If you have low self esteem the chances are that you see yourself in a very harsh light, if you can look at yourself in the mirror at all.
You may appear to be successful outwardly, but inside’s a different story.
Low self esteem may impact on how you think about yourself, and mean you doubt your ability to get the things you want or to attract the sort of people that interest you. It can be soul destroying and lead to behaviours that keep you in your comfort zone. At worst it can prevent you doing things that you would normally enjoy doing, and may stop you applying for your perfect job or cause you to present yourself ineffectively at interviews.
If you have low self esteem, playing safe can look like a successful strategy to avoid being exposed. You may feel overwhelmed by the pace of life, feeling like a failure by comparison with everyone else. You don’t try anything new, or assert yourself and depend overly on others to protect you from unpleasant realities.
Fearing failure, you may not put sufficient effort into activities, doubting that you can be successful, so why try? Others see you being overly critical of your appearance – too fat, too slim, too short, etc, and putting yourself down constantly.
Another sign is anger and resentment. The first self esteem response is passive while the second is more reactive and externally focused. You may find you lose their temper at the drop of a hat are quick to argue and to blame others or circumstances for setbacks. You may find yourself constantly arguing about petty issues, finding fault with the world and being negative – nothing is good, everything is horrible. The world seems to be against you. You may gossip about the troubles of others as it makes you feel better about yourself and you may be inclined to take things out on others.
You misread situations and the behaviour of others, and compare how you feel with how others behave. Inevitably, most others will behave more happily than you feel. You see that as a vindication that no one else could feel as bad as you do. This is a conversation that often happens inside your head and leads to a further downward spiral of your self esteem drops further. The more negative thoughts you think, the more negative things you see and feel. We are what we think about!
And it’s hard to force yourself just to think differently when you feel so negative and isolated.
This may be a passing state of mind following a major disappointment or upset in your life, or it may be an ingrained set of beliefs and behaviours built up over several years.
Here are some reasons identified by Dr Mitch McCrimmon that can trigger low self esteem.
- Constant criticism or negative feedback from parents, other relatives, teachers and friends
- Bullying at school or work
- Unrealistic expectations or standards. Expecting yourself to be beautiful, tall, smart, etc. rather than accepting yourself as you are
- Lack of success in relationships
- Failure at school, sports or other activities
- Carrying too much weight or other aspects of the way you look
- Guilt feelings for something you did, didn’t do or for which you blame yourself
- Not celebrating success; focusing on mistakes instead, constantly criticizing yourself.
- Too much introspection, soul searching, not enough interaction with the real world, hence withdrawal.
Although too much criticism hurts self esteem – an absence of positive feedback can also cause low self esteem. Poor appreciation of your strengths, or others taking strengths for granted because they come easy to you can leave you feeling taken for granted , or under-valued.
If you recognise these signs, and believe yourself to be a lost cause [or you see these signs in others]- what can you do now to turn things round?
One approach might be to try to think like Pollyanna or Anne of Green Gables and look for a positive in everything, to challenge your negative mindset – but that’s hard when you feel empty inside.
Mark Tyrrell, co-author of the Self Confidence Trainer, who completed UK tours in 2002, 2003, 2004 & 2005 teaching thousands of health professionals the facts about self esteem and how to treat low self esteem in their patients, has co-authored a book on self esteem for Axis Publishing called The Giant Within – Maximise Your Self Esteem. He argues that positive thinking can be useful in that it challenges you to form a different view on things – but most of the time it just sets off an argument with yourself. As self esteem rises to a healthy level you’ll find that you do less comparing of yourself negatively with others, but repeating positive affirmations isn’t the answer.
For anyone to be psychologically and physically healthy Tyrrell says, your core needs have to be fulfilled. Being clear about what you need and making efforts to meet those needs constructively means you’ll naturally have better self esteem as a by-product of living well.
He sets out a useful list of basic human needs:
- to give and receive attention
- to look after your body
- for meaning, purpose and goals
- for a connection to something greater than ourselves
- for creativity and stimulation
- for intimacy and connection to others
- for a sense of control
- for a sense of status and recognition from others
- for a sense of safety and security
Of course, it is likely that at any one time, one or more of these may be slightly lacking in your life, without dire consequences. However, in the long-term, they must all be catered for one way or another.
The “low self esteemer” also needs the capacity to focus off their own emotionality and merge with experience so they gain more enjoyment from life. So it’s important to try to engage regularly in activities that you enjoy and in which you can ‘lose yourself.
If you have low self esteem you find it harder to forget about yourself than others who have a healthy level of self esteem.
Listen to your conversation and check how often you use the word “I”. Tyrrell says that someone’s mental and even, to some extent, physical health can be directly related to how ‘self-referential’ they are in their conversation. As people become healthier they use the ‘I’ word less. People find it easier to focus their attention away from themselves once they have met their own emotional needs.
We all amplify some parts of our experience and minimize others. Habitually expanding the bad stuff and linking that to self esteem whilst belittling the good stuff, distancing positives from self esteem will result in low self esteem.
When you succeed at an activity, if you have low self esteem you are more likely to ‘write it off’ as good luck, chance, or someone else’s responsibility. To gain a more realistic view of yourself, you need to learn to take appropriate credit for your successes. This involves learning how to convert real successes into statements about your self.
The other part of the picture is to stop magnifying failures, recognising that they are temporary and not statements manifestations of your ‘core identity’.
So it’s not just about introducing more positive thinking, its about converting how you react to the ups and downs in life and learning new skills such as how to be assertive and build a social life.
Constantly and negatively comparing yourself to others will make you feel worse.
I suggested to one of my clients that she watch this video clip of Bob Newhart “Stop It” http://www.youtube.com/Bob Newhart and it had powerful effect on the mental acrobatics that she was performing internally at work trying to deal with her self-doubting inner self talk. Try it for yourself but it may not be so powerful for you.
Tyrrell says to change your self image and improve low self esteem, you need to believe in an alternative opinion of yourself through experience, not just repeat platitudes about how great you are really! He asks “If you are not for yourself then who else will be?” [Have a look at my Blog whats-your-personal-brand? to get back in tune with who you are].
He suggests the following tips and I’ve added a few of my own:
- Change your attitude. This means focusing on positive qualities in yourself instead of negative ones [Have a look at my Blog tune-up-your-mindset-yes-you-can]
- Get active. Being busy is a good antidote to sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves. If you are busy with other things, it will help you take your mind off yourself
- Eat well. Take time in preparing your food, eat fresh food and savour it when eating it
- Practice living in the moment. Learn to engage with life, practice meditation [Have a look at my Blog meditation-for-beginners-which-method-is-best-for-you]
- Do things for others and with others. Research has shown that helping, or being nice to, other people can definitely make us feel better
- Mind your inner self talk. Stop saying mean things to yourself and, instead, say nice things about yourself
- Recognise that life’s short. You only live once and you may spoil it by focusing on what you haven’t got instead of what you have got. This is like going on a holiday but ruining it by feeling sorry for yourself that it has to end soon.
- Mix with positive people, those who look on the bright side and are generally cheerful – its infectious!
- Practice being thankful, compliment other people, thank them just because you can – it will make them feel good. Funnily enough the compliments and thanks miraculously will often find their way back to you and make you feel good.
So you know the “what” about building self esteem, but what about the “How“?
To find out more about the practical steps you can take to build your self esteem, and to develop a range of new skills and behaviours, contact me. I am currently working with colleagues to deliver a holistic approach addressing mind, body, heart and spirit.