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Elaine Bond: How to improve low self-esteem

by Gedling Eye
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Elaine Bond runs a counselling service in Gedling and also writes a monthly column for Gedling Eye. This month she shares her tips on how to improve low self-esteem…

Self-esteem is basically how we think about ourselves, how harshly we judge ourselves, and how we feel about our sense of worth.  It can be around any one particular area such as’ I know I am a good driver’ or a more global belief such as ‘I am utterly rubbish at everything’ or ‘I always fail.’

Our self-esteem is developed at a very early age and is influenced by our upbringing and being loved and valued by others, especially our parents, and that starts a solid foundation for a good self-esteem. This is then followed by developing a sense of self-efficacy, knowing that our actions have an effect on others and the world in general.  This creates confidence in our own abilities to make things change and to cope with challenges.

As children our self-esteem depends on feelings of being likable, lovable and valuing the feedback received from parents or other significant adults. Then when we hit our teens all this changes and our self-esteem depends on our friends and classmates. Fitting in becomes important and the differences between how girls and boys get their self-esteem begins. Girls look at their appearance and popularity; boys look at their abilities and develop a need to compete.  Although this has changed over the last decade and the need to compete has become prevalent with girls too. So bullying, disability, standing out, weight etc. all become an issue that can detrimentally effect our self-esteem at this point and for some of us this continues for the rest of our lives.

As we become adults our self-esteem is almost set up for life. We become less dependent on feedback from others as we have developed our own standards, values and morals. We start to have our own criteria to measure ourselves against and develop control in our lives. Our self-esteem becomes stabilised and can go up and down depending on what is happening in our lives or if we decide to set our aspirations at a level it would be impossible to reach.  Our self-esteem gets affected by major changes in our lives and will drop or rise when events like retirement, the kids leaving home or losing our jobs occur.

So if we have a reasonable level of self-esteem we can deal with challenges, changes and feel a level of confidence throughout our lives. But for some of us our self-esteem is so low it has a major negative affect on our lives. Low self-esteem is caused by many factors, such as –

  • Abuse, punishment or neglect
  • Failing to meet parental standards
  • Not fitting into peer groups standards
  • Bullying over a long period of time
  • Being on the receiving end of other people’s stress or distress
  • Being subject to prejudice, like racism
  • Absence of praise, warmth or affection

We grow up internalising the voices of those who were significant in our childhood until they become our own inner critic or caring voice depending, of course, on which one we hear the most. Most of us get a mixture of good and bad.  When we were children there could have been confusion about what we heard as we were very small and dependant on those adults but over time these add to the final opinion we form of ourselves.

So, how do we know what level of self-esteem we have? We need to ask ourselves some questions –

  • Do I like myself?
  • Do I deserve love?
  • Is it ok for me to be happy?
  • Do everyone else’s needs come before mine?
  • Am I ok?

If we have low self-esteem we find it hard to say yes to those questions and usually have signs of self-esteem issues –

  • Putting ourselves down all the time
  • Low confidence
  • Being timid
  • Being scared of trying anything new
  • We pick fights with others and blame them for our issues
  • A feeling we are being judged by everyone
  • An overpowering feeling of “we aren’t good enough” or “we will get found out as a fraud”.

So why does it matter?

Low self-esteem is proven to lead to depression and anxiety. If we have low self-esteem we are more vulnerable to dark thoughts, suicide, self-harm and exhaustion (as we try to please everyone or prove ourselves).

What can we do about it?

A real basic start to improving self-esteem is to acknowledge that we are all unique; ‘you are special as you are the only version of yourself. You have as much right to be here, to be respected and treated well as much as everyone else.’  Add to this ‘you have the right to make mistakes, you have the right to say yes and no, you have the right to be happy’.

We have to acknowledge that we have rights and our destructive thoughts are taking them away from us. We are all important but if we don’t know this others will continue to treat us as if we are not important. People tend to treat us the way we treat ourselves and this is often a subconscious reaction.

If we always look back on our mistakes and refuse to forgive ourselves for them we get stuck. Forgive yourself in the same way you would forgive your best friend. In fact, at all times be your own best friend.  We need to be positive and learn to list our positives rather than our negatives.  So when you have a bad day, or something goes wrong in your relationship or at work, focus on and write about what went right, not what went wrong. There will be positives there if you look.

Write a list every day for a week of ten things that you like about you, and every day they have to be different. At the end of the week there will be a list of 70 real positives to use when it gets tougher.

When we have low self-esteem about how we look, we only ever look at the perceived negatives. We need to get a ‘magic’ mirror where we can look at ourselves every day and find one positive attribute. That could be anything such as ‘I have nice hands’ or ‘I have even earlobes’. This start to replace the negative thinking if done every day and this mirror must never be used to criticise ourselves. Check out the media about airbrushing and remember Cindy Crawford once said ‘I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford’ after one particular photo of her was changed out of recognition.

We often generalise and catastrophize – ‘I am no good’ or ‘no one likes me ‘or ‘I won’t achieve anything.  If we look at those and really really think about them we can see they aren’t reality as there are things we are good at but we set our expectations too high (I should be able to drive after these two lessons and I can’t!). We don’t break down our ambitions into manageable steps and we assume that the moods, attitudes etc. of others are caused by us.

When we put ourselves down in fun or because we believe if we do it first it won’t hurt, we are actually hurting ourselves. We ‘hear’ or internalize this comment with as much pain as we would do if someone else we loved said it. If we repeat it often enough it becomes our reality. So stop it, talk about yourself with love and respect, the way you want to be spoken about.

Sadly sometimes our self-esteem issues are so bad we need help. A life coach can help you if your self-esteem is damaging your career or an NLP coach can change your way of looking at life. There are some great books too like:

Overcoming Low Self-esteem by Melanie Fennel

Mind Over Mood by Greenberger and Padesky

Finally there is counselling or talking to someone like the Samaritans http://www.samaritans.org/ or 116 123

Elaine Bond (UKCP)



[email protected]

07769 152951

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