Self esteem is an issue we all struggle with at some point in our lives. Self esteem is very important for success, achievement, and happiness. People who have high self esteem are more self confident, and optimistic about their success, have healthy relationships, and do not give up easily when they face negative circumstances. On the contrary, people who have low self esteem, tend to lose hope easily, give up, are afraid to take life challenges for the fear of failure and feel tension and anxiety. Due to lack of self confidence they are more likely to be defensive when they receive criticism and negative feedback. People with high esteem, generally do not have the need to defend themselves and are better able to handle corrective feedback.
The question is how do we build up self esteem and what are the factors that contribute to high self esteem? In this context, we also need to review factors which adversely affect our self esteem. Just like any other character trait, self esteem can be cultivated in the course of growing up and also as an adult. William James, a famous psychologist, recognized that self esteem is dependent on value judgment made about self, and not simply on our achievements. He also contended that value judgments about oneself are closely associated with judgments made about us by others. Your value judgments affect how you feel about yourself. If value judgments are positive you feel good, but if your value judgments are negative, you feel bad.
It is also important to understand that the origins of our self esteem go back to our childhood. If you receive love, approval, have warm nurturing relationships, you grow up with an emotional baggage that helps build self esteem. Additionally, our adult life experiences also affect our self esteem. Healthy warm and nurturing relationships with others also help in building self esteem. People with low self esteem need to realize that it is not a dead end and that they can also do something to improve their self esteem. You cannot change your childhood and past but you can work on those automatic thoughts that undermined your self esteem in the first place. Writer has covered the role of automatic thoughts in another blog and I would refer the readers to read this blog post and review some of the thought management techniques. For the sake of brevity, here are some strategies that you can use to build up your self esteem:
1. Change your Faulty Perception about Self
Low self esteem is often the result of our faulty perception about self, like,” I am no good”,” I am a failure”, “No one likes me”,” I am weak and cannot handle stressors”. “I am ugly”, and so on. These negative labels tend to make you behave accordingly and you subconsciously program yourself negatively. This also affects your attitude and the more you believe in these faulty perceptions, the more your self esteem is damaged. In order to build your self esteem, you need to attack these negative labels and begin to focus on your strengths. Start using some affirmations, like,” I am learning to like myself”,” I am good in art work”,” I am beautiful and people like me”. In this way you attack your faulty perceptions. Once you begin to challenge your negative labels, you move towards gaining approval from yourself and begin to behave positively. In this way you can discount, and deflect your own prejudice. Prejudice works as a barrier to be objective and you begin to color your perceptions with these negative biases.
It is also important to receive compliments with acceptance without having the need to deflect them. This practice will reinforce your beliefs and you will be helping yourself build self esteem. Most compliments are genuine and they are given to them because you deserve them.
2. Don’t listen to the Critic
We all have an inner voice which sometimes tells us, “ I am a bad parent”, “I always fail so why bother trying new things?”. This kind of negative self talk is responsible for your low self esteem. Do not blame yourself for every thing that happens. Try to be objective and look in the situation without using your colored perception about your self, which happens to always attack you. When you begin to fall prey to the critic inside you, immediately take steps to stop the critic using the Thought Stopping technique and immediately replacing your negative self talk with positive reassuring statements like, “I must have been under stress when I yelled at children”. “I am usually a good mother and take good care of my children”. This way you learn to stop finding fault at every thing you do and become more complacent with yourself. The inner voice is often the result of kind of feedback you got from your mother, father, teachers, peers, and family members. However, when you become an adult, you need to let go of this inner voice and become your own parent by rewarding yourself for good accomplishments and giving yourself a positive regard that you need to build up your self esteem. Stop listening to the critic inside you and messages that you internalized when growing up.
If at all, listen to the positive messages that were given to you while growing up.
3. Let Go of the Judge Within You
When you have low self esteem, you tend to discount the facts and believe in your judge which tells you, ”you are no good”,” You always fail”, “It does not matter what you want” and so on. When the judge evaluates you like this, you tend to listen to the judge and fail to look into the facts. In new situations, try to examine the facts. Just because it happened in your childhood, does not mean that it will always happen in the future. It is also true that you recognize other people’s accomplishments but when you achieve something, you do not give credit to yourself and discount your positive points. Remember that the judge has to be fair to you also. Your judge needs to apply the standard used for others to yourself, as well.
