how far you have come and make goals for your future.
- Spend time with people who are supportive and have a positive effect on you. Some people will suck you into their mind games, making you feel insecure and bad about yourself. Limit the time you spend with them or avoid them altogether.
- Become more assertive. It is possible to be assertive and set clear boundaries in relationships without being aggressive or obnoxious. We fear being assertive because we think we will be thought of as overbearing. If we truly value ourselves, we will not allow others to treat us with disrespect. It is possible to be assertive without being offensive.
- Physical exercise, diet and sleep all contribute towards improved self- esteem. Working on these areas will not only keep you healthy but make you feel much better about yourself.
- Reading self-help books also helps you to learn how to develop a positive mindset.
Here are 5 quotes about self-esteem to add to your inspiration box:
‘Having a low opinion of yourself is not “modesty”. It’s self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not “egotism”. It’s a necessary precondition to happiness and success.’
– Dr. Bobbe Sommer
“She lacks confidence, she craves admiration insatiably. She lives on the reflections of herself in the eyes of others. She does not dare to be herself.”
– Anais Nin
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance”
– Oscar Wilde
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
– George Eliot
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Marianne Williamson, author of A Return to Love
Conquering your self-esteem issues will transform your life. It will enable you to accept compliments graciously, value your accomplishments, reach your goals and establish healthy relationships.
When low self-esteem issues are not addressed, negative thinking patterns can get worse over time and result in serious health problems such as anxiety and depression. If you are still battling despite trying to help yourself, and feel you need help, you may want to give self-help groups and talking treatments a try.