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Is low self-esteem dominating your life?
If you have low self-esteem, the world can seem a very hostile place. There are times when we don’t feel as confident as we would like and low self-esteem can become a long term problem resulting in us not taking good care of ourselves or our needs – and sometimes this leads to anxiety and depression.
We might not notice the impact that low self-esteem is having on our lives until we experience other symptoms such as; withdrawing from social situations, finding it hard to be assertive or make decisions, being unable to tolerate criticism, not challenging ourselves, or becoming exhausted – because we are always trying to please others and have forgotten how to say “no”.
When we experience good self-esteem we tend to have a healthy opinion of ourselves and respect our own needs as much as others. We feel just as important as them and don’t perceive our needs as being less important than theirs. We’re likely to have a positive outlook and will therefore be able to easily cope with life’s inevitable ups and downs.
However, the experience of low self-esteem is much less tolerable; it becomes easier for us to listen to those critical, self-loathing voices in our heads that make us feel less important and not good enough. It might feel impossible to ask for, or accept help, or know how to get our needs met – after all, our low self-esteem is making us feel unworthy. It’s not surprising that approaching the world with this mind-set can feel lonely, intolerable and exhausting. Life’s ups and downs are likely to feel overwhelming.
We are not born with low self-esteem and it won’t just appear overnight; it is likely to have started to develop in childhood and our friends, family and even social media all have a part to play in the opinion we formulate about ourselves, both positive and negative. If we are more prone to negative self-talk, it makes sense that we are likely to hold on to the negative messages. If we found it difficult to live up to other people’s expectations of us, we may not ever feel good enough – and if we grew up experiencing abuse or neglect within the home it is very likely that we won’t have internalised a nurturing, compassionate voice.
Don’t be too disheartened if low self-esteem is dominating your life; it isn’t cast in stone – and you can take steps to break unhelpful thinking patterns and start to build confidence.
Silence the inner critic
Often we will have an inner voice that provides a running commentary. This critical voice can run us down over time. Learn to challenge this voice by creating a stop word or phrase. It could be as simple as: “stop”. Each time you find yourself berating yourself, shout your phrase in your mind then re-focus your thoughts in a more constructive way. Challenge the thought; ask yourself would you talk to your best friend this way? How can you learn from the experience and move on?
Learn to be assertive
Often we will take the easiest path and say ‘yes’. Learn to set boundaries that value what you need. It can be difficult to ask for what you need or want. Notice that your needs are just as important and worthwhile as others. Being clear about what you can offer and need makes it easier to say yes and no. Learn to take a breath before saying yes. Give yourself the opportunity to answer authentically, rather than on automatic.
Celebrate the positive
We all have successes in our lives. Yet with low self-esteem, we find it much easier to concentrate on our mistakes than on our triumphs. Take a moment to review your triumphs and remember that there is a balance here. Each day, take a moment to write down 3 good things that have happened. These may be simple things such as: “got up in time for work”. Take time to do small things for yourself like accepting compliments, rather than batting them away.
If you have lived with low self-esteem for a long period, you can feel powerless to change it. You may have little confidence in your own abilities and each mistake drives the vicious circle convincing you even more of your worthlessness. Yet by taking positive steps and noticing that even mistakes help you to learn things about yourself, you can begin to break the cycle.
Remember you are not alone. Many people around you will be suffering from low self-esteem either too ashamed to admit it or without recognising the symptoms. If this article has resonated with you but you still feel powerless to make changes, perhaps counselling could help to get you started.
About the Author
Irene Searle is a BACP registered (British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists) counsellor practising in Odiham and Basingstoke. In her practice, she sees a number of clients with emotional, anxiety and self-esteem issues.