True low self esteem isn’t the same as those transient moments in life when you lack confidence or have doubts about yourself – we all have those. Low self esteem is when not feeling good about yourself becomes a long-term problem. This can have a powerful effect on our mental health and life in general.
A healthy self esteem creates positivity and the ability to cope with the ups and downs that life brings. But a low self esteem comes coupled with negative thoughts and difficulty in coping with the challenges of everyday life.
What causes low self esteem?
In many cases low self esteem begins in childhood. New York State licensed clinical psychologist and author, Suzanne Lachmann Psy.D, says that the sources of low self esteem can often be traced back to childhood and your history with primary caregivers.
Challenging life events, such as illness, trauma, and bereavement can also have an effect on our self esteem. Belief systems (such as religion) and even society and the media can have a hand in causing us to focus on our imperfections and inadequacies, rather than our positive points.
The Center for Clinical Interventions in Western Australia publishes some excellent resources, including a paper that describes exactly what low self esteem is.
So what do I need to change to have healthy self esteem?
Understanding where low self esteem stems from is always the first step in overcoming the issue. Chris Williams, Professor of Psychosocial Psychiatry at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, says that once the source (or sources) is identified, you can then start on the journey of challenging what has become a deep set belief.
Learning to recognize your negative thoughts is important. Thoughts such as ‘no one cares’ or I’ll only fail so why bother’ are classic examples. When you catch yourself thinking such things then write them down. Then you can begin to ask yourself questions such as, ‘when did I first start thinking this way?’
Taking such steps actively starts the journey of challenging why you feel this way. Once you’ve identified times that you’re thinking in this manner, then the next step is to begin to collect and write down evidence that this belief is not true. Rather than focusing on your negative aspects you can begin to think about the things that you’re good at. For example, perhaps you’re a good dancer, or you have an affinity with animals. Maybe you look after an elderly relative, or perhaps you’ve got a great singing voice.
Keep this list of your positive attributes somewhere you can look at it often – and try to add to it when you think of something else. That way you can begin to realize that you have strengths, as well as weaknesses, the same as everybody else.
Simple techniques to improve low self esteem
- Avoid negative self talk: You probably do this without even realizing. But putting yourself down only serves to further your negative self belief. Recognizing this and stopping yourself can have a real positive impact. One way to help is to ask yourself if you would talk about a friend or loved one in such a manner? If the answer is no, then you should try not to think about yourself in such a way.
- Connect with those who love you: It’s vitally important that you spend time with people who feel good about yourself. If you hang out with people who don’t appreciate you then this only serves to reinforce your negative self belief. You might also find it helpful to talk to those close to you about how you feel. You’ll probably find they have a completely different view to the one you hold about yourself. Hearing their positive thoughts can help with your journey to challenge your negative opinion of yourself.
- Learn to be assertive: What this means is treating other people well and expecting the same back from them. Those suffering from low self esteem often feel they have to agree to whatever someone else asks them to do, even if they don’t want to. Learning to say ‘no’ is the first step. One easy tip is to make yourself take a deep breath before automatically agreeing to something you don’t want to do, so giving yourself time to construct the way you’re going to say that you’d rather not, thank you very much.
- Challenge yourself: This doesn’t have to be something huge. For instance, find something you enjoy and join a class. Or take up a new hobby, or volunteer to help out with a charity. It’s all about finding something you like, setting yourself a goal and striving to reach it. Small, achievable goals are key – that way it helps to reinforce positive self belief when those goals are met.
- Look after yourself: Both physically and emotionally. Exercise (even a little, such as gentle walking) and healthy eating are key to good physical health. But don’t forget to be compassionate to yourself as well. When you feel you want to be hyper-critical of yourself in a situation, think about what you’d say if you were talking to a loved one. Chances are it’d be very different to what you’re about to say to yourself, and far more positive. You too deserve that same positivity.
- Practice mindful meditation: Meditation is all about letting your brain having a few minutes off those crazy, racing thoughts that we all have. It’s about realizing that the beliefs, feelings, and thoughts we have are transient – not actually a part of ourselves. There are lots of books that teach this. A good starting point is Mindful Meditation: Exercises and Action Guide to find your Inner Peace, by Mitchell Daly.
Finding professional help to improve low self esteem.
Of course, you may decide that you’d like to have some professional help in raising your low self esteem. There are many different types of therapy available. These include counseling, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), psychotherapy, behavioral activation, and mindfulness based therapies. Counselors in your area can be found on the website of the American Psychotherapy Association.