Self-esteem is in essence a measurement and runs on a continuum. We rate ourselves against a variety of criteria to come up with a value of our worth. The big problem is that we often rate ourselves against impossible criteria and judge ourselves too harshly and produce an inaccurate picture. The end result is a lack of self-esteem as we undervalue ourselves based on our negative perceptions. The next stage is usually that we turn these beliefs into facts and in a self-fulfilling prophecy scenario, start to collect evidence to justify actions that underpin these beliefs. At the same time, we push away any evidence that tells us something different. We are then essentially living our lives based on false information and unhelpful reasoning and many find it hard to release themselves from this trap. Going untreated, this can lead to depression and make life unbearable.
The scenario describe above must have originated somewhere because it is highly doubtful that we are born with a natural lack of self-esteem. This means it can only be derived from the environment we grow up in and most significantly from the influence of our primary care-givers, normally our parents. It would be wrong at this point to say that there are people who do not suffer from a lack of self-esteem at some point in their lives. We all do but the cycle described above usually starts when self-esteem goes down and stops us doing things like trying new challenges or making assumptions about our chances of success (in a negative sense). However, the origin is generally rooted in childhood. Parents often feel that criticism of weaknesses helps a child to focus on improvement. They also feel that their own views and influences are “right” and should be passed on. Children treated harshly after mistakes will often absorb the criticism rather than the context it was set in. This is true for parents who are considered loving as well as at the other end of the abusive scale. Another major influence on our self-esteem is our school years. Children can be brutal to each other and anyone they consider an outsider. An outsider in their eyes can be someone wearing glasses, a little overweight, wear the wrong clothes or do not excel in one thing or another. Add this to the daily routine of dealing with teachers and you can see the problem.
Our Inner Voice
Many people who are considered successful, have good jobs and happy relationships are often crippled by low self-esteem. This is maintained by the beliefs they have built up over the years about themselves and turned into facts. This is a hugely important point to grasp as beliefs can be changed but not facts. An added factor is our inner voice or critic that seems to thrive on keeping us down and afraid. The inner voice is formed from all the negativity we have absorbed over the years. This constant voice whispering in our ear reminds us continually of our faults and weaknesses. Once our inner critic is there, it holds on tight and is hard to get rid of. In the end we tend to trust it and take comfort in what it says. It offers us the easy way out…”don’t do this…don’t do that, you will get hurt, you are not good enough”. This false friend actually tricks you into believing that you are actually being protected by its advice…leading to further loss of self-esteem. For example, your inner critic might tell you not to apply for that job because of your fear of rejection. Seemingly good advice but without trying you will never know if the job was realistic or not and you then apply the same criteria to other similar situations.
Often a step in the right direction towards battling your inner critic is to personify it. It is often created from influences from the past and placing an image on it can help us to finally put it in its place. This is where imagination can run wild. It could be an animal, an object, a beast from mythology or even a cartoon character. Many people find that if they can control the image, they can often control the influence of the inner voice. We should always ask ourselves if taking the advice increases our self-esteem or not. This way we can become more aware or the influence of the inner voice and how it disguises itself.
Many people find their own way out of the self-esteem trap and try to counter it and their inner critic in various ways, all equally destructive. There are some who show the world how confident they are by exhibiting an overblown sense of self-importance, putting others down and reminding everyone of how special they are. There are those who strive for perfection externally through work (or overwork), hoping to make themselves feel better and keep their inner critic at bay. There are even those who wallow in a “poor-me” syndrome hoping that the obvious show of low self-esteem will attract lavish amounts of attention and sympathy.
Increase your Self Esteem
1. Stop comparing yourself to others. Trying to live up to or exceed someone else’s personal best is a losing game. As the saying goes, “How boring would it be if we were all the same?” Focus on being the best you that you can be.
2. Compliment yourself regularly, either by looking in the mirror and saying something you like about yourself or writing it in a journal. Many times, we’re quick to compliment others on their success but hesitate to do the same for ourselves.
3. Exercise consistently, at least 30 minutes of exercise several times a week, to strengthen muscles and to burn calories. Improve your physical strength, and you may feel a sense of empowerment that can dramatically enhance your self-esteem.
4. Simply smile. The mere act of smiling changes blood flow to the brain and can actually makes you feel happier and relieve tension. A smile sets off chemical and physical reactions within your mind and body, releasing endorphins that boost your mood.
5. Focus on your accomplishments. Forgive yourself for mistakes and focus on the positive by celebrating your victories. Consider writing them down so you can review and reflect when you’re feeling down and need to renew your confidence.
6. Get the support you need to succeed. Join a weight-loss support group, like TOPS, which can help you to stay on track to accomplish your wellness goals. Fellow members will help keep you motivated.
7. Make a list of your positive qualities. Are you generous? Kind? Write down at least ten positive qualities about yourself and return to this list as often as needed to boost your moral.
8. Find something special in each day. Even if it’s in a small way, do something pleasant and rewarding, like catching up on your favorite television show, taking a walk to the park, or indulging in a bubble bath. Or treat yourself to something small that isn’t a food or beverage, like a manicure or a new piece of costume jewelry.
9. Eat better. Pay attention to your food choices and nourish your body. Buy healthier foods and prepare well-balanced meals that will help give you energy and feel like your best self – not sluggish and overstuffed.
10. Explore a passion. Whether it’s a side job, hobby, or as a volunteer, pursuing your passion in even a small way can lead to a sense of purpose and significantly improve your overall happiness and quality of life.