What is self-esteem and how can low self-esteem impact your life?

We may all experience times where our confidence isn't as strong as we would like, but when low self-esteem  starts impacting the way we take care of, or value ourselves it can become a long term problem, sometimes even resulting in in anxiety and depression. Often the impact that low self-esteem is having on our lives isn't even noticed until we experience symptoms such as;  an inability to be assertive, withdrawing from social situations, finding it difficult to make decisions, an intolerance to criticism, not being able to challeng ourselves or to movie out of our comfort zone, or we may notice we frequently become exhausted because we are always trying to please others and have forgotten how to say “no”. 

What is self-esteem and where does it come from?

The opinion we hold about ourselves is moulded over the years by our experiences and interactions with others such as peers, parents, fiends, teachers, and the media and this impacts our self-esteem.  

If we are fortunate enough to have good self-esteem we tend to have a healthy opinion of ourselves respecting our own needs as much as others. We will generally feel just as important as them and won't  perceive our needs as being less important than theirs. When we experience positive self-esteem we’re likely to have a positive outlook and will therefore be able to easily cope with life’s inevitable ups and downs.

Low self-esteem can feel much less comfortable; it makes it  much easier to listen to those critical, self-loathing voices in our heads that make us feel like we are not good enough and less important than others. We might find it impossible to  ask for or accept help or simply to know how to get our needs met,  our low self-esteem makes us feel unworthy of help or consideration. Because it may feel like others are better than us and more deserving we might start having difficulty saying “no” and put our needs to the bottom of the pile. It’s not surprising that approaching the world with this mind-set can feel exhausting, lonely and at times intolerable.intolerable.  Life’s little up's and down's are likely to feel overwhelming.

Low self-esteem won’t just appear overnight it will develop slowly. If we are more prone to negative self-talk it makes sense that we are likely to hold on to any negative messages, if we found it difficult to live up to other people’s expectations of us we may  never 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.

But don’t be too disheartened if you have recognised these symptoms in yourself, our self-esteem isn’t cast in stone and we can make steps to improve it.

  • Try to start to identify the negative thoughts you hold about yourself?

This may take some time and counselling can be very useful in helping you to recognise theses. What is your internal critic is telling you. Does it tell you you’re not good enough, that you haven’t worked hard enough, that you’re undeserving or unlovable? Perhaps it says you are selfish if you put your needs before others? Perhaps it tells you something else?

  • Start noting down the negative beliefs you have about yourself. If necessary carry a notebook and jot these thoughts down over the course of a few days.
  • Do you remember when you started to hold these beliefs? Where do they stem from?
  • Are you able to challenge those thoughts by finding evidence to the contrary?
  • Write down the good things that other people say about you and start recognising your strengths. Learn to accept compliments not discount them.. Armed with this positive list, keep it somewhere you can see it. Refer back to it often and keep adding to it..
  • Start spending less time with people that bring you down and seek out people that make you feel positive and appreciate you.
  • Show yourself  the same kindness you give to others.
  • Learn to say “no”. People with low self-esteem often feel they have to say yes to others, even when they really want to say no. This can lead to you becoming exhausted, angry, resentful and depressed.
  • Be assertive. Respect other’s opinions and ideas and expect that same respect back.
  • Set yourself a challenge, make it Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic and Timely.  Don’t let your low self-esteem stop you trying out new things or giving things a go.

Many people around you will be suffering from low self-esteem either too ashamed to admit it or without recognising the symptoms. You may have developed low self -esteem for many different reasons in your childhood but you can take positive steps to develop a better view of yourself at any age. Keep on growing.