Low Self-Esteem

What is it?

Low self-esteem means that you have a low opinion of yourself which colours the way you see yourself, how you think others see you and the extent to which you are to blame for events going wrong in your life. 
 You may believe you don’t have the resources in you to correct problems that bring about positive change.  Or, you may decide that you have to work extra hard to maintain high standards and tend to find it difficult to take time out, finding it difficult to value yourself enough to do that.

How does it hold you back?

This engenders unhelpful behaviour which reinforces this low opinion of yourself.  You can feel hopeless or anxious and underestimate your resilience and strength in overcoming life’s challenges and so the vicious cycle perpetuates.  Typically, if you suffer with low self-esteem you may notice that you have trouble standing up for yourself, speaking out and accepting criticism from others even when it is wrongful criticism or you find yourself being overly defensive or sensitive to criticism when comments are made which weren’t meant as personal attack.  You may over-work in compensation for the perception that you’re not quite as good as others, or you may under-work and get caught up in cycles of avoidance because facing up to problems means opening up fears that you aren’t good enough, clever enough etc.

How can you overcome it?

If your anxiety and/or low mood is especially severe or overwhelming you are likely to benefit from collaboration with a qualified professional.   However, here are some techniques that you might find useful to consider:
  1. List some of the changes you would love to make in your life – big and small.  Just make this a brainstorming session, writing them down in no particular order.  Then look at the list, one item at a time and notice, if you feel anxious or low, what runs through your mind at the prospect of making those changes.  We call these ‘feared predictions’.  Start with the least intimidating of changes and make a commitment to that one change.  If it still seems insurmountable you break that change down into its smaller components and start from there.  Try it out, start testing your feared predictions, consider what’s the worst that could happen and whether you could tolerate it.  Also consider what the best outcome might be and how this could improve your life.
  2. Act as if you value yourself: watch out for unhelpful, self-sabotaging behaviour.  If you valued yourself how would you approach the problem? If it’s difficult to imagine valuing yourself think of someone who does seem to value themselves and ask yourself how they might approach the situation differently.  Avoidance is often an obvious one, but with time you will start to notice other behaviour you need to change to serve you better.  
  3. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’; take small risks in reaching out to people to tackle your isolation.  If you haven’t shared this problem with someone else, look around you for people who are likely to lend a kind ear and offer support.  This isn’t to be replaced, however, with the patient and hard work in breaking through self-limiting beliefs and behaviour
  4. When you over-emphasize your role in blame for perceived mistakes, no matter what they are, take the time each day to balance responsibility for things not working out as planned.  Who else was involved? What was out of your control? What were all the positive steps you took that were left unrecognized by yourself or others. Practise standing up for yourself if these important points were over-looked. 
  5. ‘Big I little I’!  Google Image this phrase and somewhere there you will find a capital ‘I’ filled with 100s of little ‘i’s.  If you suffer with low-self esteem, the likelihood is you globally rate yourself poorly.  Take the time to remind yourself of all the little ‘i’s that make up the big ‘I’ e.g. as a mother, a daughter, a spouse, a colleague, a hobby enthusiast, a friend, a neighbour, a volunteer etc.  Remember all the compliments you were paid, not just with lip service, but soak up the memories.  Do this every day, several times a day.
  6. In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey uses the phrase ‘Sharpening the Saw’ in the context of self-care.  Often you may be so caught up in the need to achieve, or prove yourself, or wracked with guilt for doing nothing, that you forget that down time is about rest and recuperation in order that you can continue to be productive and contribute positively.  Charity literally and figuratively must start at home.  It will improve your mood, your stamina and resilience, you will be nicer to be around and everyone benefits.