Emily looked over her shoulder with a nervous glance. Her teacher had asked a question in the classroom and Emily just couldn’t muster the courage to raise her hand despite knowing the answer. Over the years, she had held a poor outlook towards herself. This caused her to refrain from participating in classroom activities, making new friends, trying new challenges, and more.
What was Emily’s struggle in this case?
Self-esteem is tricky particularly if you’ve struggled with low self-esteem in your childhood days. A healthy self-esteem level denotes a good quality of life and balanced emotional well-being. You can consider the self-esteem definition as to the opinion that you hold about yourself. This opinion is not dependent upon the circumstances around you. This means you continue to appreciate yourself without the need for external validation.
A healthy level of self-esteem allows you to view the world with a realistic lens without letting negative circumstances pull you down. When a person struggles with low self-esteem, there is a tendency to use a negative lens to view the self and the world. Most often, a person will struggle to appreciate the self, becomes self-critical, and will devalue themselves.
For example, a child may have received a message from their parents that says, “You are no good at anything…” What happens next?
The child grows up with little or no self-esteem believing a parental message and creating experiences that justify the feeling of being “no good”. This can result in not giving their best for a career opportunity or failing to achieve their goals. Here, the core belief of being “no good” makes the individual focus on the negative thoughts to create negative circumstances. This leads to a confirmation of the negative self-evaluation. What’s interesting to note is that such core beliefs can be easily changed with counselling and therapy to create healthier self-esteem and improved life. This opens the window to create new thoughts on the possibilities of why an interview may have gone wrong, and which areas can be worked upon to improve self. A change in thinking moves a person away from negative thought processes that are a result of low self-esteem levels.
Self-esteem is dependent upon the levels of self-confidence a person holds in life, the sense of security one feels with self, one’s own individuality or identity, and the beliefs in one’s skills.
What Causes Low Self-Esteem?
Low self-esteem often creates a foggy image of ourselves in our minds. We often judge ourselves and constantly evaluate and rate ourselves based on the “results” we create in life. So, what are the causes of low self-esteem? Where does it all begin?
1) Messages received from parents, parental figures, caregivers: A child may receive negative messages shared either consciously or unconsciously by their parents or caregivers. This affects the perception one holds about self. Children who are neglected, abused, rejected, and those who are made to feel they do not match up to the standards of the parental expectations (sometimes compared to siblings) struggle to feel good about themselves.
These messages are known as Injunctions as mentioned in the popular theory of Transactional Analysis by Dr. Eric Berne.
Difficulties in school: Poor academic performance often affects the thinking of the growing up child. A child who is constantly judged by teachers and friends results in a lack of confidence in one’s abilities.
Prolonged financial hardships: The growing up child may also experience low self-esteem if the family experiences financial struggles and is seen as an outcast in the society. Low self-esteem develops when the child feels they do not fit in the society or do not belong in a group due to their social status.
Abusive relationships: Low self-esteem may also be triggered by abusive partners, through physical or emotional abuse. This causes self-esteem to crumble daily.
Unhappy childhood: A childhood that is fraught with worries and struggles with overly critical caregivers further brings down self-esteem levels. Lack of love adds to it.
Medical problems: Physical pain, illness, or disability is also one of the causes of low self-esteem levels. Poor dietary habits can also trigger unhelpful feelings.
Let’s take an example of a child who has just completed a craft assignment. He picks up the object and proudly displays it to the mother. The mother gently uses positive affirming messages such as, “Why that’s wonderful! You have done an amazing job!” This raises one’s value towards self. A growing up child with a higher sense of self-worth would experience the following:
- Improved Relationships
- Healthy Perception of Self
- Higher Chances of Career Growth
- Greater Emotional Intelligence
- Improved Decision-making Skills
- Deeper Connection in the Present Moment
How to Improve Self-Esteem
While low self-esteem affects the quality of life, there’s hope in store. It’s important to raise your self-esteem levels to live a happier and fulfilled life. Self-esteem can be largely improved if you follow the tips outlined below.
1) Rework negative core beliefs: These are all the beliefs you hold such as –
“I’m not good enough”
“I don’t deserve this.”
“I don’t think I can do this.”
Every time you feel discomfort or distrust in your capabilities, you may challenge this negative core belief. Begin a reflection practice with journaling to identify the core issue (Where did the message originate? Can you release it?)
2) Create Self-acceptance: This is a beautiful space to create for yourself as you accept your past mistakes with love towards yourself. Self-acceptance also gives you the wings to move on from what has happened, accept your strengths and weaknesses, and embrace a healthier version of yourself – one who displays greater faith in self.
3) Raise belief in self: Positive affirmations support raising self-confidence even during difficult times. To affirm is to confirm – you can write your affirmations down and read them every day. Mirror talk is also a powerful concept to increase self-esteem.
Affirmations always need to be in the present tense.
Examples of Self-esteem Affirmations:
“I am worthy.”
“I am enough.”
This supports you to believe you are equal in society and can handle every challenge with greater self-confidence.
4) Adjusting unhelpful behaviour: Unhelpful beliefs lead to unhelpful behaviours such as ruminating over the past, feeling weighed down, and drowning in negative thoughts. It’s important to identify these behaviours (overthinking, negative outlook) and change them to helpful behaviours. For example, regular practice of meditation improves the power of observation. You learn to observe unhelpful thoughts that lead to these behaviours. This empowers you to gently tweak your reactions to negative circumstances giving the power back in your hands.
5) Be responsible and accountable for self: A simple act of being responsible raises self-worth. This means you hold your own power and no one can take it away from you. It could be as simple as cooking a meal for yourself or deciding your career plan with complete belief in yourself. The more you show up for yourself, your self-esteem levels will go higher.
Ways to Boost Self-Esteem
- Use guided meditation
- Journal your thoughts
- Work on possibilities (when you feel stuck)
- Write down affirmations daily
- Raise your vibration through self-love
- Talk to a counsellor – professional help accelerates the process
As Buddha said, “What you think, you become.”
It’s all in the mind, isn’t it? So, remember, you can always change your thinking to embrace a new, confident you!