Life presents us with many challenges. These can be so much harder to face if we don’t believe in ourselves. How can we cope with the demands placed on us if we don’t trust in our own abilities?
Low self-esteem involves having a general lack of self-confidence along with negative feelings towards ourselves. It can lead us to constantly criticise ourselves for not being attractive, popular or successful enough. It can be painful and tiring to live this way. Low self-esteem often affects our entire lives, from our working day to our personal relationships. We may feel we don’t have the confidence to speak out at work or to pursue a career that we really want. We may struggle in relationships where we allow others to treat us badly or we may fear showing our feelings for fear of rejection.
Our sense of who we are and what we are worth is thought to develop early in life. For this reason low self-esteem often is rooted in what has happened to us in childhood. This can include frequent or excessive punishment, harsh parental standards, bullying, lack of attention/affection, feeling excluded or excessive criticism. Painful experiences like these can affect how we see ourselves and can contribute to feelings of worthlessness or incompetence.
While problems with self-esteem can have a negative influence on our lives there are some simple steps that can be taken to combat the effects. When practised regularly these can help us begin to view ourselves in a more positive and compassionate way.
1. Notice how we speak to ourselves
Most of us have an inner voice that acts as a guide while we are negotiating our everyday lives. This can be useful as it can advise us how to act, warn us of danger or soothe us when we are distressed. Sometimes, however, this voice can take on a harsh or self-critical tone. If our self-esteem is low we often speak to ourselves in a negative or undermining way. Challenging this negative inner voice and replacing it with some positive thoughts about ourselves can be an important step in repairing our self-esteem.
2. Stop comparing ourselves to others
When we feel insecure it’s normal to look around us to see how we measure up. At times this can lead to us forming unrealistic standards. From the outside others may seem to be happy, confident or successful. We often forget that under the surface many people are hiding difficulties and insecurities similar to our own. It is important to live our lives according to what makes us healthy and happy, rather than conforming to what we feel is expected. Everybody is different with unique personality, background and abilities. An important part of self-esteem is valuing ourselves for who and what we are.
3. Learn to make decisions (and mistakes)
It’s hard to decide for ourselves if we don’t trust in our own wisdom or ability. How can we be sure we won’t make a terrible mistake? Nobody likes to get things wrong. Lack of confidence can lead to agonising over decisions. Often this is rooted in fear of the consequences of a bad choice. It is important to remind ourselves that no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. If we find we are struggling to decide it can be worthwhile to ask just how terrible it would be to make a mistake. Would it really be so dire? Putting things in perspective can help take some of the pressure off. If we give ourselves permission to get it wrong sometimes we can begin to make decisions based on our best judgment rather than becoming paralysed by fear. Nothing in life is certain after all. Viewing mistakes as forgivable and even as opportunities to learn can take away some of the pressure of making decisions alone.
4. Focus on the things you can change
We often get frustrated by things that seem beyond control. Feeling powerless in our lives can erode our confidence. A good antidote to this is to focus on the parts of our life that we can control, however small they may seem. If we feel trapped in a situation that is causing distress we can still exercise some control over how we chose to react or behave within the situation. Taking note of where we can take control can counteract our frustration and build our indepenence and self-esteem.
5. Reflect on our past
When trying to understand our feelings and behaviour it can sometimes be helpful to look back on our lives to date. We are all shaped by our background and experiences. If we have gone through difficult or traumatic times in our life, this can have a negative impact on how we feel about ourselves. Poor self-esteem can be rooted in abuse or neglect but can also stem from simply feeling excluded, undervalued or unloved as a child. While difficult experiences throughout our life can affect how we feel about ourselves, childhood is a time when we are especially vulnerable. Reflecting on the things we have gone through can help us to empathise more with ourselves and hopefully begin to view ourselves as worthy of compassion and respect.
If we are struggling with low self-esteem it’s important to remember we are not alone. Many people feel this way. I hope that some of these tips can be useful in coping with these painful feelings. Even simple steps like these can make a difference when practised consistently.
Have a great week,
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