If you put a small value upon yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price. – Author unknown
Self-esteem relates to what we think, feel and believe about ourselves as people. This encompasses our ability to appreciate and accept ourselves for who we are as person’s, acknowledging and taking pride in our achievements whilst also accepting our imperfections. High self-esteem is the feeling that we are good and worthy, and valued by others. Low self-esteem is when we believe we are not good enough, are inadequate or less worthy than others. Having a healthy self-esteem is crucial since it’s so closely tied up to our well-being, overall happiness and success, not to mention our ability to form and maintain strong, satisfying relationships.
If you’re in any doubt as to whether or not you have high or low self-esteem, some tell-tale signs of low self-esteem are listed below:
- You avoid taking risks or seeking new challenges
- You’re very sensitive to the opinions of others
- You people-please
- You doubt your decisions
- You find it hard to ask for what you need
- You feel your efforts are never enough
- You agonise over mistakes you’ve made
- You frequently compare yourself to others, negatively
- You find it hard to say ‘no’
- You often experience anxiety and sadness
- You feel you need to over-compensate (e.g. overworking, taking too much responsibility, etc.)
- You feel less important than others
- You feel scared to voice an opinion
For anyone who experiences low-self-esteem, no explanation is needed as to how painful and crippling it can be. An important part of working on self-esteem is first understanding what it is and the influences which have helped form our evaluation of ourselves. Our self-esteem is dependent on many factors and tends to originate in childhood. Negative and overwhelming experiences such as bullying, trauma, excessive criticism, parental rejection, lack of praise or affection, to name just a few, cause feelings of low self-worth and difficulties believing one is worthy of love, happiness and appreciation. Of course, low self-esteem can also develop in later years, from the effects of an abusive relationship, bullying in the workplace, illness, disability and other hardships that one may encounter throughout life. Whatever the cause, our self-esteem isn’t fixed and there are things we can do to develop a more positive, balanced evaluation of ourselves.
Stop criticising yourself – those of you who grew up with a critical parent/teacher/authority figure may well have internalised the critical voice. You may no longer hear such external criticism but you now continue the job where the previous adult left off. You’re now your harshest critic, going over and over mistakes you’ve made, replaying things you wish you hadn’t said, doubting your work or choices and calling yourself names. Think about this…if someone you cared about made a mistake, didn’t get the job they applied for or failed an exam, would you call them names, tell them they’re worthless and keep reminding them of their shortcomings? No? If you wouldn’t do it to others, then don’t do it to yourself. Instead, try being kind and compassionate with yourself. Be the caring parent or adult you needed as a child and see how that feels.
Make a list of the things you like about yourself – put away that post-it note and bring out a large piece of paper. List anything and everything you appreciate about yourself. It could be your ability to learn languages quickly, your sense of humour, good listening skills, kindness, creativity, etc. Then read over your list and appreciate these things about yourself which you normally take for granted. If you find it hard to list your strengths, ask someone you trust to help you.
Stop comparing yourself with others – there are numerous possibilities for comparison, social media being the most tempting. We have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to keep it to a minimum. The problem with making comparisons is that when we compare, we are looking at the best aspects of others, and the image that people wish to portray to the world. When you start to compare, remind yourself of your blessings, of the progress you’ve made and that appearances can be deceiving.
Accept your mistakes – We are all human, which means we make mistakes. When you make a mistake, avoid getting stuck in a negative spiral of self-criticism. Accept responsibility for your mistake, see what you can learn from it, forgive yourself and then focus on moving forward.
Be careful who you spend your time with – surround yourself with people who support you rather than those who criticise you or treat you without the respect and care you deserve.
Use positive affirmations – Your every thought and spoken word is an affirmation. Positive affirmations are statements you choose to change your thinking or re-affirm positive traits. Examples of positive affirmations are – ‘I am confident’, ‘I am good enough’, ‘I deserve to be happy’. You may feel silly at first, but if you persevere you’ll be amazed at how powerful affirmations can be to counteract all the negative messages we’ve received throughout our lives when we were unable to stand up for ourselves.
Try something new – low self-esteem leaves us feeling scared to try new things in case we make a mistake, fail or experience rejection. Taking on a new hobby or activity gives us the opportunity to learn something new and enjoy the challenge. You don’t have to achieve perfection. The important thing is to enjoy it and allow yourself to celebrate the small wins.
Treat yourself with care – Ensure you take care of your physical and mental health. This means taking care that you get adequate rest, eat healthily, exercise, reduce stress and seek support from loved ones. Take care also to pamper yourself every now and then, for instance cooking yourself your favourite meal, having a bath, going for a massage, and so on. By exercising such healthy habits you’re slowly reconfirming to yourself that you’re worthwhile.
Needless to say, for most of us, working on our self-esteem is a life-long process and not a one-time effort since breaking old habits and developing healthier ones takes time and requires patience and perseverance. However, as you slowly start to replace the need for external validation with self-love and internal validation, you’ll be less dependent on circumstances, material things and other people for feelings of confidence and self-worth. Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Louise Hay – ‘You’ve been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.’.