In today’s world we may feel pressurised to achieve our best; to look a certain way; to own certain material things; to be in a relationship; to have a high-powered job; to have a great social life; to have lots of friends etc etc. When we don’t achieve these then our self-esteem can plummet.
Our self-esteem is how we value and perceive ourselves and when we fail to meet the expectation that society puts on us then we may suffer from low self-esteem.
Do any of these sound familiar:
- you may feel that you hate or dislike yourself
- you may feel worthless or not good enough
- are you unable to make decisions or assert yourself
- do you feel that no one likes you?
- do you blame yourself for things that aren’t your fault?
- Do you feel guilty if you spend time or money on yourself?
- You are unable to recognise your strengths
- You feel that you are undeserving of happiness
- You are low in confidence
We all have times when we lack confidence and don’t feel good about ourselves.
But when low self-esteem becomes a long-term problem, it can have a harmful effect on our mental health and our lives.
Self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves. When we have healthy self-esteem, we tend to feel positive about ourselves and about life in general. It makes us able to deal with life’s ups and downs better.
When our self-esteem is low, we tend to see ourselves, and our life in a more negative and critical light. We also feel less able to take on the challenges life throws at us.
What can cause low self-esteem?
Low self-esteem often begins in childhood. Teachers, friends, siblings, parents, and even the media give us lots of messages – both positive and negative.
You may have found it difficult to live up to other people’s expectations of you, or to your own expectations.
Stress and difficult life events, such as serious illness, bereavement, break up of parent’s relationship, experiences at school etc can have a negative effect on self-esteem. Personality can also play a part. Some of us are simply more prone to negative thinking, while others set impossibly high standards for themselves.
How does low self-esteem affect us?
The problem with thinking we’re no good is that we start to behave as if it’s true. Low self-esteem can change our behaviour so that we start behave in ways to confirm that we are ‘no good’.
If you have low self-esteem or confidence, you may hide yourself away from social situations, stop trying new things and avoid things you find challenging. This may help in the short term as you can feel a lot safer but in the long term, this avoidance will reinforce your fears. You will then find that the only way to cope is to avoid doing things that are challenging.
Living with low self-esteem can harm your mental health, leading to problems such as depression and anxiety. You may also develop unhelpful habits, such as smoking, drinking excessively, taking drugs etc, as a way of coping.
How can you improve your self-esteem?
Firstly, you need to identify and challenge the negative beliefs that you have about yourself. You could start by writing down all the negatives and then writing evidence that disproves these.
For example: You may feel that you are too stupid to apply for a certain job or that no-one likes you. You could ask yourself when you first started to think these thoughts. Then you can write down evidence that challenges these beliefs. For example: “I have certain qualifications” or “people find me easy to talk to”. You could also write down good things that other people say about you. Keep adding to this list and keep looking at it.
Recognise things that you are good at: We are all good at something, Try to recognize what you are good at and try to do them as often as possible. This will also boost your mood. Focus on your positives and celebrate your successes.
Build positive relationships: Spend more time with people that you have good relationships with. Avoid people that make you feel less good about yourself. Talking to loved ones about how you feel can help you to reassess how you view yourself. Ask them what they like about you – it’s likely that they see you differently to how you see yourself.
Be kind to yourself: Be gentle and compassionate to yourself. Try to think what you would say to a friend if they were in a similar situation. Write a list of what you like about yourself. You could include aspects of your personality, your appearance and what you like doing. If you’re finding it difficult, ask a friend or loved one to help you.
Learn to be assertive and start saying no!
Being assertive is about respecting other people’s opinions and needs, and expecting the same from them.
When you don’t like yourself, it’s easy to assume others won’t like you either. You may find you go out of your way to help others as you feel it’s the only way they’ll like you. It can make you feel even worse if this help isn’t reciprocated. A good deed is great but over stretching yourself to please others can leave you with less energy to focus on yourself and can affect your mental health.
People with low self-esteem often feel they always have to say yes to other people, even when they don’t really want to. The risk is that you become overburdened, resentful, angry and depressed.
Take a breath before automatically agreeing to do something you don’t want to and try saying “no”.
Set boundaries around how much you do for other people.
Take control of your own decisions
At first you might find it difficult to break these habits but making small changes to be more assertive can feel liberating and gets easier the more you do it.
We all feel nervous or afraid to do things at times. People with healthy self-esteem don’t let these feelings stop them from trying new things or taking on challenges.
Find something you like doing and do more of it.
You could take up a hobby, join a class or volunteer your time for something you feel passionate about.
At times it can be hard to find the motivation to set goals for yourself, especially when you don’t feel confident or worry about what other people may think, but it doesn’t have to be something big.
Making small goals such as trying a recipe or learning the days of the week in a new language can help you to feel more positive about yourself.
And try to remind yourself you don’t have to be perfect at it to enjoy yourself.
If things are getting too much, then you may need some extra support. Counselling aims to give you a safe, confidential space to talk about your thoughts and feelings.