Self-esteem is how we value and perceive ourselves. It’s based on our opinions and beliefs about ourselves, which can feel difficult to change.
People with healthy self-esteem like themselves and value their achievements. While everyone lacks confidence occasionally, people with low self-esteem feel unhappy or unsatisfied with themselves most of the time. This can be remedied but it takes attention and daily practise to boost self-esteem.
Characteristics of low self-esteem
Typically, a person with low self-esteem –
• Is extremely critical of themselves
• Downplays or ignores their positive qualities
• Judges themselves to be inferior to their peers
• Uses negative words to describe themselves such as stupid, fat, ugly or unlovable
• Has discussions with themselves (this is called ‘self talk’) that are always negative, critical and self blaming
• Assumes that luck plays a large role in all their achievements and doesn’t take the credit for them
• Blames themselves when things go wrong instead of taking into account other things over which they have no control such as the actions of other people or economic forces
• Doesn’t believe a person who compliments them
Causes of low self-esteem
Some of the many causes of low self-esteem may include:
• Unhappy childhood where parents (or other significant people such as teachers) were extremely critical
• Poor academic performance in school resulting in a lack of confidence
• Ongoing stressful life event such as relationship breakdown or financial trouble
• Poor treatment from a partner, parent or carer, for example, being in an abusive relationship
• Ongoing medical problem such as chronic pain, serious illness or physical disability
• Mental illness such as an anxiety disorder or depression.
Steps to feel better about yourself
▪︎ Recognize situations that affect self-esteem
Think about the situations that seem to deflate your self-esteem. Common triggers might include –
• A crisis at work or home
• A challenge with a spouse, loved one, co-worker or other close contact
▪︎ Become aware of thoughts and beliefs
Once you’ve learned which situations affect your self-esteem, notice your thoughts about them. This includes what you tell yourself (self-talk) and how you view the situations.
Your thoughts and beliefs might be positive, negative or neutral. They might be rational, based on reason or facts. Or they may be irrational, based on false ideas.
Ask yourself if these beliefs are true. Would you say them to a friend? If you wouldn’t say them to someone else, don’t say them to yourself.
▪︎ Challenge negative thinking
Your initial thoughts might not be the only way to view a situation. Ask yourself whether your view is in line with facts and logic. Or is there another explanation?
Be aware that it can be hard to see flaws in your logic. Long-held thoughts and beliefs can feel factual even if they’re opinions.
▪︎ Adjust your thoughts and beliefs
Now replace negative or untrue thoughts with positive, accurate thoughts. Try these strategies –
• Use hopeful statements.
Be kind and encouraging to yourself. Instead of thinking a situation won’t go well, focus on the positive. Tell yourself, “Even though it’s tough, I can handle this.”
• Forgive yourself.
Everyone makes mistakes. But mistakes aren’t permanent reflections on you as a person. They’re moments in time. Tell yourself, “I made a mistake, but that doesn’t make me a bad person.”
• Avoid ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements.
If you find that your thoughts are full of these words, you might be putting too many demands on yourself. Try to remove these words from your thoughts. It may lead to a healthier view of what to expect from yourself.
• Focus on the positive.
Think about the parts of your life that work well. Remember the skills you’ve used to cope with challenges.
• Consider what you’ve learned.
If it was a negative experience, what changes can you make next time to create a more positive outcome?
• Relabel upsetting thoughts.
Think of negative thoughts as signals to try new, healthy patterns. Ask yourself, “What can I think and do to make this less stressful?”
• Encourage yourself.
Give yourself credit for making positive changes. For example, “My presentation might not have been perfect, but my colleagues asked questions and remained engaged. That means I met my goal.”
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