Strategies to stop low self-esteem from holding you back.
In today’s self-centred society many people come across, as having copious amounts of self-esteem. Just a quick scan on social media reveals people portraying themselves as if they’ve got it all worked out. However, when you scratch the surface this image often masks a lot of insecurities and fragile ego’s.
Low self-esteem can have a serious impact on your professional life. It’s likely to make you avoid rather than embrace challenges and therefore achieve less than you’re capable off. Fortunately, with some work you can develop a more realistic positive view of yourself.
Self-esteem is at times referred to as self-worth or self –respect. Genetics do play a role in the development of self-esteem. However, more frequently a lack of self- belief stems from past experiences (Cherry, 2018). Perhaps you were never able to live up to others (family, friends, society’s) expectations.
As a counsellor I’ve come across many clients that get judged and criticized by loved ones. Maybe something happened, a traumatic event that knocked you down. Whatever it was, it doesn’t define who you are today and you can change. There are strategies to draw upon in order to develop a more healthy balanced view of yourself.
“People with low self-esteem usually have deep-seated, basic, negative beliefs about themselves and the kind of person they are. These beliefs are often taken as facts or truths about their identity rather than being recognised as opinions they hold about themselves.” Centre for Clinical Interventions (CCI)
Reconstruct the image of your “ideal self”.
We all have an idea of the “perfect me”, the person we would ideally like to be, e.g. competent, witty, attractive, intelligent, etc. If this image is unattainable we’re likely to feel shame and guilt. Do some soul searching and listen to what’s important to you, try to define and map out your authentic self.
This is the you that act in ways you like, enjoy, respect and admire – the best version of you. Think of situations in the past when you felt empowered and happy. Once this has been identified work through your fears that might hinder you reaching this goal. Make it a stretch goal that’s realistic to reach.
“ If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path”
Quote by Joseph Campbell in Brené Brown’s, “Braving the Wilderness”
Engage in realistic self-assessment
Silence the inner critic who has perfected its negative self-talk. See yourself for what you are. Question any negative thoughts you have about yourself, replacing them with more realistic cognitions. In fact, the less attention you give to your self-criticism, the quieter it becomes (Kirschner, 2019).
Don’t’ be overly harsh on yourself
Accept yourself as you are and avoid trying to fit into groups that you don’t really want to join. Find like-minded friends or colleagues that accept and support you for who you are. This makes for a more relaxed and safe environment where your true self can be expressed.
Avoid approval seeking
This can be a difficult habit to break, but it’s crucial to trust your instincts and find your inner strength. Acknowledge that the work you produce is good enough; it doesn’t have to be perfect. Constantly seeking approval from others never leads to lasting self-esteem (Olsen, 2019).
Practise defining and firming up your boundaries. Identify what’s important to you and acknowledge that it’s ok to say no to certain things. In the beginning it’s likely to feel awkward, especially as people are used to a more nonassertive you. But they will soon learn to respect what’s vital to you. This is likely to boost your feelings of self-worth. You could practice speaking up for your rights in a less threatening social situation; e.g. a restaurant, shop, etc., eventually widen the practise to professional or home environments.
To avoid anxious thoughts worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, bring your attention to the present. Detach from negative thoughts without reacting to them. Use mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, or simply pay attention and be present to everyday experiences.
The above strategies aim to build up a more realistic well-balanced view of yourself and your abilities. This is by no means an exhaustive list on how to increase your self-esteem. Perhaps you need to seek professional assistance to examine what your deep-seated core belief about yourself is.
Your self-esteem has been formed over a long period of time, so please keep in mind that this is not a quick fix. View it as a long-term strategy where if you put in the work, you will reap the benefits overtime. It's definitely worth your effort.
Campbell, Joseph, as cited in Brown, Brené “Braving the Wilderness – the Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone”, 2017, Random House Publishing Group.
Centre for Clinical Interventions, Government of Western Australia (2018)
Cherry, Keandra, “What Exactly is Self-Esteem?Sep, 2018, Retrieved from: http://www.VeryWellMind.com
Kirschner, Diana, “Do You Ever Feel Like There’s Something Wrong With You?” 2019, Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-true-love/201902/do-you-ever-feel-theres-something-wrong-you
Olsen, Loren, “3 Essential steps to lasting self-esteem”, 2019, Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finally-out/201902/3-essential-steps-lasting-self-esteem