Low self-esteem is a genuine issue experienced by many people and causes feelings of inadequacy that swamps and distorts our self belief.
We all have days when we lose confidence and don't feel good about ourselves. But when low self-esteem becomes a long-term problem, it can have a harmful effect on our mental health, work, relationships and our lives.
What is low self esteem?
Self-esteem is the belief we have about ourselves. When we have healthy self-esteem, we are positive about ourselves and about life in general. It makes us better able to deal with life's ups and downs.
When our self-esteem is low, we can see ourselves and our life in a more negative and critical light. We also feel less able to take on the challenges life throws at us and anxiety/depression symptoms can take hold.
Put simply, it’s an unhealthily low sense of self-worth. People who suffer with this often think thoughts such as - ‘I’m no good. I can’t do anything. I’m useless. I’m stupid. I’m worthless. I can’t stand in a group of people and have a conversation because they’ll think my ideas are silly.’
All these statements are thoughts that constantly plague people with low self-esteem. The impact of these is that the people who suffer from this unhealthily low sense of self-worth struggle to have any meaningful relationships. They don’t have any joy or peace in their lives. They’re touchy. Their feelings are easily hurt. They feel rejected easily and are highly sensitive to others remarks.
Low self esteem is like a prison and for many, it seems to be a life sentence. However, this is not the case and can be remedied.
What causes low self-esteem?
Low self-esteem often begins in childhood. Teachers, friends, siblings, parents, and even the media send us messages about ourselves, both positive and negative. For some reason, the message that you aren't good enough is the one that stays with you.
Perhaps you found it difficult to live up to other people's expectations of you, or to your own expectations. Stress and difficult life events, such as serious illness or a bereavement can have a negative effect on self-esteem.
Personality can also play a part. Some people are just more prone to negative thinking, while others set impossibly high standards for themselves.
People agree that anyone suffering from low self-esteem is missing out on a full and healthy life. They’re in a sense believing a lie that they are not worth anything and miss out on the truth about the wonderful ‘one of’ human beings they really are - this knowledge and understanding does lead to a full, happy, purposeful life.
We all know people with low self-esteem. We know how debilitating it is. We can see how it robs them of rich and meaningful relationships. This is in no means an easy life to lead and often causes isolation, depression and anxiety in social settings.
Sadly, people who have low self-esteem don’t imagine that their lives could be any different. There is a belief that they will never be able to live without the anguish of low self-esteem.
“Our competitive culture tells us we need to be special and above average to feel good about ourselves, but we can’t all be above average at the same time…There is always someone richer, more attractive, or successful than we are.”
We compare ourselves to people who are more successful, more beautiful, more intelligent. Everything ‘more’ than we could ever be. Facebook portrays the best side of people who never seem to have any problems, look fabulous and portray an exciting life! TV advertisements paint pictures of beautiful people and what success should look like.
We may look at our lives and think, ‘My life doesn’t look like that, my life doesn’t match up with that. Aggggh, I’ll never be that pretty, important or successful.’ These projected images fuel much of the low self-esteem and distorted image issues alive and well today.
However, there is help. There is hope. There is a rich, full life which can be attained when you begin to change destructive patterns of thinking about yourself and begin to put truthful thoughts and truth into action.
But how can we change these distorted images of ourselves?
A few things can help to address low self-esteem. The 3 most important to learn and practice are:
1. Recognising Our Inner Critic
How do we speak to ourselves? Is our self-talk uplifting, honest, life-giving and caring talk or are we cruel and harsh with ourselves? We need to learn to challenge the negative thoughts which bring shame and feeds our low esteem. When we begin to recognise the critical inner voice which fuels our negative self-attacks, we can begin to confront this often cruel voice and see ourselves for who we really are.
2. Challenging Distorted Thinking
Are the thoughts we are thinking distorted? This type of thinking hurts us and feeds us a barrage of negative thoughts about ourselves and the people around us and it decimates our self esteem.
Thoughts like- “I’m stupid…. I’m fat …. Nobody likes me … Be quiet or you will make a fool of yourself… I'll never amount to anything .... You’re worthless…”
These are the enemies of healthy self esteem and need to be exposed in order to infiltrate a new way of truthful thinking.
3. Learning Self Compassion
This is a radical practice of treating yourself like a friend and a wonderful way to build more confidence in yourself. Learning to nurture self compassion leads to a stable attitude of kindness and acceptance towards ourselves.
Here are 3 quick steps for practicing self-compassion:
1) Recognise and notice your suffering and where it has robbed you of life.
2) Be kind and caring in response to suffering as you would to a dear friend.
3) Remember that imperfection is part of the human experience and something we all share
There are other helpful interventions to add to these to assist you towards successfully dealing with low self-esteem.
Full Life Therapy is here to help you along the way towards a strong, confident self, based on a true image of who you really are.