Here is a brief recap for those who are just now reading about our recent self-esteem discussion. Self-esteem is our opinion of who we are as a person. It is not based upon fact. Instead it is based upon who we think we should be…our idea of the ideal person. When we feel that we are not meeting this standard, we run the risk of developing low self-esteem.
The thoughts we have about ourselves fluctuate throughout the day, depending on what is happening around us. It is when our negative self-regard becomes fixed, and mostly negative, that we develop low self-esteem. Abuse, being bullied, a failed relationship, an extended illness or accident are several examples which can lead to someone having low self-esteem. Experiences later in life can also contribute to low self-esteem, such as a bad job experience, a failed marriage, or financial problems, for example.
Fortunately, we can improve our self-esteem. This is something that I recently told my therapist that I would like to work on. In addition to counseling, I am also doing my own self-esteem work at home. I found a set of modules on improving self-esteem that I have been working on. The modules are free and are at http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/infopax.cfm?Info_ID=47. I am currently on module 3. It is interesting and helpful so far.
In one of the modules, it says that we pay attention to the outside messages that confirm our personal beliefs about self. So, if we think of ourselves as a bad person, we will pay more attention and notice the messages which indicate that we are a bad person than we would the messages around us that confirm we are a worthy and decent person. We also engage in behaviors which protect our personal self-beliefs. For example, I have been fearful of failing in my career. I had a bad experience in my graduate school internship with a supervising female who put me down and insulted me and my abilities. My low self-esteem and the bad experience, combined, has led me to avoid taking a licensure exam for my career, to avoid applying for jobs related to my field (I am underemployed as a cashier), and I have a deep fear of failing. My avoidance of these things has been my subconscious way of protecting the negative feelings that I have of myself. I cannot fail (or pass) if I do not take the exam. I cannot find out that the supervising female was wrong or right if I do not apply and take on jobs in my career choice. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that I am determined to put an end to by working on improving my self-esteem and moving beyond the bad experience I had with the supervising female.
So, how to we work on improving low self-esteem? First, I am working through the ten modules on “Improving Self-Esteem,” located at the above CCI Health link. The information discussed here and in previous blogs (and more) is discussed in a more through manner and there are exercises in each module. I recommend that you take a look at the set of modules.
The first step, according to Emily Roberts, to improving our self-esteem is to become aware of what we have been telling ourselves. If you notice, you’ve been making a lot of would-have, could-have, should-have statements. These statements are not helpful; they are unproductive. Instead of falling into the cycling loop of unhelpful, negative thinking, try focusing on “what you can do,” and concentrate on “moving forward into positive thoughts” (Emily Roberts, http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2012/05/how-to-deal-with-and-overcome-low-self-esteem/). This will be difficult to do, at first, but will get easier the more you do it. It is important that we move out of the past and stop being anchored in it.
Roberts also strongly suggests that we start putting ourselves first and pamper ourselves with self-care. It is a regular reminder to ourselves that we “deserve to feel good,” and these feelings will produce positive inward feelings which will eventually also make their way outwardly. Self-care permits us to shift our “focus into a positive mindset.”
Roberts also recommends that we get out of our heads…”find out what activities increase your self-esteem,” and start doing more of them. She shares that sometimes she has to take a break from work and listen to music, take a walk, talk to someone, or other brief activity to escape what negative thoughts may be going through her head. For me, I enjoy listening to music, reading, taking drives, and spending time with my dog. Sometimes, I’ve been trying to write down, or think about a few positive things about me to take the place of my negative self-talk.
Another suggestion that I have found helpful, as mentioned in the previous statement, is to make a list of your good qualities and abilities (http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/self-esteem.html). From time to time, look over the list. Refer to the list when you are having a rough time. This is similar to positive affirmations discussed in a previous blog post. We could take our list and rephrase each item on the list into a positive affirmation and place a few of them where we can see them each day. I have a positive affirmation box with positive quotes in it. I can go to the box and pull out a supportive quote whenever I am in need of one. I even decorated the box to make it fun.
Another important suggestion from Skills You Need is to take time to relax. I personally think that this is so important. Why? Our negative self-talk is more likely to rear its ugly head when we are the most stressed. Relaxation will quieten the negative self-thoughts and calm us down to where we can focus on more positive, supportive thoughts.
I learned a great idea from a friend of mine many years ago. Whenever she jumped a life hurdle, or accomplished something she was afraid of, she awarded herself…sometimes with an inexpensive piece of jewelry. I have been engaging in this practice. It can be a very inexpensive piece of jewelry. I often look over my jewelry and I see accomplishments and fears that I faced head on, successfully. Sometimes, it was just a presentation or research paper that I’d been dreading that I rewarded myself for completing. It’s something that will put a smile on your face even days, weeks, and years later. Make it a practice to look over these items when you are having the most difficult time coming up with positive thoughts about yourself.
Lastly, associate with positive, encouraging people. Be loving and patient with yourself. You can improve your self-esteem. You CAN do it!
What are some ways you have managed your self-esteem? Please feel free to share your thoughts about this blog post and share some suggested topics you’d like to hear about. Susan