Self-doubts befall all of us from time to time. Mostly, these doubts are short-lived, falling away with an unexpected compliment, personal success, or new opportunity. People with low self-esteem, however, continue to doubt themselves, despite positive conditions. They can doubt their abilities, attractiveness, behaviours, views, as well as their personality and emotions.
Self-esteem is about our sense of self-worth – how much we value and respect ourselves. Those with low self-esteem tend not to feel a sense of personal worth. They do not value themselves nor have high self-respect. Furthermore, they don’t usually reach their full potential and relate to themselves in an unfriendly, intolerant, and uncaring way.
Do you have low self-esteem?
Indications that a person has low self-esteem comprise:
- a lack of confidence
- a sense of insecurity
- worrying a great deal
- difficulties making decisions
- a lack or absence of assertiveness
- an over-reliance on other people
- a negative outlook
- avoidance of rejection
- holding onto afflictive emotions
- having an acute sense of personal failure or of not being liked or loved
- focusing on what they can’t do vs. what they can
People with low self-esteem are more prone to develop mental health issues like depression, and an anxiety disorder. Low self-esteem and mental health issues often go hand in hand making the issue very important.
Past events, like one’s early childhood experiences, mold these self- beliefs. Things like physical punishment, emotional or sexual abuse, high expectations of parents &/or teachers, lack or absence of positive attention or feedback, and a sense of just not fitting in both at home and at school.
Teasing or bullying during adolescence can also play a significant role in the onset of low self-esteem. Although most instances of self-esteem issues develop early on in life, some adults, who once enjoyed good self-esteem, can find their self worth deteriorating following the experience of difficult issues. For instance, being in an abusive relationship, ongoing financial worries, mid-life unrest – questioning the meaning of their life, work place duress, and medical issues.
Over time, these central self- beliefs determine how the person with low self-esteem lives their life. How they think and feel – what they say and do. The mechanism for this lies in the sufferer’s distinctive “unhelpful rules of engagement” – the rules by which they live their life.
As with many unhelpful and hollow rules in our life, they are fixed and unreasonable. These rules attempt to redress the suffering caused by the core beliefs by trying to protect self-esteem. They allow them to survive each day, and enjoy some semblance of normality. This is achieved by protecting the individual via a false sense of security, satisfaction, personal control, structure, and purpose.
“I must not fail”, “I have to do everything perfectly”, “I got the mark I wanted, but I have to try much harder from now on”
“I can’t show them how I really feel cause they won’t like me”,”I have to think this through again to make sure I didn’t say anything wrong”, “Who am I fooling, they’ll find out what an idiot I am”
“I have to check the front door again cause I don’t think I locked it”, “If I do this, I know it will turn out bad”
“I know I’ll be happier if I just stay put and not try anything new”, “I have to know what’s going to happen”
“I shouldn’t have that piece of chocolate as I haven’t been good enough”, “There’s nothing I can do to make this any different”, “I shouldn’t ask for what I want as they won’t give it to me anyway”.
So, depending on their unhelpful rules, the person with low self- esteem can safeguard themselves by avoiding the perceived perils of intimate contact, staying with what’s known and familiar, and by going out of their way to get approval and acceptance. They can have a sense of personal mastery by trying to do things perfectly, avoiding failure, and expending most of the energy they have controlling their life as much as possible.
The choices we make, each and every day, are determined by our own set of rules of life engagement. All of our actions are determined by these rules. Those of us with unhelpful rules are lulled into a false sense of security and personal satisfaction. If the person with low self- esteem faithfully follows these rules then their life will seem O.K, even happy at times.
Unfortunately, this is, more often than not, short-lived. There are two reasons for this. Life has a way of throwing up the unexpected, thereby challenging these unhelpful and hollow rules of life engagement. So, the false sense of self-esteem easily crumbles.
Several options are available for improving low self-esteem. Maybe the first thing to try is to talk to a friend or loved one about how you’re feeling. Sometimes this can really help, and provide a renewed sense of safety and approval, personal control, as well as a positive perspective and outlook on life.
- listing positive strengths and achievements and consulting them from time to time
- considering personal care, especially when you can’t be bothered
- prioritising exercise, healthy eating and sufficient sleep
- participating in enjoyable activities, even challenging ones
- practicing positive thinking
- creating self-compassion – relating to yourself with love, acceptance, forgiveness, and patience
- using affirmations – constructive and empowering statements
- accepting the ebb and flow of afflictive emotions, not judging them
- attending to things that have been postponed
- embracing positive relationships and influences, and avoiding negative ones
- becoming more generous and attentive to others needs
- learning assertiveness skills and approaches
There are many publications that can be helpful for those wanting to enhance their self-esteem. Following is a list of books that can provide detailed information about self-esteem, as well as techniques to improve it:
Overcoming Low Self-esteem: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques. By Melanie Fennell 2009.
50 Mindful Steps to Self-Esteem: Everyday Practices for Cultivating Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion. By Janetti Marotta 2014.
Self Esteem: Simple Steps to Build Your Confidence. By Gael Lindenfield 2014.
There are several Health Professionals who can really help you work towards enhancing your self-esteem. A G.P. would be a good person to see early on. They can suggest appointments with a Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist, or Social Worker. These can prove very useful as they offer therapy/counselling techniques which are designed to both address the causes of low self-esteem, as well provide strategies that elevate self-esteem.
These techniques include: