Low self-esteem is a very common symptom that brings people into therapy. People are usually aware of the very critical voice that is taking up too much space in their mind but most people don’t know how to turn it off! Low self-esteem can have a negative impact on many areas of a person’s functioning including personal relationships, social interactions, work and productivity as well as your mental and physical health. Learning how to manage low self-esteem will have a positive impact on many areas of your life.
The Voice Behind the Thoughts
Learning how to work with your low self-esteem requires both a little curiosity and a lot of investigation to uncover the roots of these critical thoughts. You may have heard of the term “inner critic” to describe the negative voice in our head that is quick to critique our every move. We weren’t born with an inner critic but rather we developed this part of ourselves through our emotional responses and experiences.
Childhood is a time filled with lots of messaging. As children, we are fed a continuous diet of instructions, mantras, values and beliefs from the trusted adults in our life. These words of instruction, from parents to teachers, mentors and coaches, are intended to guide our actions and decisions into appropriate behaviours as we grow and develop into adulthood. While most of these messages are heartfelt and well intended, they can also have the harmful effect of feelings of shame or failure when we fail to meet these expectations.
Shame & Blame
As our learning process evolves, we all inevitably make some choices that might conflict with the expectations or values of our caregivers, friends and family members. And the way that they respond to us will have a significant impact on the way we feel about ourselves. Receiving a harsh response while learning can contribute to feelings of shame, embarrassment and feelings of worthlessness. Responses don’t even have to be harsh to leave a negative impact on a child who is trying to be successful at a new skill or behaviour. It’s important to remember that even though our caregivers may simply be trying to help us grow and develop appropriately, it can still reinforce these feelings of shame and responsibility for a developing child. These feelings of shame and worthlessness may follow us into adulthood where we continue to experience these feelings of failure.
The Impact of Social Media
While I don’t believe television or social media is the sole cause of low self-esteem, these media sources can certainly reinforce the negative thoughts we may already believe about ourselves. If we are experiencing low self-esteem and believing that other people are smarter, more attractive or more successful, then social media can provide a good dose of reinforcement that can make it even harder to repair these faulty beliefs. This is why it is worthwhile to consider taking breaks from social media now and then, just to give yourself and your mental health a little break from the constant stimulation of comparison to others.
Quick Tips For Self-Esteem Growth
Working through your feelings of low self-esteem may require the support of a therapist to help you discover the sources of your distress and receive the support to make the necessary repairs. However, there are things that you can do now that might help you to feel better about yourself and your situation. Here a few tips to consider as you approach working with your low self-esteem:
- Practice kindness and compassion for yourself. Imagine that you are speaking to a loved one or a close friend who is struggling with similar negative thoughts about themselves. What words would you offer to them? Try offering them to yourself!
- For every negative thought that enters your mind, make sure you leave enough space to notice something positive about yourself. Many people have developed a practice of gratitude where they consciously spend time thinking about the things in their life that make them feel grateful. Start by making a list of things that you are really good at, these could be specific skills that you have mastered or characteristics that you are known to demonstrate (i.e. like being caring or considerate).
- Break The Cycle – Don’t let yourself stew in negative thinking! Do something that offers a healthy distraction (but NOT social media). Find a book, pet your dog, go for a walk, post up inspirational messages around your home or work space. Offer yourself little opportunities to transport your thoughts to something more pleasant when you are feeling a little stuck in your thoughts.
- Think Forward. Imagine the life that you want to be living. What do your relationships look like? Where are you spending the bulk of your time? What do you notice about yourself? There is a considerable amount of strength to be found in the power of visualizations. Rather than focusing on what isn’t going well, focus on what it would look like if your future unfolded in exactly the way you would like it to. Once you have the vision of what a happy, healthy future can look like, practice mediating or reflecting on this image and notice the positive emotions and beliefs that come with it.
- And finally, give yourself permission to learn and grow. You don’t have to restrict yourself with limiting beliefs about yourself such as, “I’d never be able to learn how to do that” or “I’ve accepted that I’ll always be alone”. While we all carry a certain amount of personality characteristics and beliefs that seem to fit best with our life experiences, we can always challenge and create new beliefs about ourselves through experiences. One of the best things we can do is to simply try something new and see what happens.
Patience & Moving Forward
The most important thing of all is to be patient with yourself. If you’ve been living with low-esteem, chances are that it didn’t start yesterday and it will take some time to figure out what has been getting in the way of your self-worth. Start by just paying attention to the negative thoughts or inner critique that you are experiencing and try using some of our tips to see if it can help you to shift your thinking. If you find you still need some help, you can reach out to one of our therapy team members by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.