WHAT IS SELF-ESTEEM?
Self-esteem is an overall evaluation of one's worth or value. It is also referred to as self-worth, self-respect, and self-image. Our level of self-esteem has a strong influence on our decision-making ability, the quality of our relationships, and our general sense of well-being.
WHERE DOES LOW SELF-ESTEEM COME FROM?
Low self-esteem does not happen in a vacuum. The development of low self-esteem is a process with some identifiable causes. I will list 5 factors that impact us in a negative manner, resulting in feelings of low self-esteem:
BULLYING - It always breaks my heart to hear stories of children who have been bullied at school or in their neighbourhoods. Bullying is the deliberate misuse of power where an individual or group of individuals aggressively dominate or intimidate people whom they see as inferior or different. It can take the form of verbal or physical attacks or exclusion from friendship circles. It is not surprising that this kind of treatment can severely impact someone's sense of self-esteem.
PHYSICAL ABILITY- Do you recall those elementary school days when your classmates would engage in the process of picking teammates from a line-up of students? Nobody wanted to be picked last. If you weren't strong enough, couldn't run fast enough, or hit the ball hard enough, chances were that you would be the last to be chosen. The feeling of not being good enough due to a lack of physical ability has the potential of creating a long-lasting feeling of low-self esteem.
COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHERS - Whether it's Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, or Twitter, social media has an uncanny way of producing feelings of "less than". Families, homes, relationships, bodies, and vacations are always portrayed as perfect and ideal. "Why is it only me that is struggling and everybody else is A-OK"? you may be asking yourself. Comparing ourselves with others is a deadly recipe for low self-esteem.
HARSH CRITICISM FROM AUTHORITY FIGURES- I have a friend who scored 99% on an exam. Her mother's comment was, "Where's the other 1%?" It could be parents, teachers, religious leaders, or bosses who may think they are challenging their subordinates to improve their performance by being "tough" on them. In reality, this kind of behaviour can result in discouragement, and ultimately damage a person's lifelong view of themselves.
FAILURE - Past failure such as being terminated from a job or a failed relationship can leave you doubting your self-worth. You may blame yourself for not being good enough.
WHAT DOES LOW SELF-ESTEEM LOOK LIKE?
You may be interested in taking a brief online test to score your level of self-esteem.
Some common traits of low self-esteem are:
EXTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL - This is a sense that you have little control over your life or circumstances. You have difficulty accepting responsibility for what happens to you and also rely on others to solve your problems for you. Unfortunately, when it comes to improving your self-esteem, you are on your own. It's a solo project; it's entirely up to you. This makes it both exciting and scary!
TROUBLE ASKING FOR HELP - So, on the one hand, although you are looking for others to help you fix your situation, it is difficult to reach out and ask for the help you actually need. You are afraid to "bother" other people, or possibly believe you are not worthy of their attention. You may have a fear of being thought of as weak or incompetent for needing help.
DIFFICULTY ACCEPTING COMPLIMENTS - When someone gives you a genuine compliment, do you have trouble taking it in with a gracious "thank you", or do you downplay it and make a self-deprecating remark to neutralize it?
NEGATIVE SELF-TALK - If you observe the dialogue that goes on inside your head, what do you notice? Are you putting yourself down, criticizing yourself and even calling yourself things like "stupid" or "failure"?
BEING A PEOPLE PLEASER - Someone with low self-esteem places too much emphasis on trying to always please others. They are overly concerned about others' opinions and reactions. This can be paralyzing and very stressful.
LACK OF BOUNDARIES - If you have low self-esteem you may have difficulty distinguishing where your own identity ends and someone else's begins. You are afraid to assert your own needs and wants. In fact, you may not even be conscious of what you really want.
WAYS TO BOOST YOUR SELF-ESTEEM
Fortunately, there are many proven strategies that can help improve your level of self-esteem. Just like you can build stronger muscles with focused and repetitive exercise, you can also train yourself to have a higher level of self-esteem.
1. IDENTIFY YOUR STRENGTHS - We all have a unique set of strengths, whether we are aware of it or not. What a game-changer it could be to become acquainted with the powerhouse within us and begin living our lives according to the full extent of our capabilities. An excellent way of finding your strengths is to do the survey from VIA character strengths: VIA Character Strengths Survey & Character Reports | VIA Institute. I challenge you to follow this link and discover your unique abilities.
2. USE POSITIVE SELF-AFFIRMATIONS - Positive affirmations are reminders of
your self-worth, the unique talents you have to offer the world, and your ability to overcome difficult situations. The following link will offer some suggestions for things you can say to yourself to boost your self-esteem. 25 Daily Affirmations to Improve Your Mental Health (verywellmind.com).
3. CHALLENGE NEGATIVE THINKING - Monitor the thoughts that occupy your mind and begin standing up to these intruders. In particular, be mindful of words like always and never. "You always forget your friends' birthdays" or "I never know what to say". These are examples of how harsh our inner dialogue can be. Also, be willing to challenge the veracity of some of this self-talk. What is the evidence that these self-accusations are actually based on facts? Would you ever talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself? Being kinder to yourself can help you feel better about yourself.
4. EMPOWERMENT SONG PLAYLIST - This is a strategy that I am taking from my own personal playbook. Over the years I have collated a list of uplifting songs that boost my self-esteem whenever I'm feeling low. An example of some lyrics that have lifted me up when I needed a boost is from the song Hero by Mariah Carey:
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you'll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you
Why don't you try your own personal playlist of empowerment songs?
5. GIVE TO OTHERS - One of the most positive ways to forget about your own woes is to reach out and help someone else. Whether it's in the form of volunteering for your church or an organization, listening to a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer, visiting a friend in the hospital, hearing a story for the twentieth time from your aunt with dementia without telling her you've heard it before...these are all ways of helping yourself feel better about yourself.
6. CARE ABOUT YOUR APPEARANCE - I'm not saying you have to look like a fashion model or buy expensive clothes. Just try to look the best you can with whatever resources you have. This will definitely give you a boost. My wardrobe is mostly from thrift stores. (Oops, I let the secret out!) You can find fabulous buys without spending a fortune. An important aspect of your appearance that costs nothing, but can easily be forgotten - your smile! Don't leave home without it. A smile sends a message to your brain that you are happy, and often, the feelings follow. More importantly, it sends a positive message to the world around you.
I would like to leave you with some reading suggestions to help build your self-esteem. Many of them are probably available in your local library, and if not, you can order them from Amazon.
The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden
Self-Esteem by Matthew McKay and Patrick Fanning
The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn Schiraldi
Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem by Marilyn Sorensen
Ten Days To Self-Esteem by David Burns
Self-Esteem by Jean Illsley Clarke
As always, your comments are welcome. Feel free to email me at email@example.com.
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