Self-esteem is a common topic that arises when working with clients.
Self-esteem refers to the way we think about and value ourselves. It often reflects in the way we treat and talk to ourselves as well as in our relationship with other, and often used interchangeably with self-worth and sense of self.
How do we know if we have healthy self-esteem?
A simple guideline question on self-esteem could be “Do you believe in yourself?”
A person with a good or healthy level of self esteem usually has a positive outlook in life, bounces back up better after a challenging situation and a ‘can-do’ attitude. Someone who struggles with it might also be able to bounce back, but often with a lot of internal struggles and narratives.
A person struggling with low self-esteem might experience high level of self-criticism, self-doubting negative thoughts, and potentially a lack of belief in themselves. This usually leads to seeking validation, approval and recognition from others, having tendency to forgo their own needs and desires to please others, deriving sense of worth from achievements.
Feelings of ‘not good enough’, rumination and withdrawal or avoidant behaviours are also some of the common experiences.
Low self-esteem affect one’s internal and external worldviews – one can get pessimistic about life situations and find it hard to bounce back after a hurdle. It can lead to a negative self-reinforcing cycle and can feel like one is stuck in a never-ending cycle.
For instance, if I fail in a Math exam and I tell myself that I am a failure and will never be good at Math, and perhaps I try again, and if I still don’t do well, I might have another situation to prove that I am a failure and will never be good at Math. Over time, I might feel defeated and see it as a reflection of who I am.
Someone with healthy self-esteem would be able to see the other side of the story. For instance, I might see that it was a hard paper and majority of the others didn’t do well either; or I realised I had made mistakes in some questions and hence, I would find ways to improve so that I can do better next time.
While we can investigate where these unhealthy , low sense of self might stem from, and it is important to address them because they affect the way we think, feel and function much of our time, it is also important to know how we can work on them.
So how can we build better esteem in ourselves and believe in ourselves more?
The good news is that there are ways to break free from the cycle and become more resilient.
- An important thing to realise is that our challenges in life and how we managed them does not reflect who we are.
Often times, we see people who are unmotivated to start or do anything if they don’t think they could show to others. It’s like we must have an audience to validate what we do, and if what we’re doing is worth the effort. If no one is looking, it wouldn’t be important enough, even when we want to do it for ourselves.
It’s important to realise that no matter how much we achieve or do, they are not directly related to our sense of selves, even if they might seem so.
Your achievements or failures do not make up your identity. You are still you, no matter what you achieve or don’t achieve, do or don’t do.
- Having positive, supportive and nurturing environment is also helpful in building one’s self-esteem.
We often hear about how we are the average of the five people we surround ourselves with. Indeed, if we are constantly around naysayers and pessimists, we would adopt similar pattens soon.
An encouraging circles or a nurturing friend can be very helpful to someone who struggles with low sense of self. This could also mean cutting off toxic friendships or unhealthy relationships.
Most importantly, if there is no one else, we can also seek validation and affirmation from ourself, first.
Be your own supporter. Champion for yourself.
- It can also be helpful to make changes to your lifestyle that prioritize self-care.
Learn to please our self first, not others – fill our unmet needs first instead of waiting for others. Instead of waiting for
Do things for yourself. It’s important to focus on the things that bring us joy and happiness – which could mean anything from spending time in nature, doing something creative, or engaging in physical activity.
Find activities that you enjoy and make time for them in your schedule.
- Practice self-compassion.
This involves being kind and gentle to ourself, even when things don’t go as planned.
It also means forgiving and being less harsh on ourselves. It’s important to remember that mistakes and failures are stepping stones to improvements and some say, success.
Although it might feel awkward to feel positive or say good things to yourself at first, it will get better with practice.
- Reach out to people you trust and talk about your thoughts and feelings.
When we’re struggling, it can be easy to feel like we’re alone and our voices can be the most unforgiving – but it’s important to remember that we’re not alone and that we can get support.
Talking to people you trust can be a great way to help you feel supported and can help you find new ways of looking at your situation.
- Reflective writing can also be a powerful tool to help you cope and build awareness.
We might feel stuck if journalling mean listing our factual day to day activities and less of our emotions. Sometimes, we might feel like there is nothing to write about, but that in itself allows us a good space to start.
Honest reflective journalling in a safe space can help identify the root causes of feelings, especially when they have been suppressed over time.
From there, we can also begin to create a plan to work through these feelings and to give ourself the love and support we need – to show up for ourselves.
- Manage situations when you might self-sabotage.
Self-sabotage is a common behaviour when we struggle with healthy self-esteem. We deny ourselves and say no to ourselves first before anyone else rejects us. We limit ourselves first because we think so little of ourselves.
And in managing self-sabotaging behaviour in us, we first learn to do it anyway even when the fear is so huge – do it anyway and see what comes back.
- Build a jar of mini-esteem and collect experiences that make you feel positive about yourself.
When we collect these positive experiences and review it from time to time, it allows us to remind ourselves that all the little things that we have been doing are not small at all.
Whether it is learning new skills or starting new projects, remember to start small and give yourself a pat on the back regularly.
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Keep in mind that everyone experiences moments of self-doubt, but when it starts to affect the way you see yourself, and others around you as better or superior, it’s time to review within. Taking the time to reach within is not only reflective of where you might be doubting yourself, but also find exceptions in them. In time, you start to rebuild and uncover what is golden within you all along, and discover a better you.
You are not alone in this. Reach out, talk to someone or take the time to work through your feelings.