It is also important to note that your judge tends to make negative predictions by biasing your expectations and making snap judgments on the basis of superficial information. It may also lead you to expect to fail. As a child, it is possible that you were compared with others who did better than you and this could have crashed your self esteem. However, now you are in control and see the facts with an unbiased perception. You cannot obviously change the past but present is under your control and you can be a better judge of the reality.
4. Set Realistic Goals and Do the Best
People with low self esteem tend to sometime set themselves for failure by setting idealistic goals for themselves and then beating themselves up when they fail to reach them. This damages their self esteem.
In order to feel good about yourself, you need to set realistic goals which are practical, possible, and attainable. It is also important to break your goals in short term objectives which are like baby steps created in small increments, to help you reach your long term goals. When your goals are fleeting and they do not have any direction, you are more likely to forget about them and then berate yourself when you are unable to reach them. By laying out your goals in writing, you give them a concrete form, rendering them more realistic and attainable. Also learn to make a distinction between what is ideal and making a rule to live by. The ideal may be perfect, without blemish, a standard that one would be proud to attain. Such an ideal guides you, but be careful that you make this ideal a rule to live by. By doing so, you set yourself for failure and more chances to feel bad about yourself. You will be too hard on yourelf and this will eventually erode your self esteem. Just do the best you can rather than aiming for perfection in every thing you do. Aim for better self esteem and this will help you do better and also feel better. Writer will refer the readers to read the blog entitled, “Are you a Perfectionist? Learn how to overcome perfectionism”, available on this website.
5. Make friends who make you feel better
If you spend time with people who are always critical with you, undermine your capacity, and make sarcastic and demeaning remarks, you will end up feeling bad about yourself. This kind of negative feedback will deplete your energy and you will have difficulty feeling good about yourself. Therefore it is important to be selective in choosing your friends. Try to spend more time with people who are more optimistic in their approach and who make you feel worthwhile. Self esteem is something that can also vary in degrees on different occasions. There will be days when you feel upbeat, like yourself, and feel enthusiastic but there are days when you do not feel so good about yourself. During the times when you feel low in energy and suffer from low self esteem, you need to work on the strategies described above to get you out of the negative mode of thinking and focus on your strengths to make you feel better. Thoughts affect mood immensely. Do learn to manage your thoughts to change how you feel. Writer has written a blog post on this topic as well and I would recommend the readers to read it.
6. Value Yourself as a Person
It is important to give yourself a positive unconditional regard. Carl Rogers, famous psychologist and the originator of Client Centered Therapy, designed his entire therapy model on this concept. He contends that when the clients get unconditional positive regard from their therapist, they are better able to engage in therapy and benefit from therapy because they feel that some one is empathic to them. You need to develop same kind of empathy for yourself and not be so hard on yourself. Just like a mother has unconditional love for her child regardless of how he or she behaves, her love does not change. Once you develop this kind of relationship with yourself, you heal your inner child. We all make mistakes in our lives but we learn from them and grow. Self esteem is dependent on how you treat your inner child. Engaging in self nurturing activities that satisfy the needs of your inner child, is a prerequisite for building high self esteem. People who fail to nurture themselves, tend to feel lonely and isolated and become depressed, as a result. Listening to your favorite music, engaging in your favorite sports, doing art and craft, engaging in hobbies that you enjoy, going to the park, taking nature walks, taking a mental health break day, and indulging in social and recreational activities, will eventually fill the inner void that was created due to low self esteem. Once this void is filled, you will notice a change in how you feel about yourself and become more self confident again. In a nutshell, try to value yourself as a person and do not undermine yourself, otherwise you will dissipate your strength. Be fair to yourself and do not confuse valuing yourself with arrogance. Actually when you value yourself, it will help you not to behave in an arrogant manner.
Writer will refer the readers to the blog post entitled, “Looking for Happiness? Don’t Despair” available on this web site for more details about strategies to enhance self esteem.
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Reference: Managing Your Mind, the mental fitness guide, second edition by Gilian Butler, Ph. D.,and Tony Hope, M.D.