Woken up with that sense of dread in the pit of your stomach because of your thoughts about the day ahead? We all have times like that when we lack confidence or don’t feel good about ourselves but sometimes low self-esteem becomes a longer-term problem. Then it has a big impact on the way we lead our lives, causing us to avoid things we find difficult and lowering our sense of mental wellbeing.
How we feel about ourselves, our self-esteem, can truly affect how we deal with life’s ups and downs. When we feel good about ourselves, we tend to feel positive about life in general. We still face challenges in life, because we can’t control external events, but we feel like we are able to deal with them. But when our self-esteem is low, i.e. we feel badly or negatively about ourselves, we tend to view our life in the same, more negative and critical way. It can feel like negative things keep happening to us and we can feel like we can’t deal with life’s challenges. This might mean we try to hide ourselves away from things we find challenging – social situations, new things or job opportunities. Or we might develop unhealthy habits, like drinking too much, as a way of coping with how we’re feeling.
These feelings often start in childhood with messages we receive from our parents, teachers, friends, siblings, parents, and even the media. The messages we receive about ourselves can be both positive and negative but often the ones we hear the loudest and that stay with us the longest are the messages that tell us we aren’t good enough. Stress and difficult life events, such as losing a job or facing a bereavement, can also have a negative effect on self-esteem, particularly if they seem to come all at once.
Raising your self-esteem
If this sounds like you, don’t worry – it’s possible to boost your self esteem. Psychological therapies like counselling can help and there are some simple things you can do yourself. Here are two ideas:
Develop the practice of actively challenging your negative beliefs
It can be helpful to begin a journal in order to start to notice what is happening for you when you feel this way. If you can identify the negative beliefs you have about yourself, then you can begin to challenge them.
For example, you see an advert for a job you’d really love but your first reaction is “No, I’m not good enough”. Perhaps you tell yourself you’re “too stupid” or “too lazy” to get that job. Before you know it, the deadline has passed and you haven’t even applied.
Start to notice when this happens and use a page in your diary to write down the negative thoughts you’ve had. Write down exactly what you thought. Now ask yourself when you first started to think those thoughts. Write that down too. Maybe you’ll begin to notice where these thoughts are coming from and often it isn’t based in the real situation in front of you.
Next, on the opposite page, start to write down any positive evidence that challenges these negative beliefs: “I have the relevant qualification” or “I’m a fast learner”. It doesn’t matter how small you start. Just keep going, because it can feel unfamiliar at first. But boosting our self esteem takes intention, time and practice. You need to keep actively looking for the evidence you are good enough, instead of automatically going towards the evidence that you’re not.
Keep a gratitude journal
It can also be helpful to devote time at the end of each day to write down a list of other positive things about yourself – what are your good qualities? Or about the day you’ve had – what happened today that you handled well? Did anybody say something good to you today? Write that down. Aim to write down three good things about every day – whether its about you or something you’ve noticed. It doesn’t need to be large or grand. It could be ‘I cooked a great lasagne’ or ‘I really enjoyed walking down the street in the autumn leaves today’. It’s your list, make it personal to you. Don’t go with what you think you should feel good about, go for what feels real to you.
For the first few weeks, try to find three new things every day. That way you’ll be building a database of good stuff you’ve noticed about yourself and your life. Again, actively looking for evidence n your life of the positive, instead of automatically going towards the negative.
And remember to keep at it, those negative thoughts and beliefs built up over a long period of time. It’s going to take some time, good intention and practice to build up a new set of positive beliefs. But, believe me, you’re worth it.