Over recent months I have been frequently asked about what it means to have low self-esteem. I felt it important that we explore this together, given that this is a common issue affecting many of us and doing so in a variety of ways.
To put plainly, self-esteem is the perception that we have of ourselves. If you possess healthy self-esteem then you will most likely uphold an optimistic outlook on life. You will have a positive opinion about who you are and value your time, energy and the skills or attributes that make you, you. This means that you will be better prepared to handle life’s challenging moments.
When you possess low self-esteem however, you will most likely uphold a negative outlook on life and of yourself. You are not necessarily equipped to deal with every day stress and you will most likely be prone to other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. It may also be a trigger to bad habits such as partaking in substance abuse, heavy drinking or smoking as a means of coping.
What are the origins of low self-esteem?
The good thing about self-esteem is that it all starts and ends with how you see yourself. This means that you have the power to transform your self-esteem. The first step is to understand its origin, often unique to you and to your life experiences.
For the most part, low self-esteem often stems from your childhood years. Perhaps you overheard negative opinions about a physical attribute, personal behaviour or a general criticism from your parents, siblings, friends or teachers. We place too much value in the opinions of other people, particularly in our younger years. It could be many negative or disapproving opinions or it could be the briefest of passing statements that you have been exposed to. The point being that whatever has been said has reinforced your inner belief that you are not good enough.
It may not just be the people in close proximity to you. The media also has a part to play in terms of the message we glean from what it is to be ‘‘successful’’ or ‘‘beautiful’’ or ‘‘acceptable’’. Once we become aware that the opinions of others simply do not matter, it is incredibly empowering to begin to look within and to learn to value yourself and to praise your own efforts, free from the pressure of fulfilling the expectations of the people around you or society as a whole.
In terms of origins during adulthood, life crisis as well as traumatic or stressful events are big triggers for harbouring low self-esteem. Contending with grief or health issues can also damage your view of self. I would contend that a major trigger factor impacting many of us, is experiencing a sense of failure. Whatever the reason, be it in the work place or in your relationships, feeling that you have failed can dramatically impact the way that you view yourself.
Low self-esteem can manifest itself in different ways, unique to you. You may for example experience negative thoughts. You may also shy away from social situations and feel uncomfortable at the prospect of interacting with people or trying new things, given that there is a strong desire to feel safe and in control of your environment. You may even begin to shut yourself down from partners, family members or friends. This is all natural avoidance behaviour and a means of self-protection in the moment, an attempt perhaps to avoid any negative emotions or anxiety symptoms. However, over time, this can actually be counter-productive and cause your already low self-esteem to become worse. By avoiding people and places and new opportunities, your fear and self-doubts can become overwhelming and tricky to manage.
What can you do?
Once you have illuminated the origin of your low self-esteem and the impact that it has on your life currently, the next step is to challenge your negative beliefs and to alter your avoidance behaviours. Begin writing down any negative thoughts that you experience on a daily basis. Next, note down positive thoughts about yourself. It can be anything at all. Are you thoughtful? Kind? Caring? Adventurous? Do you work hard? Any praise that you can extend to yourself is a start as to overcome your low self-esteem you must know your worth! You may well find that you struggle to write anything positive about yourself at all to begin with. That is okay, but do keep trying, aiming for at least three positive words about yourself a day. Kindness is key. Be kind to yourself and have patience.
Be mindful of the people around you. Applying energy into focusing on the good skills and attributes that you possess is a great start for boosting your self-esteem. But what about the relationships in your life? Are they positive people? Do they appreciate who you are? Are they kind and thoughtful and respectful? Do they value your friendship? Toxic relationships can be a significant hindrance to your capacity to shine. Be aware of the people in your life and their impact upon your overall well-being.
Setting yourself goals is another avenue for you to try. Perhaps it is beginning an exercise routine or joining a social group. It can be anything that you are interested in. Achieving goals can enhance your confidence and drastically improve your view of self.
Self-care is essential. For some reason we all at times find it difficult to prioritise ourselves. Yet low self-esteem is a condition that requires you to take some ‘‘you time’’, for the way that you look after yourself in your daily life matters. Take optimum care of yourself whenever you feel down or low. Make sure that you are leading a healthy lifestyle and prioritising a good sleep routine. Repeat after me: There is nothing selfish about putting yourself first when it comes to your health.
You are not alone
Low self-esteem can affect all of us at various points of our lives. If you find after some time that you are unable to lift your self-esteem on your own, finding support through psychotherapy or counselling is an option for you to confront your struggles once and for all. This is particularly important for those of you who may be experiencing severe depression or severe anxiety. There is no need to suffer alone. The process will assist you in acknowledging your inner strength and to overcome the debilitating emotions that are hindering you from leading a fulfilled life, free from fear and doubt.
Wishing you every happiness,
News on Sunday – My Weekly Advice Column
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